Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pediatricians’ group: School should not start before 8:30 a.m.

Pediatricians have a new prescription for schools: later start
times for teens.

Delaying the start of the school day until at least 8:30 a.m. would help curb their lack of sleep, which has been linked with poor health, bad grades, car crashes and other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy.

The influential group says teens are especially at risk; for them, "chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm."

Studies have found that most U.S. students in middle school and high school don't get the recommended amount of sleep — 8½ to 9½ hours on school nights; and that most high school seniors get an average of less than seven hours.

More than 40 percent of the nation's public high schools start classes before 8 a.m., according to government data cited in the policy. And even when the buzzer rings at 8 a.m., school bus pickup times typically mean kids have to get up before dawn if they want that ride.

"The issue is really cost," said Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

School buses often make multiple runs each morning for older and younger students. Adding bus drivers and rerouting buses is one of the biggest financial obstacles to later start times, Amundson said. The roughly 80 school districts that have adopted later times tend to be smaller, she said.

After-school sports are another often-cited obstacle because a later dismissal delays practices and games. The shift may also cut into time for homework and after-school jobs, Amundson said.

The policy, aimed at middle schools and high schools, was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Evidence on potential dangers for teens who get too little sleep is "extremely compelling" and includes depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, poor performance in school and on standardized tests and car accidents from drowsy driving, said Dr. Judith Owens, the policy's lead author and director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The policy cites studies showing that delaying start times can lead to more nighttime sleep and improve students' motivation in class and mood. Whether there are broader, long-term benefits requires more research, the policy says.

Many administrators support the idea but haven't resolved the challenges, said Amundson. She said the pediatricians' new policy likely will have some influence.

Parents seeking a change "will come now armed with this report," Amundson said.

Amundson is a former Virginia legislator and teacher who also served on the school board of Virginia's Fairfax County, near Washington, D.C. Owens, the policy author, has been working with that board on a proposal to delay start times. A vote is due in October and she's optimistic about its chances.

"This is a mechanism through which schools can really have a dramatic, positive impact for their students," Owens said.


For-profit colleges: Felonies or feeding frenzy?

For-profit colleges have been feeling a lot of heat over the last few years, and likely some of it has been fueled by politicians driven as much by politics or ideology as concerns about a uniquely awful higher ed sector.  That said, for-profits do have some atrocious outcomes, and no doubt some have very shady practices. So how does the public know if attacks on specific for-profits are about real malfeasance, or about politicians – including lots of attorneys general — trying to make names for themselves by aggressively going after easily demonized schools?

The answer, alas, is that it is essentially impossible for anyone who isn’t able to devote oodles of hours investigating the dealings of individual schools, and wading into the voluminous regulations that come, especially, with federal student aid. So is Corinthian really awful — deserving, essentially, of a federal death sentence – but the City College of San Francisco an obvious victim of a cruel, merciless accreditor? Or is one taken down because it is easily caricatured as uncaring and money-grubbing, while the other is defended because, thanks to its nonprofit status, it seems innocent? Who knows, unless one can wade deep into the operations and outcomes of both schools?

Importantly, on a macro level the evidence is pretty solid that all sectors of higher ed feature serious waste, failure, and profit-taking, which should make anyone suspicious of attacks only on openly for-profit schools. That said, look at the proprietary sector and there is little question that many of those schools truly aren’t producing decent outcomes. The question, then, is how do you weed out bad schools without opening up the potentially huge problem of politically driven “accountability”?

There is only one answer: make people pay for college with their own money, or funds they get voluntarily from others. In so doing, restore incentives for people to think long and hard about where they go to school and what they study, and eliminate the need for people other than those consuming the education – largely bureaucrats and politicians – to be in charge of accountability. It would provide the best outcomes not only for decent schools that shouldn’t be subjected to political feeding frenzies, but also prospective students who would no longer be encouraged to overpay for schools or studies that would ultimately hurt them – and taxpayers – more than they would help.


Australia: School chaplain funding to go ahead despite High Court decision

THE Abbott government has moved to circumvent a High Court decision, allowing school chaplains to still be funded in schools.

In June the High Court ruled the scheme’s funding was not constitutional, awarding a Queensland father Ron Williams his second victory against the Commonwealth.

But today the Coalition has announced the program will go ahead, but instead of giving funding directly to schools, it will flow to states and territories.

In a statement, Parliamentary Secretary Scott Ryan said he would be writing to state and territory leaders “in the near future” inviting them to participate.

The scheme, which sees schools given $20,000, will still be exempt from secular workers.

“The Government believes that school chaplains make a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of students and school communities,” Senator Ryan said.

“I encourage State and Territory Governments to accept the invitation of the Commonwealth to participate in the National School Chaplaincy Programme and give all schools the chance to apply for funding for a school chaplain.”

Labor had opened the program up to secular workers, but the Coalition reversed that decision when announcing an extra $245 million over four years in the May budget.


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