Friday, August 29, 2014

USDA: Yucky School Lunches Can Produce 'Civic-Minded, Community-Conscious Adults'

Who imagined that the Obama administration's effort to make school lunches more nutritious (but less delicious) would encourage children to become little community organizers?

The U.S. Agriculture Department has found an upside to all those "healthy" school lunches that students refuse to eat: It says schools can use the plate waste as a "learning opportunity" to turn young students into "civic-minded, community-conscious adults."

A blog on the USDA website explains that an elementary school in Northern Virginia is now donating untouched food to a local food pantry.

"The school’s Eco Team, run by sixth graders, ensures their fellow students are putting waste into the correct bin," the blog says.

"The team then collects, weighs, categorizes, and places the food to be donated into separate refrigerators, provided by the Food Bus, a non-profit organization that works with schools to donate food that would otherwise go to waste.

"At the end of the week, PTA members or community volunteers deliver the food to the local food pantry."

USDA says the 12 schools that worked with the Virginia-based Food Bus in the last school year provided 13,502 pounds of food to local pantries. The donations included packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas and apples, yogurt, string cheese, containers of apple sauce and sliced peaches, granola bars, and cartons of milk.

According to USDA, "Food waste and recovery is also incorporated into science lesson plans."

And Food Bus founder Kathleen Weil was quoted as saying that children "are not only  learning how to not throw away their food and add it to the national waste stream, but they’re learning that it can be used by someone who is hungry. They are getting a little spark of community service now that may have an impact in their life and the lives of the many people around them when they are adults."

The USDA says schools can reduce plate waste with simple rule changes, such as serving lunch after recess; giving vegetables appealing names, such as "creamy corn"; and establishing a "healthy options only" convenience line.

"By implementing these ideas, schools play a vital role in scaling back the amount of food taking up precious landfill space. More importantly, if a school uses food waste as a learning opportunity, it instills better habits in our young people and produces more civic-minded, community-conscious adults."

The blog also quotes Anne Rosenbaum, a elementary school science specialist, as saying that some students "really have an affinity" for food donation.

"They want to go to the food pantry to see how it works. Their parents call in to help volunteer because the kids are so interested. We laugh because our Eco Team and Eco Patrols get blue rubber gloves so that if they find people who have thrown something in the wrong bin they can put it in the right one.  They take their jobs really seriously.”

The USDA says it takes around six months to set up a food recovery program, and it is urging urges schools to share their food recovery stories by joining the "U.S. Food Waste Challenge."


LA: Jindal reportedly to sue federal government over Common Core

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in federal court Wednesday, claiming that the Department of Education has illegally manipulated grant money and regulations to force states to adopt the controversial Common Core standards.

In the suit, Jindal argues that the Education Department's $4.3 billion grant program "effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum" in violation of the state sovereignty clause in the Constitution and federal laws that prohibit national control of education content. The suit asks a judge to declare the department's actions unconstitutional and to keep it from disqualifying states from receiving Race to the Top funds based on a refusal to use Common Core or to participate in one of two state testing consortia tied to the department's grant program.

The legal challenge puts Jindal, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, at the forefront of a dispute between conservatives and President Barack Obama, bolstering the governor's profile on the issue as he's trying to court conservative voters nationwide.

"The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative," Jindal said in a statement. "Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything."

The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks describing what students should know after completing each grade. They were developed by states to allow comparison of students' performance. More than 40 states, including Louisiana, have adopted them.

When the state education board adopted the standards in 2010, Jindal supported them, saying they would help students to better prepare for college and careers. He reversed course earlier this year, however, and now says he opposes the standards because they are an effort by the Obama administration to meddle in state education policy.

The governor's change of heart is not shared by lawmakers, the state education board and his hand-picked education superintendent, all of whom refuse to jettison Common Core from Louisiana's classrooms. Jindal tried to derail use of the standards by suspending testing contracts, but a state judge lifted that suspension, calling the governor's actions harmful to parents, teachers and students.

Turning to federal court represents a new tactic in Jindal's efforts to undermine Louisiana's use of the standards.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has criticized the governor's opposition to Common Core as politically driven. In a June interview with "CBS This Morning," the secretary said of Jindal's switched position: "It's about politics, it's not about education."

The Obama administration embraced the standards and encouraged states to adopt them as part of the application process for the Race to the Top grant program. Two state testing consortia -- the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium -- received $330 million from the grant program to develop standardized testing material tied to Common Core.

"Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum," the lawsuit says. "What started as good state intentions has materialized into the federalization of education policy through federal economic incentives and duress."

Louisiana received more than $17 million from Race to the Top and joined the PARCC consortium. It also received a waiver from certain federal education requirements under a program enacted by the Obama administration in 2011 that Jindal's lawsuit says was designed to coerce states to use Common Core or risk the loss of billions in federal education funding.


Private schools for the poor

The accepted wisdom is that private schools serve the privileged; everyone else, especially the poor, requires public school. The poor, so this logic goes, need government assistance if they are to get a good education, which helps explain why, in the United States, many school choice enthusiasts believe that the only way the poor can get the education they deserve is through vouchers or charter schools, proxies for those better private or independent schools, paid for with public funds.

But if we reflect on these beliefs in a foreign context and observe low-income families in underprivileged and developing countries, we find these assumptions lacking: the poor have found remarkably innovative ways of helping themselves, educationally, and in some of the most destitute places on Earth have managed to nurture a large and growing industry of private schools for themselves.

For the past two years I have overseen research on such schools in India, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. The project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, was inspired by a serendipitous discovery of mine while I was engaged in some consulting work for the International Finance Corporation, the private finance arm of the World Bank. Taking time off from evaluating an elite private school in Hyderabad, India, I stumbled on a crowd of private schools in slums behind the Charminar, the 16th-century tourist attraction in the central city. It was something that I had never imagined, and I immediately began to wonder whether private schools serving the poor could be found in other countries. That question eventually took me to five countries—Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, India, and China—and to dozens of different rural and urban locales, all incredibly poor. Since the data gathered from Lagos, Nigeria, and Delhi, India, are not yet fully analyzed, this article reports on findings only from Gansu Province, China; Ga, Ghana; Hyderabad, India; and Kibera, Kenya. These are in vastly different settings, but my research teams and I found large numbers of private schools for low-income families, many of which showed measurable achievement advantage over government schools serving equally disadvantaged students


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