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Study: Starting school in the afternoon gives a surprising boost to boys

| Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

As we continue to debate why women can't get ahead at work — why they are less likely to be promoted, why they're paid less than similar men in similar jobs — educators around the world have been fretting over the mirror-opposite problem.

When it comes to school, it's the girls who consistently beat out the boys. And we're still not sure why.

A few years ago, one school district in Europe stumbled upon a surprising way to narrow the gender gap: starting school in the afternoon.

It was a unique situation. One month, high school would be held in the mornings, while middle school would be held in the afternoon. In the next month, middle school would be held in the morning and high school would be held in the afternoon. For the entire school year, students would switch off between starting school at 7:30 a.m., or starting school at 1:30 p.m.

According to a new study from economists at the University of California, Davis, starting school in the afternoon gave a surprising boost to boys. In the months when their classes were held in the afternoon, boys got slightly better grades on their assignments and tests. It wasn't enough to totally erase the gender gap, but it did close 12-16 percent of the difference in grades between boys and girls.

What caused boys to catch up to girls in the afternoon blocks? The researchers have a provocative theory. They believe that it has to do with sleep habits. Psychological studies show that girls tend to perform better than boys when sleep deprived. Girls also run on slightly different schedules than boys. Surveys find that girls are more likely to be “morning” people; they are more likely to go to bed earlier and get up earlier.

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