Monday, April 11, 2011

My Teenage Laziness Validated: Ten Years Was Not Too Long to Wait

You probably thought that you had to wake up too early when you were a teenager. Everyone does. But the thing that made my bleary-eyed whimpering special — the difference between you and me — is that far from being mere whining, mine was, I now know, backed up by scientific fact. This study finding that pushing back a school's start time improves student performance (h/t Robin Hanson) used the test scores of Wake County (N.C) middle-schoolers between 1999 and 2006, of which I was one. Who knew that when I threw my alarm clock against a wall that one time, I was expressing an objective truth?

Or so I thought before I read that they disregarded the scores of magnet-school students, mine among them, because magnet schools tend to start early and, not at all relatedly, attract high-scoring students with their academic bells and whistles. Alas, I did not contribute to the store of human knowledge today.

The study explains, as a side note, why Wake County magnet schools have earlier start times on average, which I hadn't even known was the case. It has to do with their longer bus rides, what with needing to bring kids from the far-flung suburbs all the way downtown. My own bus ride was longer than an hour, so I wouldn't dispute the fact, but I do find the logic confusing:
Since buses serving magnet school must cover a larger geographic area, ride times tend to be longer for magnet school students. As a result, almost all magnet schools begin at the earliest start time. For example in 2004, nine out of ten magnet schools began at 7:45 or earlier compared with nine out of sixteen base schools. Students at magnet schools tend to have higher test scores, which may cause a spurious negative relationship between start times and test scores. Furthermore, since students can choose to apply to magnet schools, it is possible that they chose a magnet school partially based on start time. For these reasons, I exclude magnet schools from my sample. Five schools began a magnet program during the sample period. These schools are included in the sample prior to becoming a magnet school and excluded after.
Longest ride means earliest start? So that's why my bus pick-up was 6:00 a.m. for seven years. Which itself is why the phrase "neighborhood schools" always strikes a chord with me, because rather than wonder how many focus groups they had to run before settling on a phrase so perfectly and appealingly innocuous, I only remember the hours I wasted on the highways at an hour of the morning when, half the year, it was too dark to even read, harumph-harumph.

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