California Introduces Later Start Times for All Public High Schools

An clock that reads 8:30.

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For generations now, school for adolescents has begun between 7–8 a.m., early enough that the buses can finish with the older students before coming back for the younger ones. But science today is telling us that we’ve got it backwards.

Teenagers need between nine and 10 hours of sleep a night, but their bodies aren’t wired to feel tired until late in the evening, even when they make an effort to get enough sleep. This leads to chronic sleep loss in teenagers who can’t sleep until after 11 p.m. but have to be in class eight hours later, which puts them at risk of all kinds of disorders and injuries.

Several states and school districts have listened to the research, adopting later start times for junior high and high school, and soon, California will join them.

On Tuesday, May 30th, a bill was approved in the California state senate to impose an 8:30 a.m. start time on all public high schools. The bill won’t go into effect until the 2020 school year, and will allow rural school districts to waive it if the schedule changes are too inconvenient. But for most of California’s 1.8 million high school students, a more rested education is on the way.

Opponents of the bill had mostly economic concerns–the cost and inconvenience of rescheduling, of dealing with the various unions that serve public education. Some had more petty concerns, dismissing teenager’s needs as just “staying up too late” and assuming their future careers would need them trained to wake at dawn. But proponents had science on their side, including studies into student results by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association. Another study by the University of Minnesota showed a reduction in teenage auto accidents with later start times.

As more and more states adopt these later start times, they each have seen improved test scores, behavioral outcomes, and higher graduation rates. Hopefully, when California’s numbers begin to join those statistics, we’ll reach a national tipping point and make these new hours standard.


Bilingual Education is Back

Animated children with speech bubbles above their heads. Each speech bubble has the greeting "hello" written in different languages.

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Eighteen years ago, California voters passed Proposition 227, a ruling ending nearly all bilingual education in the state. Critics of bilingual instruction claimed that it delayed reading, writing, and English fluency among children for whom English is a second language to be taught in both. Parents could sign a waiver and seek out a bilingual school if they wanted to, but the default was made English-only.

Nearly two decades later, studies of ELL (English-language-learning) students show that there’s no developmental delay to having bilingual instruction. In fact, it actually has huge social development advantages. And those studies have led to the decision facing voters today; Proposition 58, if it passes in November, will restore instruction in English and a second language as an option at all schools.

This is a particularly Californian need in education. California residents are nearly twice as likely as the general American population to speak a language other than English. Primarily, this language is Spanish, but there are substantial Chinese and Japanese populations as well.

The history of Prop 227, the bilingual ban, is interesting. Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire, was the prime force in campaigning for it, alongside a group of students and families who called themselves Familias Del Pueblo. They claimed that bilingual educational programs were a form of segregation and did little to prepare Spanish-speaking students for college or careers where they would be required to speak only English. Unz argued that ELLs only needed a single, high-intensity year of English instruction before moving on to English-only classrooms. After the proposition passed, test scores among Latino students rose, and supporters saw that as proof of their platform.

But by 2015, ELL test scores and scholastic achievements in California had diminished so much that a group of civil rights group won a precedent-setting suit against the state for failing to support ELLs. Prop 58, overturning Prop 227, is expected to pass quietly and be enacted at the beginning of the next school year.