By Mike Archer, School Bus Consultant
The debate over later school start times is best characterized as one where opposing groups both believe they have the community's best interest in mind, despite being on opposite sides of the same issue. We often talk past each other in the interest of supporting our particular point of view while failing to recognize the common interest in what we are trying to achieve. Transportation, or more specifically the cost of transportation, is one of the more contentious issues in this debate.
So, the question is, how do we design a process for acknowledging, and then managing the complexities of the transportation question without losing perspective on the common educational goals underlying the proposed change? We believe the answer lies in a diagnostic process that is focused on identifying actual constraints and then evaluating key variables in a systematic methodology. Only in this way can all stakeholders see their concerns being identified, considered, and balanced with others to determine the best possible result for the community.
Trading up, trading down, and trading off
School start time discussions are contentious because resources are limited. It is rarely possible to achieve everything that disparate stakeholders want. Consequently, school districts must balance the educational benefits identified in the sleep research with the possible transportation cost and service changes that may be required to support the change. The analysis necessary to properly evaluate these tradeoffs must begin with ensuring that the analyst is unbiased as to the issue itself. Ensuring analytical neutrality prevents any confirmation bias from being injected into the identification and evaluation of options, of which there are always many.
The considerations that go into any transportation network design are numerous, interrelated, and complicated. The analysis must consider, and stakeholders must understand, the difference between fixed constraints and changeable variables. This designation is of vital importance to the analysis for two reasons: