Every Child Deserves a Great Education

Archive for May, 2011

‘NYC schools feed students good food, test scores rise 16%’ 0

Posted on May 29, 2011 by dmayer

‘Are Chicago Public School (CPS) officials stealing candy from babies, or more to the point, skimming millions of dollars from funds collected to provide thousands of children with nutritious food? Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) is a federally funded program offering students free breakfast at school.

An internal memo surfaces stating:

CPS gets as much as $1.76 per student for a meal costing about a buck. So the district has the potential for $8.9 million of new revenue out of feeding kids cheap breakfasts.

So, what does the title of this diary have to do with Chicago and corruption? Bear with me while I attempt to connect the dots. The New York study referred to here began in 1979 and lasted for a period of four years. It included over 1 million students in 803 NYC public schools and was an earnest attempt to determine whether a healthy diet and academic achievement are related. In contrast, the CPS Breakfast in the Classroom program, has no such lofty goal, falls short of feeding kids healthy food and in the process is perhaps stealing the lunch (breakfast) money of thousands of its students.

Before holding teachers accountable for every single ailment of our education system became fashionable, school districts experimented (in the true sense of the word) to find data to support the hypothesis that poverty and achievement are related. It”s hard to believe that just 25 short years ago we cared enough about kids to fund a jaw-droppingly innovative experiment like the NYC one. I hope you”ll join me below because this isn”t just about feeding children good food so they can do better at school, it”s about a paradigm shift. Not a good one. We should pay attention.

Reading an outrage “Breakfast of Champions” about the CPS breakfast program posted by Susan Ohanian recently jogged my memory about a nutrition-related study conducted some years ago. The study, as I recalled, was conducted back in the day before everything was posted on the internet, so I wasn”t sure I”d be able to find it, but after some scouring, I did. I”m sharing it because I think it”s important to remember how differently at one time we viewed public education and children — before the profit motive and the movement to privatize education became prevalent forces to be reckoned with.

The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools, Schoenthaler, SJ, Doraz WE, Wakefield JA. 1986 (Please link to the study to see the graph in all its glory and simplicity. It”s a thing of beauty.)

In the spring of 1979, New York City’s public schools ranked in the 39th percentile on standardized California Achievement Test scores given nationwide. That means that 61 percent of the nation’s public schools scored higher. They had been in the lower half of the country for years. However, for a few years in the 1980s, these same 803 schools ranked in the upper half of the nation’s schools. They went from 11% below the national average to 5% above it. What happened?

The introduction of a diet policy which lowered sucrose, synthetic food color/flavors, and two preservatives (BHA and BHT) over 4 years in 803 public schools was followed by a 15.7% increase in mean academic percentile ranking above the rest of the nation”s schools who used the same standardized tests. Prior to the 15.7% gain, the standard deviation of the annual change in nation percentile rating had been less than 1%.

The New York City study is based on information gained from the Feingold diet. Unfortunately, once the food service director retired, New York returned to the usual fare they had been serving. The lesson to be learned here is that people make a difference, and the motives of those people make all the difference. Which brings us to the Chicago program.

If states were asked to design a meal plan for students that would be the least beneficial to them nutritionally, environmentally, and socially, Chicago”s Breakfast in the Classroom would win the race to the top. The federally funded program consists of cheap food, bussed by students to their classrooms where teachers are preparing for the day, to be gulped down in 10 minutes.

The program hails itself as innovative. It”s not. The BIC plan is to serve a free breakfast to as many students as possible to improve the bottom line of food service in schools. In a New York Times piece, Linda Somers, parent and the pediatric outpatient nutritionist at Children”s Memorial Hospital, to be dipped into syrup — was very likely filled with saturated fat and calories.

Besides the Chicago program, there seem to be other programs labeled “Breakfast in the Classroom.” It”s difficult to distinguish whether they are all under the same federal umbrella. For example, the Oregon program seems have healthier menus: whole grain breads and cereals, cheese, yogurt, and fresh fruit, but their stated priorities include the profit motive. (Emphasis added.)

The advantages of BIC are many, but two key benefits emerge:

1. Students begin their day nourished and ready to learn. Research shows that educational dollars are maximized when children begin their school day with breakfast. Breakfast improves academic scores while reducing absenteeism, classroom disruptions, and trips to the school nurse.
2. Feeding more students breakfast can improve the financial bottom line of the school food service program.

