Parent Objects to Schools Start Time Survey: Methodology Flawed, Survey Biased & Rushed

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Dear Dr. McKersie and Dr. Flanagan,

Thank you for your work to date on exploring the school start time issue.  In addition to the issues Dr. O’Donnell and Mr. Dunham recently raised at the forum, there is a glaring one that must be addressed and which puts into question the entire validity of the survey – namely, the negative bias in the pre-survey communication emails, information posted to the GHS website (subsequently removed), and most important, the survey instrument itself.  I am specifically addressing Dr. Flanagan because I understand that you were the lead person responsible for the drafting this survey in conjunction with Hanover research.

A) Survey Bias Issues

1)     All communications completely neglected and/or grossly under-represented the PROVEN positive benefits of a delayed start time.  The pre-survey letters from Dr. McKersie and Dr. Winters, the GHS website info, and the survey instrument itself have a completely negative bias. (I would be happy to go into greater detail if you like.)  Failure to include the AAP recommendation, especially having been suggested by a well informed committee member, was inexcusable and raises the question whether one of the real goals of the survey was to bias the responses.  These “oversights” do not promote faith that you have the students’ best interests, of health and achievement over adult convenience, at heart.

2)    On the other hand, the survey, letters, GHS website page didn’t at all skimp on, and may have over-represented, possible negative impacts such as the implication of a cost increase or budget cuts even though no numbers were attached to any scenario except the $2MM rejected one.  We know that in some districts, for example, changing has no budgetary impact.  Further, when posed to a BET member, your assertion that cost is a major obstacle and implication that budget cuts would be necessary was not supported.  (See attached photo of text from 9th grader  – name blurred for privacy – who readily picked up on survey’s negativity.)

3)    Rush to release survey before public had a chance to become informed, and the refusal to show the survey to BOE members, for whom this may become a major district initiative, also calls into question the motivation behind the process.  A recent study conducted by Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-Michigan Medical School, (certainly a very credible source) found:
“Only 20 percent of the parents in the poll had heard about the new guidelines, but 71 percent agreed with the guidelines once they were aware of them”.
B) Survey Instrument Issues:

1)    Start Time Survey Committee members were ill informed and, therefore, ill equipped to design or evaluate a survey.  Committee members were not provided any information on teen sleep nor school start time by Dr. Flanagan, nor anyone else on the committee. – -not even the AAP statement.  They received no studies or articles on start time or teen sleep, no reports about other districts, no array of samples of other start time surveys.  In short, they were not equipped to write, nor evaluate a survey.

2)     Survey was poorly designed.  a) No questions included about wake times/bedtimes or amount of sleep.   Most, if not all school start time surveys include this very important question.   And in fact,  advice from a knowledgeable committee member to include this type of question was ignored.  The whole point after all is whether or not our GPS children/teens are getting enough sleep.  Why was this not addressed?  Other:  b) Respondents couldn’t view all options before rating. c) In list of concerns “no concerns” in student survey correct; “no comment” in parent survey incorrect and not same thing.

3)     Implementation Options Premature and Faulty and did not belong in this survey. – especially on the student survey. As Wilton’s Lisa Bogen pointed out Tuesday night, once the decision to change start time is made, then it is up to each district to get “creative’ to figure out the how.   What would work best for Greenwich has not been investigated fully, if at all, and no logistical, or financial information about these options was provided in order for people to answer those survey questions in an informed way. The only option for which any monetary figure was attached was the rejected change-HS-only one.

In the attached report from Fairfax, VA (Fairfax Report) you will see a chart showing how 33 districts have handled start time and that the flex time option was implemented by only four of the 33 districts.  Of those four, two actually offered two new times – both later than previous times. Further, if we go forward with the change because we believe the science that all kids need more sleep, why would we then still offer a 7:30 option?  We don’t offer kids the option to not wear a seatbelt or to smoke in school.

C) Survey Dissemination Issues:
1)     Many primary email holders did not receive survey.  (As of 5/31 this was still true.)
2)     Survey sent to all children in household, but only one adult.  Claim of methodological issues and survey tabulation burden (when surveys can be tabulated mostly electronically) seems like a specious excuse.

Again, I would be happy to discuss any of these points in more detail.


Valerie Erde
The Critical Reader, ACT/SAT Tutoring
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