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Posted on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 11 a.m.

District-wide survey on changing Ann Arbor high school start times was inconclusive

By Danielle Arndt

Parents and staff members in Ann Arbor were not overwhelmingly for or against changing the start of the school day for high school students, a new district-wide survey shows.

teens sleep.JPG

Research shows teens are somewhat naturally night owls. Ann Arbor Public Schools discussed the possibility of pushing back high school start times to cater to teens' brain functionality. But a community survey shows students, parents and teachers are underwhelmed about the idea. file photo

Earlier this month, parents and teachers at the Ann Arbor Public Schools were asked to participate in a survey on whether the district should push back its high school start times by 15 minutes.

High school start times in Ann Arbor are around 7:40 a.m.

A committee of district employees and community members was established in October to research high school start times, the benefits and drawbacks, and to explore the possibility of changing the secondary start time in Ann Arbor.

In December, administrators presented an initial report from the committee to the Board of Education that revealed committee members did not find any compelling evidence in favor of altering the school day for teens.

At the December meeting, school board trustees gave the committee the OK to proceed with the community-wide survey. But largely, the board expressed it did not want to spend too much time on the topic right now, trustees said.

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye presented the results of the community survey to the school board Wednesday night as part of a large presentation on high school scheduling.

“The survey results overall were pretty close,” Flye said. “Nothing jumped out as a significant call to action.”

She said while both the ‘yays’ and the ‘nays’ hovered right around 50 percent, slightly more parents and students favored the time adjustment. But when it came to staff, slightly less than 50 percent of those surveyed preferred pushing back the school day.

Solely looking at those students, parents and staff members who indicated they either attended, had a student attend or worked at the high school level, the survey did indicate among this group there seemed to be a desire for the start time change, Flye said.

The committee found the way to execute a later start time for high schoolers in a cost-neutral manner was going to be to work within the current three-tier transportation system. So for this to happen, a start time adjustment would be necessary at the elementary and middle schools as well.

The survey responses mostly showed that the community wanted the elementary and middle school start times to stay the same, Flye said. She added some participants did write in the comments section of the survey that they would favor switching the high school and elementary start times.

Trustee Susan Baskett and a few other board members questioned the validity of the survey results, saying they found the survey to be poorly designed and confusing. Baskett asked who created the survey and Flye responded that the committee as a whole did after researching and reviewing a variety of models and examples on similar topics.

Baskett recommended reaching out in the future to surveying and feedback-collecting experts in the community.

“I’d have to imagine there’s a number in this community who write surveys in their sleep.”

Trustee Simone Lightfoot also was concerned about the survey and why it centered on a 15-minute change. She said 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even an hour seemed more worthwhile and as a parent, “15 minutes doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

Flye said it was the committee’s perspective that a 15-minute adjustment was the least disruptive to students’ athletic schedules and other after-school activities. She added most people on the committee did feel, however, a 30 minute later start at the high schools would have a greater impact in terms of adolescent sleep research.

The high school start time committee recommended the following:

  • No change to elementary start times.
  • No change to middle school start times.
  • If there is an opportunity to adjust high school start times in a cost-neutral manner by at least 15 minutes, the committee would support this action.

Baskett said it didn’t make sense to her to go through all the work of changing the start times by just 15 minutes.

“I concur 15 minutes is not worth the effort,” Board Secretary Andy Thomas said. “My son would probably appreciate it, but I don’t think it’s going to keep him from dozing off in the middle of sixth hour.”

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


say it plain

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

My my, given the comments about the low quality of the survey, and the paltry meaningless change being asked about in the first place, and @MMM's comments about the totally invalid administration of it (are you kidding?! No limit on how many times or who can take the survey?! What a joke!)... the Board should be very very inclined to question all info coming from Green and her hires... How sad for Ann Arbor, which could and should be doing so very much better.


Fri, Mar 1, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

It sounds like this survey may have been rigged. Changing 15 minutes is not worth while as others have said. You'd have to change the entire system, to be like Dexter where all start at the same time, or swap the elementary and the high school. Impacts to things like before/after care would need to be reviewed, but may prove that you don't need before care anymore due to the earlier elementary start time. I can tell you my elementary kids were always up way before school start, but getting a teen up for school is very challenging due to their chemical changes during puberty. Seems like fighting nature which is wasted energy. The reasons for earlier HS start time date back to the agrarian days and continued with the trade co-op days, but those numbers are a much smaller percentage of HS students in the age of college prep. It's time to understand the whys versus the status quo.


