Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cafeteria Directors Applaud School Lunch Menu Rollback

The Trump administration has relaxed U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional standards for school lunches that were implemented during the Obama administration. Several cafeteria directors have heralded the decision, asserting that it will result in more students eating what's put on their plate. Meanwhile, nutrition advocates are concerned that the relaxed standards will hinder efforts to curb childhood obesity.

On May 1, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA would loosen several standards on school lunches while moving a sodium mandate that was set to go into effect in July 2017 to 2020. The Trump administration official asserted that the current standards were resulting in school lunches that students did not want to eat.

"We know meals cannot be nutritious if they're not consumed, if they're thrown out," Perdue said, according to the Washington Post. "We have to balance sodium and whole grain content with palatability."

The Agriculture Secretary pledged that the rollback wouldn't weaken nutrition standards but instead give "school food professionals the flexibility they need."

In 2012, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, born from a campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama, began instituting new standards of school lunch nutrition nationwide. The most prominent regulations mandated that all cafeterias had to serve fruit and vegetables during every meal, all meals be whole grain, and that all flavored-milk be fat-free.

The changes instituted by Perdue will allow schools to obtain waivers to serve foods that are at least 50 percent whole grain and to serve flavored milk with 1 percent fat.

"[Perdue] is not changing the standards per se, but he is allowing schools to not follow them," nutrition policy researcher David Pelletier of Cornell University told PolitiFact. "It's a bit like saying the posted speed limits on the roads remain the same, but you can go as fast as you want."

Several school cafeteria teachers in New York state welcomed the changes, asserting that they would afford them more flexibility to serve meals that students would be eager to eat.

"It doesn't put such a chokehold on the items that we can serve," director Sandy Cocca of the Sweet Home Central School District told The Buffalo News. "We don't want to put something on a plate that they're going to throw out. We want them to consume what's on the plate."

Director Kim Roll of the Tonawanda School District agreed: "Letting up a bit is a good thing for schools."

Cafeteria directors were especially appreciative of Perdue's decision to delay the scheduled sodium mandate to 2020. The regulation would have required cafeterias to cut the maximum amount of sodium allowed in lunches by half. Critics said that the regulation would have been too onerous, with only 935 milligrams of sodium allowed in elementary school lunches.

Director Bridget O'Brien Wood of Buffalo Public Schools noted that none of her colleagues wanted to fully reverse the changes made by Obama, but rather tinker to with them to find a balance between nutrition and taste.

"No one's abandoning the idea," O'Brien Wood said of Obama's efforts to reduce childhood obesity. "I think we've had to look at what's not working, and change things from there."

Not everyone is happy with the USDA rollback. Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook blasted Perdue's decision as a blow to the campaign against childhood obesity.

"Just because children would rather eat heavily salted, processed foods at school doesn't mean they should," Cook said in a statement, according to USA Today. "The president's fondness for Big Macs and KFC is well known, but we shouldn't let Colonel Sanders and McDonald's run the school cafeteria."


And some idiotic comments via JAMA

Has it occurred to Mrs Obama that SHE is the one playing with the lives of the children?  Given the lack of agreement in the medical literature over what food is "healthy", that accusation sticks to her.

And bureaucrat Brown says the existing system is not broken.  What does she call the fact that the kids throw out half the food they are currently given? JR

Proposed Education Department Cuts Are Long Overdue

Hans Bader

Even modest and long-overdue budget cuts draw condemnation. The White House proposed cutting the budget of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) from $108.5 million to $106.7 million—a “minuscule amount,” notes education researcher George Leef.  Yet the liberal columnist Colbert King claimed this tiny 1.7 percent cut would have somehow “gutted” civil rights enforcement. In reality, as Professor Shep Melnick notes, even if Congress enacted this budget cut, OCR’s budget in 2018 would be no smaller than it was in 2016, and larger than it was in 2014, when “OCR’s budget was just a little over $98 million.”

