Monday, June 02, 2014

Public School Kids Rebel Against Michelle Obama's Healthy School Lunches As First Daughters Get Meatball Subs, Ice Cream

I know, the last thing you’d expect from the Obamas is hypocrisy. Alas, I bring you yet another example, this time regarding school lunches. First Lady Michelle Obama has been widely criticized among hungry students across the U.S., a result of school meal nutrition standards that she successfully lobbied for in 2010. Twitchy has done a great job capturing the reactions and photos to some of these lunches and it’s not pretty (click here, here, and here for examples). But CNS News decided to dig a little deeper. What exactly are Michelle O’s daughters eating at lunch? Is it in any way comparable to the lunches in our nation’s public schools? Obviously, the answer is no:

 With public school students using #ThanksMichelleto tweet photos of their skimpy, stomach-turning school lunches, I decided to look at what Michelle Obama's daughters are served at Sidwell Friends school, and it turns out the girls dine on lunches from menus designed by chefs.

While the Obama daughters have enjoyed dishes like chicken coconut soup, local butternut squash soup, crusted tilapia,they also get their fill of what Mrs. Obama might consider junk food.

This week, for example, they'll enjoy meatball subs, BBQ wings, and ice cream, in addition to chicken curry, deviled egg salad and the intriguing "Chef's Choice."

Sidwell Friends has even been rated the #1 School Lunch program in America.

House Republicans have a new bill that addresses the concerns schools have about the lunch program, such as its cost and restrictiveness. Naturally, the first lady attacked the effort on Tuesday, calling it “unacceptable.” The nation is facing a “health crisis,” she insisted, and “the last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with kids’ health.”


Michelle Obama Pens NYT Editorial, Defends School Lunch Program

First Lady Michelle Obama defended her school lunch program in an op-ed published in the New York Times Wednesday. It was well-timed, considering angry children are tweeting relentlessly about their small and limited lunch options:

Obama’s primary pitch for the program was not an appeal to effective policy-making or good governance, but rather, an appeal to science. Obama correctly stated that “less sugar, salt and fat” in a child’s diet improves overall health. No one is denying this fact, and it is wonderful to allow children the option of serving themselves up a plate of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, mandating what a child eats for five out of the average 21 meals a week they consume is neither effective nor good-policy making.

The problem with the op-ed was, primarily, that it didn’t address the issue: government overreach:

    "Right now, the House of Representatives is considering a bill to override science by mandating that white potatoes be included on the list of foods that women can purchase using WIC dollars. Now, there is nothing wrong with potatoes. The problem is that many women and children already consume enough potatoes and not enough of the nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables they need. That’s why the Institute of Medicine — the nonpartisan, scientific body that advises on the standards for WIC — has said that potatoes should not be part of the WIC program."

Potatoes? Really? It isn’t as though they are buying cigarettes or alcohol.

A recent investigation by NBC4 in Washington, D.C. found that more than 60,000 low-income children have actually been skipping lunch:

    "Food service directors in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick and Prince William county schools said newer, stiffer federal requirements for school lunch menus are contributing to the shortfall of student participation in lunch programs. A review by the Government Accountability Office said newly imposed federal rules, requiring healthier food options, can increase cost and decrease portion size. The report from the GAO said, in multiple school districts, “Negative student reactions to lunches that complied with the new meat and grain portion size limits directly affected program participation in their districts.”

So what is the solution to getting kids to eat healthy? Parents have been struggling with this problem for ages.


Stagnation Nation? High School Seniors’ Results on Nation’s Report Card Didn’t Budge

The U.S. Department of Education recently released grade 12 results in reading and math from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. In a nutshell, performance stayed largely unchanged from the 2009 assessment. What’s more, experts worry that students are graduating largely unprepared for college or the workplace.

Alarming majorities of students are not proficient in reading and math. In math, just over one in four students scored proficient in math (26 percent); while less than two out of five students scored proficient in reading (38 percent). Across student racial sub-groups, less than 50 percent of students reached proficiency in reading and math.

The 2013 NAEP assessment is a nationally representative sample of 92,000 students from public and private schools in 13 states that participated.

Reaction to the results was grim. As Liz Klimas reported for The Blaze:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that even though there has been some good news related to graduation rates and scores in younger grades, high school achievement has been flat in recent years. ‘We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as a nation we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students,’ Duncan said. The results come as community colleges and four-year institutions try to improve remedial education programs, given that only about one-quarter of students who take a remedial class graduate. It’s estimated that more than one-third of all college students, and more than one-half in community colleges, need some remedial help, according to research from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. [See here.]

The disappointing grade 12 NAEP results come on the heels of a report last month that American high school graduation rates reached an historic high of 80 percent. Some experts speculate that this disconnect is the result of watered down classes and grade inflation, which make it easier for students to get high school diplomas but more difficult for them to do well on objective standardized tests because they don’t have a solid academic foundation.

But there is good news. A variety of parental choice programs are helping some 1.5 million students attend schools of their parents’ choice. Specifically, close to 850,000 families in seven states are benefiting from education tax credits and deductions that help them pay out-of-pocket tuition for private schools. More than 300,000 students are also attending private schools through 41 parental choice programs in 22 states.

U.S. Department of Education analyses have shown “that students who had attended private school in eighth grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor’s or higher degree by their mid-20s (52 versus 26 percent)” (p. 24). Importantly, students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (referred to as socioeconomic status or SES) who had attended private schools in eighth grade were more than three times as likely as their public school peers to have earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties (24 versus 7 percent) (p. 24). Based on its ongoing reviews, the U.S. Department of Education summarized, “For the past 30 years, NAEP has reported that students in private schools outperform students in public schools” (p.2).

Available NAEP results for grades 4, 8, and 12 over the past decade reveal students attending private schools outperform their public school peers overall by as much as two grade levels, depending on the subject. Likewise, low-income and minority students also outperform their public school peers by as much as two and a half grade levels (pp. 19-23).

Gold-standard research of parental choice programs confirms that participating students, the overwhelming majority of whom are from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have higher academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and college-enrollment rates than their public school peers. A significant body of additional scientific research confirms those findings.

Parental choice programs also save money (pp. 29-31), and introduce powerful competitive pressure for public schools to perform better. In fact, in areas where public schools face competition for students from private and other types of schools, student achievement improves (see, for example, here and here).

Letting parents choose the education options they believe work best for their children is a tried and true way of overcoming academic stagnation and setting students up for success. Rather than limiting education options, policymakers should be expanding them.


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