I was just told by a friend that the students at Lacey High School begin their classes at 7:15am, that they are waiting for their buses at 6:30 in the morning. This is outrageous. Granted, Lacey may be an extreme example, but by and large all NJ high schools are up and going before 8am. Expecting students to be "ready to learn" at so early an hour is a joke and flies in the face of all relevant research into the relationship between time and learning. According to the research, it would actually be better to start our youngest students at this earlier time and start the high schools closer to 9 o'clock.
The early start time is simply an admission that student learning is not the preeminent goal of a school's use of time and space, that considerations such as co-curriculars play a large role in the structure of the school day. Now you will find no bigger fan of co-curricular activities than me, but I have to believe that a little imagination in the planning process could figure out a way to make later start times work. First of all, if students are more alert and attentive then learning can be more efficient. If we cut down on all the crap that now passes for required core content then we might not actually need as much time in class to teach what is truly essential.
I admit that I don't have an answer at hand; all I am saying is that our education leaders need to recognize that there is a connection between "real world time" and learning, and that it is time for these leaders to at least study alternatives to our current model across the state which invariably has high school students in school first and elementary students in latest. I suspect that in our inner cities a later start may actually have a positive effect on student attendance and thus have an effect on dropout and graduation rates. This is in and of itself enough of a reason to study the issue. If we truly care about such things, then a study is the least we can do.