A Day in the Life of a Sleepy Student | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions. Miller-McCune.#StartPZHighSchoolsLATER

A Day in the Life of a Sleepy Student | Smart Journalism. Real Solutions. Miller-McCune.


Ethan Boroson is an honor student and captain of the baseball team, the kind of boy who makes teachers and other students smile on sight. Though often tired, he’s succeeding. But most high school students fare less well, and lack of sleep is one of the reasons. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital, studies sleep in adolescents and has found that many of them “live in a state of jet lag continually.”

The consensus in the field — informed by a large Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of American teens — is that adolescents need about nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night, but most get less. Teens are caught in a tug of war between their biology and rules and schedules put in place by adults. Biology is losing.

Adults are disinclined to sleep during the day. Teenagers, however, are hard-wired to be night owls. Their circadian rhythms are timed later than those of other age groups and will remain so into their early 20s. When adults who work a typical day shift start winding down in the evening, an adolescent’s energy and alertness are peaking. The average adolescent isn’t ready — or perhaps even able — to go to sleep until 11 p.m. or later.

Hormones play a role. Our brains produce the hormone melatonin as they prepare to sleep. Synthetic forms are sold over the counter as a sleep aid. Carskadon found that melatonin levels in adolescents don’t rise until about 10:30 p.m. Sending your teen to bed at 10 is likely to lead to tossing and turning but not much sleep until the body agrees it is time. If a child who can’t sleep until 11 p.m. needs to rise at 6 a.m. to catch a bus, that provides just seven hours of sleep — two hours less than the average adolescent needs.


Changing School Start Times Causes Alarm

Delaying School Start Times Causes AlarmIf, as the science says, teens are more alert and healthier when they sleep later, why haven’t more high schools adjusted their start times? The answer to that question lies in a mix of logistics and politics. See Colleen Shaddox’s story titled “Delaying School Start Times Causes Alarm” on Miller-McCune.com.


Furthermore, melatonin secretion is still high in adolescents in the early morning hours. During these hours, teens may be in the “rapid eye movement” phase, a period characterized by a high-quality form of sleep that the mind and body need to be fully refreshed. Many parents can testify to just how difficult it is to rouse a sleeping teenager.

Typical high schools in the United States open at about 7:30 a.m. But some communities have adjusted school start times in an effort to synch high school students’ schedules to their body clocks, and the quantitative results have been largely positive, including better attendance and reduced traffic accidents. There is also anecdotal testimony from teachers and parents that better-rested teens are more cheerful and cooperative teens. The change comes with logistical challenges, though. As school districts around the country debate later start times, meetings tend to get heated.



The Edjurist – Information on School and Educational Law – Blog – Value-Added Evaluation and Dismissal of Teachers: Two Cents from an Employment Lawyer

The Edjurist – Information on School and Educational Law – Blog – Value-Added Evaluation and Dismissal of Teachers: Two Cents from an Employment Lawyer


Both our Justin and the very justifiably well-respected school finance economist Bruce Baker have weighed in from different, and equally enlightening, perspectives as to the legal problems (read: certain lawsuits) that would result from instituting systemic value-added assessment-based teacher dismissals and demotions (including de-tenuring tenured teachers).  Here, I add my two cents as a former (defense) litigator of these very sorts of issues in Florida. 

First, I wholeheartedly agree with both Justin and Bruce that a flood of lawsuits is certain to occur (one roughly the same size as the flood of dismissals and demotions that occur).  Simply put, if you fire people, and they think their firings were unfair, then you are going to be sued.  Period.  In fact, I think that these lawsuits will assert not only claims under the Due Process Clause and Title VII, as Justin and Bruce explain, but also under ordinary state contract law, and possibly in some states (including Kentucky), claims under state constitutional provisions forbidding “arbitrary” governmental action.  This certainty of a litigation explosion alone ought to give policy makers pause when they consider their “blame the victim” strategies for improving teaching.  In fact, if I were general counsel of a school district, I would advise the administrators to run.  Run fast, away from this.  However, assuming that district political officials ignore their general counsels (which they sometimes do), would such suits ultimately succeed?  It may be surprising, but except for the rare “unconstitutional arbitrariness” claim that might succeed in a state such as Kentucky, I’m not so optimistic for the plaintiffs.  Here’s why:

As to any contract-based claims, these would likely just be throw-aways to add to the complaint.  Any decently represented district will cover value-added demotion and dismissal as an explicit term of the teacher contact (dealing with the union on this brings up a whole separate issue, of course).

As to the Due Process claims, Bruce makes some very forceful and valid points regarding the validity of the value-added model of assessing teacher performance, and he is, of course, the expert on that topic.  However, a claim for wrongful termination in violation of the Due Process Clause is a claim of denial of legal procedures–nothing more.  The “property interest” in one’s teaching job is simply a threshold showing that has to be made before one can even begin to argue that the proper procedures were denied.  Under well-settled precedent, a school district complies with the Due Process Clause as long as it offers teachers (1) sufficient notice of impending termination or demotion; and (2) an opportunity to be heard (usually in a hearing before the Board or its designate).  Typically, districts also provide a right to counsel and a rudimentary appellate system.  Now, the flaws that Bruce identifies would of course be relevant to such a proceeding, but if the decision were to stand after several layers of hearings in spite of such statistical evidence, then the teacher would be left with a very weak due process claim, regardless of the decision’s substantive correctness as a matter of measurement. 

As to the disparate impact claim, although I agree with much of Justin’s analysis, I must disagree with the claim that school districts would have a hard time showing their policies to be neutral.  The neutrality that matters in these cases is facial neutrality, and there is nothing race-based on the face of any such policies.  Any race-based effects must be proven statistically.  That being said, both Justin and Bruce are surely correct that substantial statistical disparities would result from the use of such measures, and these disparities would be largely based on race. 

However, to survive a disparate impact claim (i.e., to win at summary judgment), the district would only have to show that the value-added measures were (1) job-related; and (2) consistent with business necessity.  The first element would be a no-brainer.  However flawed, a measurement of student learning gains is clearly related to the job of being a teacher.  The second element would be somewhat problematic for districts if an expert witness were prepared to offer Bruce’s methodological critiques.  However, even these critiques concede that some useful, effectiveness-related information can be gleaned from such measures, and in such a case, the court will only be concerned with whether the district was ever presented with a race-neutral alternative that was just as effective at accomplishing the employment-based objective, but was rejected or not considered by the district.  Do such equally effective, race-neutral measures of teacher effectiveness exist (I honestly do not know)?  If not, then the district would at least have a decent chance of successfully defending its use of value-added, despite its flaws. 

Again, none of this means that there would be no lawsuits.  Every fired or demoted employee who perceives the sanction to be unfair sues.  However, a few high-profile federal circuit court decisions could douse a litigation explosion pretty quickly.