Fri, Mar 1, 2013 : 3:38 a.m.

Once again, the athletic tail is allowed to wag the academic dog. Determining the high school schedule by what is convenient for the athletic coaches is ridiculous.


Thu, Mar 7, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

Not necessarily. If you ice skate for the school? You are looking at 6am. But then again most skaters I know start their day at 6am. So the time won't make any difference except for me who wants to sleep.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 10:24 p.m.

All of the surveys that were given that week(there was a student climate survey, and a survey asking about trimesters, too) will give invalid data since there were no restrictions on how many times you could take the survey and in what capacity. I teach smart high school kids and they figured out right away that they could take the surveys multiple times and even take the staff survey through the district website. If you give a survey, you need to put some parameters in place to try to deter this kind of survey abuse.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 9:20 p.m.

There really is some skill to writing surveys that elicit the right information, and yes, there are a lot of people in this community who have those skills. In addition to getting bad data (garbage in, garbage out, as they say), every time you do something that looks incompetent, it lessens the confidence the community has in the administrators' ability to do things right.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 9:16 p.m.

The research is fairly clear, but the start time must be pushed back to 9:30-10:30 for any substantial return on learning.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

I agree with CLX and a2schoolparent - it was a very poorly designed survey that clearly was looking for one answer rather than trying to get real information.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

I'm surprised at the amount of work that must have gone into creating, distributing and analyzing a survey that at most would alter a school day by 15 minutes. While I am sure that this is far more complicated than I can imagine, it also seems a poor decision to waste everyone's work time analyzing and discussing a 15 minute schedule change. 30 minutes is the minimum to consider, and I think it should be either cost-neutral or cost-saving to implement something of this magnitude.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

I think the survey was designed so as to get exactly the answer that the committee wanted. If you look at the in-depth survey questions, you will realize that almost all asked about the negative impact a later start time would bring. Almost none of the questions asked about positive impacts.


Fri, Mar 1, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

I agree, there was no option to select if the questions would have a positive impact and all of the questions with the poor options that were offered had to be answered. Back to survey design 101. Why should athletics/after school activities overshadow academics? With a 9 AM start time, students could practice before school if they really wanted to.

Tony Livingston

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

The bus to Pioneer comes to our neighborhood at 6:45am. So, I was quite excited to see that a later start time was being considered. But, once I started the survey, it was clear that there would be no real change. Sorry, but at 6:45 in the morning, 15 minutes makes no difference.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:57 p.m.

That's because they failed to offer any real options. What a shoddy job they did - it was for show only. They purposely pit elementary school parents against high school parents.

J. A. Pieper

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 11:07 p.m.

So true CLX!

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

That's frustrating, it's hard to make big decisions like that when there's not a clear consensus on which direction to go. It would be interesting to see a breakout of what students thought and what parents thought, although I understand this isn't readily available.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

What about all the compelling research conducted regarding teens, sleep, and high school start times? Did the committee actually review the research?


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

The deputy superintendents (of which there are three) make six figures a year, and can't even write a coherent survey. Ouch.


Fri, Mar 1, 2013 : 3:43 a.m.

It wasn't the deputy superintendents who wrote that survey, it was the committee of teachers, coaches and a parent or two who were investigating the impacts of changing the HS start times. But they started from the assumption that it was absolutely necessary to start HS earliest, then elementary and then middle schools, and that the bus routes had to be separate for each level. We could just as easily start all schools at 8:45 or 9:00 am, and rearrange the bus routes to pick up all students in a given area at the same time.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

There is a lot of research that shows later start times, 9 ish, have many benefits to teens. For instance, Grades rose 20% and the drop out rate went down. We need to figure out how to do this and stop wasting time on the 15 minute stuff.

Tyrone Shoelaces

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

However, removing phones, gaming devices and other electronics from the bedroom can go a long way.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

@Tyrone: Parents can't make teens go sleep. They can only do so much. But props to the Basketball Jones reference in your moniker.

Tyrone Shoelaces

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

"There is a lot of research that shows later start times, 9 ish, have many benefits to teens." I'm guessing that's when their parents let them stay up until 1:00am texting in bed.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

"Dosing" or "dozing?" I think he meant the latter.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

Thanks for pointing this out! It's been fixed.