Still another BIC program is funded by Wal-mart. Dallas Independent School District, Texas; Little Rock School District, Arkansas; Memphis City Schools, Tennessee; Orange County Public Schools, Florida; and Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland are the recipients of funding from the Walton Family Foundation. The Wal-mart goal is to leverage the Breakfast in the Classroom strategies to increase student participation in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program. I couldn”t find any menus from this program, but am skeptical about Wal-mart”s involvement in any education endeavor.

Today New York City school lunches are provided by SchoolFood, the largest school lunch provider in the country. A cursory search of both traditional and charter NYC schools didn”t turn up a single lunch menu online, but vending machines seem to be popular. In contrast, a school district in Wisconsin decided to take matters into its own hands. Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching. What”s going on in Appleton, Wisconsin? The goal was to show that fresh, nutritious food can make a real difference in the student”s behavior, learning and health. Find out how some other communities are improving nutrition and academics at School Lunch.

Feeding America”s hungry children is commendable. We should strive to make sure no child goes hungry. But nutritious food with low sugar and fat content, no additives, shoring up the bottom line and making school food programs highly profitable ventures seems to be the goal. Tax payers should demand that food service programs such as BIC comply to the highest nutritional standards. Every cent of our taxpayer dollars should be spent on fresh food, grown and managed locally, that reaches the mouths of hungry children. This is a instance where common core standards would be appropriate and desirable.

‘Hey, Two Teachers and a Microphone’ 0

Posted on May 25, 2011 by dmayer

More Than a Test Score

Because the kids we teach are so much more than a value assigned from a test score. And the same is true for the teachers too so don”t use it as a tool to sell our schools.

Hey guys, do you have a way to encourage kids to do their own YouTube videos? Something like, “I”m not the value of a test score, I”m a (fill-in-the-blank) and so much more.” You get the idea. One or two minutes of each child showing their intelligence and talent in a way that no number can.

One way that we can rail against this particular machine is for parents and kids to opt out of the test. It may be our best chance to stop this racist, classist social experiment labeled with the progressive-sounding moniker of “education reform.” Kids don”t have to take the stupid test. Just let some Scott Walker-type try to mandate it!

Let”s empower kids to make their thoughts and feelings known. It”s their education that”s being minimized to the size of test score. They can”t vote, but they can sure as Shakespeare make a video and let their voices be heard. I”m hoping this message gets to you through this venue. If not, I”ll keep trying.

The fact that Two Teachers and a Microphone choose to remain anonymous speaks volumes. Teachers who speak out on “education reform” feel the chill. Speaking out publicly could likely mean the end of their employment and careers. It”s too bad because this very real fear prevents teachers from banding together as colleagues (forget the unions) and protecting our public schools and our profession.

According to their YouTube blurb, they say:

We are both products of LAUSD schools and have spent our careers teaching in LAUSD schools. We love what we do, and we feel that our public school teachers are compassionate, creative and critical to the intellectual and emotional success of our youth.

A couple of months ago they debuted with Angry Teacher Raps About Getting Unjustly Fired, :

And before the election, A Call to the State:

So, Two Teachers and a Microphone, until I can meet you in the light of day, I salute you. Thank you for speaking out for our profession, public schools, and the children who attend them! You can reach me here or at Great Schools for America.

Not forgetting you, Taylor Mali. “I make a difference, what do you make?”

The mystery of an effective teacher 0

Posted on May 12, 2011 by dmayer


It seems that in the age of computer generated data ad nauseum, a great mystery has emerged. We can”t figure out what makes an effective teacher. We used to know. I”ve known many myself, both as a student and as a colleague. I”m willing to bet you”ve known some, too. But, because Bill Gates and his cronies can”t figure it out with their tons of statistical data, it must be a mystery.

So, I was a little surprised when I read in the Washington Post Answer Sheet that a leading mathematician (wonder how we know he”s a leading mathematician?), John Ewing, debunked the “value added” method of evaluating teachers. Ewing is president of Math for America (MfA), another of those prolific nonprofits created in the last decade funded by the Billionaire Boys to aid in “education reform.”

MƒA was founded in New York City by a group of businessmen, mathematicians and educators, led by Jim Simons, president of Euclidean Capital and chair of Renaissance Technologies, a private investment firm that uses innovative mathematical methods to make investment decisions.

But, I wasn”t not surprised when I read statements like this one (emphasis added):

With all that accumulating data, it was inevitable that people would want to use tests to evaluate everything educational—not merely teachers, schools, and entire states but also new curricula, teacher training programs, or teacher selection criteria. Are the new standards better than the old? Are experienced teachers better than novice? Do teachers need to know the content they teach?

