School Start Time Conference - Session 08:

Does Changing School Start Times Work?
- Kyla Wahlstrom, PhD


The most important aspect of the presentations for me was that I now feel better prepared to encourage school leadership to take action on school start times.
— Community advocate

Kyla Wahlstrom, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, University of Minnesota

Dr. Wahlstom summarizes her research, conducted over 26 years, on the impact of changing school start times on major school stakeholders:  students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and the community.  

Dr. Wahlstrom reports that studies have consistently shown that later school start times have a statistically significant positive health effects on students: more sleep duration, less depression, less substance abuse, and fewer car crashes. Additionally, there is a statistically significant improvement academically in terms of  improved attendance, reduced tardiness, improvement in grades earned, and reduced drop-out rates in urban areas.

Although later school start times affected teachers' personal schedules, teachers in school districts that have made the change have generally concluded that the benefits for the students made the change worth doing. In a survey of 3,000 teachers, fewer than 1 teacher in 5 believed that middle school and high school students are ready for learning before 8am.  

Parents also noted that later school start times required significant adjustment to their schedules. However, 92% of parents reported that later school start times improved the mood of their children (eg. fewer emotional outbursts) and provided more time in the morning for breakfast and for communicating with their child.  

Surveys of school administrators report that later school start times improved the school’s atmosphere (eg. less agitation while changing classes, fewer lunchroom incidents, a quieter “tone” to the building.)

Although communities often experience initial traffic congestion that require adjustments in traffic patterns, Dr. Wahlstrom reported that communities benefit directly and indirectly from the change.  As one example, interviews with police departments suggest that later school start times result in fewer juvenile crimes.

In conclusion, Dr. Wahlstom emphasizes that changing start times requires time to plan the adjustments in a school district’s “eco-system,” but that the evidence gathered over 26 years of research, encompassing all main school stakeholders, indicates the change is worth it.

Kyla L. Wahlstrom, PhD
Kyla Wahlstrom is a Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development (OLPD) in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, where she has worked for the past 26 years. Most recently she was the Director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). Dr. Wahlstrom received her Ph.D. degree in the area of educational policy development with a focus on school change. Prior to her appointment at the University of Minnesota in 1990, she had 19 years of school experience as an elementary classroom teacher, a special education teacher, a school principal, and a district administrator of special education. She is the primary investigator of the original research on school start times begun in 1996. In 2010 she was awarded a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue research on the outcomes for later school start times. Her 20-year study of the effect of the later start time on high school students has influenced school policies across the U.S., and has been featured in publications and media ranging from Congressional Quarterly and Rolling Stone Magazine to Scientific AmericanNewsweek, NPR’s All Things Considered and PBS’ Frontline. Dr. Wahlstrom is the recipient of the MASCD National Research Award for her ground-breaking study of the effects of later starting times for high schools.