Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Crackdown on Bake Sales in NYC Schools

No individual liberty for kids, apparently

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City’s latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut. In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.

The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

Parent groups and Parent-Teacher Associations are conspicuously given an exception: once a month they are allowed to sell as many dark fudge brownies and lemon bars as they please, so long as lunch has ended. And after 6 p.m. on weekdays, anything goes. But at that hour, most students are long gone, and as far as the Education Department is concerned, stuffing oneself with coconut macaroons and peanut butter cookies at that hour is one’s prerogative.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made both public health and public education centerpieces of his tenure, and the changes in the schools’ food are an outgrowth of his efforts to curb trans fats, salt and other unwanted additives.

Roughly 40 percent of the city’s elementary and middle school students are overweight or obese, according to the Education Department. The department also found a correlation between student health and performance on standardized tests, according to a survey it released in July.

The previous regulations limited sales to once a month and allowed them at any time during that day, but they were loosely enforced. Officials say they will do more to monitor the new regulations. “We have an undeniable problem in the city, state and the country with obesity,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief of the office of school support services. “During the school day, we have to focus on what is healthy for the mind and the body.”

Unsurprisingly, the rationale is getting a cool reception among students. At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School on the Upper West Side, students are used to having bake sales several times a month. Now, Yardain Amron, a sophomore basketball player, laments that his team will not be able to raise money for a new scoreboard. Another La Guardia student, Eli Salamon-Abrams, 14, said that when the soccer team held a bake sale in May, his blueberry muffins sold out in 15 minutes. He said of the ban: “I think it’s kind of pointless. I mean, why can’t we have bake sales?”

The new policy also requires that vending machines, which generate millions of dollars for school sports, be supplied with snacks such as reduced-fat Baked Doritos and low-sugar granola bars. A new vending machine contract is expected to be approved on Wednesday by the Panel for Educational Policy, the school oversight board. Student stores will be able to sell only approved snacks bought from the new vendor, rather than obtain the food themselves, as they once did. Principals are expected to enforce the new rules. “Noncompliance may result in adverse impact on the principal’s compliance performance rating,” the policy states.

With the changes, school administrators and teachers who oversee student clubs are laboring to come up with other easy ways to raise money, particularly at a time when school budgets are being cut. John Sommers, the assistant principal of organization at La Guardia, said that all fund-raisers using food were on hold for now. He said teachers had encouraged students for years to be careful with what they sold. “There was never any cotton candy or something like that, and there weren’t sales all the time,” he said. “But they are definitely a way kids count on to get money.” A typical weekday sale, he said, could bring in about $500 in profit. “If they wanted to buy some uniforms or go on a trip, that was enough,” he added. Mr. Sommers said he was trying to figure out other ways for students to raise money, perhaps by selling T-shirts or key chains. (All of which are decidedly more expensive to produce than a box of brownies.)

Department officials are suggesting that teams use walk-a-thons and similar activities as a way of raising money and doing something active.

For all the changes, there is much the regulations do not address. For instance, there are no stipulations of what kind of treats students may bring to class, so birthday cupcakes appear to be safe. Snack bars of any kind are permitted at after-school sporting events, a prime time for cheese-laden nachos and fatty hot dogs.

Schools around the United States, including throughout California, have banned bake sales or put a limit on the sugar and fat content of the goodies. But New York’s regulations are among the strictest in the country, said Howard Wechsler, the director of the division of adolescent and school health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are more schools that are making more changes in what is available for kids at school,” said Dr. Wechsler, who has studied nutrition policies at schools nationwide. “Schools are supposed to be a place where we establish a model environment, and the last thing kids need is an extra source of pointless calories.”


Head claims parents of British private school pupils deserve tax breaks

Parents of private school pupils should be allowed to claim tax breaks on their children’s education because they are saving the state money, the head of a powerful coalition of public schools has said. Andrew Grant told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses’ Conference in Liverpool that parents are paying twice to educate their children because they also have to stump up taxes to fund state schools. Parents should be allowed tax relief of up to 40 per cent on fees, saving the highest earners at the most expensive schools £10,000 a year, Mr Grant told The Times.

