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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Raising Grades Under Budget

April 21, 2002|STEVE SMITH | Steve Smith, a father of two schoolchildren, writes from Costa Mesa.

The rebounding economy may or may not be robust enough to save California's education program from budget cuts. But regardless of whether the budget remains the same, the time has come for educators to implement two very inexpensive, proven methods of increasing both grades and test scores.

The first is to help our children get more sleep. A recent study conducted at Brown University on teenage sleep habits shows that teenagers are often tired because of their inability to fall asleep early. The study says that the levels of the hormone melatonin--produced by the pineal gland to regulate the body's sleep cycle--rise during the evening and abate during the morning.

In teens, melatonin is not produced until late at night, so they do not fall asleep early enough because they do not feel the symptoms of sleepiness. Other factors can cause sleep deprivation in teenagers, including television, school sports, extracurricular activities, school work and after-school jobs.

The average amount of sleep a teenager needs is 9.2 hours. Studies indicate that 26% of students receive about 6.5 hours on average. A study conducted in Rhode Island showed that 85% of students who were chronically sleep-deprived developed a sleep deficit in which their bodies cannot function properly. This is a threat not only to teenagers' health but to academic performance.

Johns Hopkins University showed that students who were deprived of sleep received lower grades than those who received more sleep. Depriving the body of adequate sleep night after night has a profound effect on a child's growth and development.

One of the common misconceptions about sleep is that the body is at rest, but just the opposite is true. While kids are sleeping, the body is producing and replenishing the key hormones and other chemicals that promote growth and a strong immune system.

It is during the night that the mind becomes a hard drive where memories are processed and stored. So teachers, if you want your students to do a better job remembering what you teach them each day, all you may have to do is help them get more sleep.

The second cheap way to raise grades and test scores is to initiate a full-blown "no-TV" program in the schools. Studies have documented the positive effects of a TV-free life. Without TV, kids read more, play more and converse more with their parents, just to name a few benefits.

Our two kids, 9 and 12, have not watched television in more than three years and they don't miss it a bit. And yes, when kids don't watch TV, grades and test scores rise dramatically.

(By the way, national TV-Turnoff Week, a program that encourages people to do something else, begins Monday.)

School districts have the complete freedom that is required for these programs and the tiny budget that calls for cheap solutions.

Both have more immediate and long-term effects on grades and test scores than, for example, class-size reduction. But neither plan is likely to be embraced any time soon, and that leaves this parent wondering why.

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