Why best practices don’t prevail

Bad news last week. My district’s school board has decided to delay implementation of later start times for high school students – a change that was scheduled for fall 2017.

No reason was given, but I imagine it involved pushback by parents and teachers of elementary school kids, who don’t like the idea of their schools starting earlier.

I understand that there are arguments and personal preferences on both sides (and that change is hard), but there’s no denying the benefits of letting teenagers get more sleep in the morning.

Thanks to extensive research by the University of Minnesota (and others), we know that when high school starts later, student performance improves; teen depression and anxiety levels fall; car accident rates fall; and truancy and behavioral referrals fall.

My high school starts at 7:25 a.m., meaning many kids are up at 6 and waiting at the bus stop at 6:30 a.m., more than an hour before winter sunrise — a fact that astounds my colleagues in other states.

Read this research report, and then tell me how this is still defensible.

It seems to me that when research is this clear, there’s no excuse for ignoring it. But it’s just one example of the forces that conspire to keep us from doing what’s best for kids.

Education research is filled with evidence of strategies we could use to improve student learning, including replacing lecture with more interactive methods, like discussion.

Richard Hake, a professor at Indiana University, published research in 1998 – nearly 20 years ago — showing that even the worst physics instructors using interactive methods outperformed the best lecturers. (Other researchers have duplicated these results in other subjects.)

Yet, 80% of our classrooms are still filled with traditional lecture. We’ll do it, we say – just not yet, we’re just not ready.

Getting ideas from paper into practice is so much harder than it should be. How do we overcome the inertia? I wish I knew.

I thought my school district was actually ready to make an important change this year by embracing later start times for teens. I’m disappointed that once again, we are not.