“Let people keep more of their own money and place upon them the responsibility to spend it wisely,” Mr Grant, who is also head of St Albans School in Hertfordshire, said. “Allow them tax relief if they save the state money. If the school is a charity, why shouldn’t they pay the fees as gift aid? Taxpayers who give money to charity through the gift-aid scheme do not pay tax on their donations. “In a time when the public sector is broke, [it makes sense] to make it less difficult for those who can afford to pay for their children’s education to do so,” Mr Grant said.

Private schools are under scrutiny from the Charity Commission to prove their “public benefit” in order to retain their charitable status. Two of the first five schools to be assessed failed the “public benefit” test. Highfield Priory, in Fulwood, Preston and St Anselm's in Bakewell, Derbyshire must now work with the Commission on changes to meet the requirements but the decisions have been published as final and not open to appeal.

Mr Grant likened the Charity Commission’s investigations to the abolition of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. He went on to accuse Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission who is addressing the conference on Wednesday, of acting the part of Sir Thomas Cromwell - one of the chief architects of the Reformation. “Dame Suzi might think on the fate of Thomas Cromwell,” Mr Grant said. The chief minister in Henry VIII’s court was executed by order of the king, he told 250 heads of leading independents.

Private schools claim that parents save the Government £3 billion by educating their children in the private sector. In a direct attack on politicians who have threatened to withdraw charitable status and the financial gains it brings to the private sector, Mr Grant said: “Our parents’ taxes have not only funded a state education - their right to which they forgo - but have paid for your mortgages, your moats and your mint imperials,” Mr Grant said.

A voucher scheme, in which parents receive vouchers for the cost of education to spend at their chosen school, would be another way of widening participation at top schools, he added. The poorest would get higher value vouchers to incentivise schools to take these pupils. “The costs of education would travel with the parent.” This would create a market system in which the weakest schools would be killed off, Mr Grant said. “Increasing the pool of good schools allows people to opt out of the bad ones. You have to have more schools than the bare minimum if you are going to allow people to escape the worst ones.”

Mr Grant also accused top universities of dumbing down under government pressure to take students from poorer backgrounds. "Universities, too, have had their own dependency exploited to advance a political agenda. The logic runs thus; life has been unfair to Group X so we must take responsibility for introducing some unfairness into the lives of Group Y."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “We are surprised by the tone of the HMC Chair’s speech, which seems at odds with the constructive dialogue we have had with schools and other schools bodies. "It is still the case that we expect that most charities, including schools, will be able to meet the requirement."


British Universities accused of 'crude social engineering' by ignoring bright students from good schools

This is another report of the speech already mentioned above. It covers largely different ground

Leading universities were yesterday accused of running admissions policies which disadvantage bright pupils from good schools. Headmasters' leader Andrew Grant said new points-based systems were 'crude social engineering' as they give pupils from poor-performing schools a 'leg up' worth several grades. He accused the Government of exploiting universities' dependence on funding to 'advance a political agenda' of having more working-class students. Ministers were 'putting pressure on universities to socially engineer their intake according to criteria other than proven academic ability', he declared.

Mr Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of 250 leading independent schools, made his comments in a keynote address to the body's annual gathering. He also condemned interference in private schools. The heads' leader accused ministers of a 'medieval' attack on their charitable status, drawing parallels with Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

On university admissions, he highlighted a 'shocking' system used by Durham, which applies a 'modifier' to pupils from low-performing schools. The lower the school's average GCSE score, the higher the modifier. This can lead to some applicants getting a head start worth five or six A*s at GCSE. Pupils who attended schools including Agnes Stewart CofE High in Leeds, and Anfield Comprehensive in Liverpool, are given the maximum advantage of 5.5 A*s at GCSE. However, pupils from Eton and Mr Grant's school, St Albans, have none.

The score is used with factors such as AS-level grades, actual or predicted grades, personal statements and school references to decide admission. Mr Grant added that using such formulae left universities open to accusations they were 'penalising' pupils who were 'intelligent and well-educated'.

Oxford, Bristol, Warwick and Manchester were among other universities said to be using or considering-such systems for admissions.

In a coruscating attack, Mr Grant said: 'So enamoured are social engineers of unsuccess, they are determined to spread it.' He went on to warn that ministers were trying to push more pupils into university but failing to fund enough places. Many graduates-found themselves with huge debts of £23,000 and jobs unlikely to merit the time and expense spent, said Mr Grant. Thousands of students had suffered in 'the summer of the great betrayal', because they can't find university places or jobs, he added.


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