Seriously, we need to use accumulated data to figure out if teachers need to know the content they teach? Really? Giving this “value-added” garbaage any credence is ridiculous. We used to know that. Even though Ewing eventually reaches the right conclusion, info in his lengthy report is intuitive to those of us who actually are effective teachers. Don”t bother. You don”t need to read it to know what it says.

Remember back in the day when we would form a hypothesis to solve a problem and then create a procedure to generate data that would help solve the problem? Maybe I”m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that generating piles of copious data and then trying to glean something from the numbers without having a clear notion as to what those numbers represent is not a scientific or mathematical solution to a problem. Seems more like a witch hunt to me.

Perhaps I shouldn”t have been surprised, but was, when I read on the same day in Education Week that NEA Leaders Propose Teacher-Evaluation Shift. If maniacal Republican governors and state legislatures don”t do teachers in, they can always count on the NEA to finish the job.

National Education Association officials announced Wednesday that they would put a “policy statement” before the union’s governing body for approval that, among other changes, would open the door to the use of “valid, reliable, high-quality standardized tests,” in combination with multiple other measures, for evaluating teachers.

Just shoot me.

Right-Wing Think Tanks Think about Killing Public Education 0

Posted on May 10, 2011 by dmayer

If Betsy DeVos needed any help in stealthily killing our public schools, she could rely on her brother Erik, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater/Xe. But as Rachel Tabachnick tells us at Alternet, The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working With the Religious Right to Kill Public Education, she seems to be doing just fine on her own.

Betsy”s modus operandi is school vouchers. She calls it “school choice, but that term is a euphemism for vouchers, and it is merely a means to an end. Their ultimate goal is the total elimination of our public education system.

The conservative policy institutes founded beginning in the 1970s get hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy families and foundations to develop and promote free market fundamentalism. More specifically, their goals include privatizing social security, reducing government regulations, thwarting environmental policy, dismantling unions — and eliminating public schools.

The list below from Political Research Associates is a selection of those anti-labor and anti-union conservative and right-wing think tanks and other institutions funding the attacks on working people and a living wage.

National Right to Work Foundation

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution

American Enterprise Institute

Americans For Tax Reform

Atlas Economic Research Foundation

Cato Institute

Center for Social Thought Corporation

Center for the Study of Popular Culture

Education Policy Institute

Evergreen Freedom Foundation

Free Congress Foundation

Goldwater Institute

Heartland Institute

Heritage Foundation

Hillsdale College: Center for Constructive Alternatives & Imprimis

Hudson Institute, Inc.

James Madison Institute

Pacific Research Inst. for Public Policy

Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation

Western Journalism Center


It’s the poverty, Stupid 0

Posted on May 05, 2011 by dmayer

Michael Marder has something to say. Listen.

Teachers have been screaming it at the top of their lungs. “”IT’S THE POVERTY!”"

No one listens.

In These Times writer, Roger Bybee, said it like this: “”It’s the poverty, stupid.”":

Poverty and unemployment contribute to a high rate of transience among students, as their families move from apartment to apartment in search of lower rents or better living arrangements.

Poverty doesn’t affect just attendance. Milwaukee children suffer from one of the highest rates of childhood lead poisoning, which can cause learning disabilities and severe behavioral problems. In one African-American neighborhood, 67 percent of the children age six or under had elevated lead levels. In a primarily Latino area, the rate was 43 percent. On top of that, in the last 30 years Milwaukee has lost 80 percent of its industrial base and nine of its 10 hospitals. In 2006, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “An African-American infant in Milwaukee is at a greater risk of dying in his or her first year than an infant in Malaysia, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica or Chile.”

No one listens.

Will they listen when Michael P. Marder, Professor of Physics, University of Texas at Austin says it? As you view the three short videos below, pay attention to the horizontal axis on each graph mutates. While it isn’t a surprise, it’s fascinating to see in graphic form what so many educators already know. It’s the poverty. The Texas Tribune interviews:

Part I SAT and poverty.

Part II How do charter schools perform?

Part III What Are We Going to Do about It?

Marder’s work makes one thing perfectly clear — the close attention, even obsession, with teacher performance distracts from socio-economic obstacles to education. All those billions spent by the Billionaire Boys led by Bill Gates and Eli Broad, on testing and teacher evaluation, would be much better spent on alleviating childhood poverty. Are you listening Bill? Eli? Arne? Mr. President?

Is anyone listening?