While advocates claim OCR needs more money due to an increased caseload, Melnick says the rising caseload is partly attributable to three filers who together filed more than 7,000 largely duplicative complaints. In 2014, that included “1,700 sex discrimination complaints filed by two individuals.” In 2016, “a whopping 6,157 Title IX complaints” were filed by one individual.” As Melnick asks, “Should the number of complaints filed by two or three enterprising private citizens be the standard for judging how much public money a regulatory agency receives?”

Moreover, Melnick points out that the agency’s backlog of cases is not due to an inadequate budget.  Rather, it came into being due to the Obama administration’s unnecessary decision to dramatically expand the scope of investigations beyond what’s needed for provide redress for individual victims of discrimination. Rather than resolve individual complaints about sexual assault or harassment on campus, or racial disparities in K-12 school discipline, the Obama-era OCR would begin “a full-blown investigation of the entire institution” every time it received an individual complaint. And it would keep searching for a violation until it found one, even if it didn’t involve any discrimination or harassment, but just “deficient record-keeping.”

Civil libertarians like Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argue that these “systemic” investigations improperly required colleges to revisit other complaints resolved long ago, potentially leading to colleges overturning not guilty verdicts against students accused of harassment or assault. “That was quite alarming from a double jeopardy and civil liberties perspective,” Shibley said. The Obama-era OCR also prodded colleges like University of Virginia to investigate even when students suspected of being victims didn’t even want any investigation. Other system-wide investigations under Title VI prodded school districts to adopt racial quotas in school discipline when minority parents argued that an individual teacher or principal had improperly disciplined their child.

The Trump administration has now withdrawn the Obama administration’s 2014 enforcement guidance. That guidance had demanded that there be “systemic” investigations of colleges in response to every individual complaint of sexual harassment or assault and “systemic” investigations of school districts in response to every individual complaint of racial discrimination in school discipline by a teacher or principal.  (Its June 2017 memo to OCR regional directors about the proper scope of investigations can be found at this link.)

That withdrawal should make it easy for OCR to eliminate its case backlog, even if its budget shrinks in the future. Moreover, if OCR stopped making up violations of laws such as Title VI and Title IX out of thin air, it would have much less to do and could get by with a much smaller budget. As two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted in a February 26, 2015 letter to Congress, OCR “has all too often been willing to define perfectly legal conduct as unlawful,” spending taxpayer money “to address violations it has made up out of thin air. Increasing OCR’s budget would in effect reward the agency for frequently overstepping the law.”

There are much larger education budget cuts in Trump’s budget blueprint, but they are justified and long overdue. As education scholars Bill Evers and Vicki Alger note at Intellectual Takeout, “Trump wants to reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget by $9.2 billion, from $68.3 billion to $59.1 billion.” Nearly two-thirds of the cuts are “from eliminating programs that are duplicative or just don’t work.”

One failed program slated for elimination is the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. As Evers and Alger note, it “gave poorly performing schools fistfuls of cash” in the hope that they would “turn themselves around and raise student achievement.” That program has consumed more “than $7 billion to date—including a one-time infusion of $3 billion” in Obama’s stimulus package. “The Obama administration publicly revealed the SIG program’s colossal failure on January 18, 2017, just hours before President Obama’s appointees departed. According to the final evaluation … SIG had ‘no significant impacts’” on student achievement or graduation. “Commenting on the evaluation, Andrew R. Smarick, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education, called SIG ‘the greatest failure in the history of the U.S. Department of Education.’”

Evers and Alger note that the “K-12 programs proposed for elimination in the Trump budget are similarly ineffective. In 1994, the Clinton administration started the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. … Nearly $18 billion spent over two decades later, there’s scant evidence of success. ‘It’s a $1.2 billion after-school program that doesn’t work,’” according to Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, a former Clinton administration official and an expert on the program.


Australia: Woolly thinking won’t help with education

Some weeks more than others, the woolly thinking that leads to poor policy is blindingly obvious. Education policy development is beleaguered by smart and influential people with misguided ideas.

Example 1: The Mitchell Institute released a report finding one in four young people leave school without a qualification, and one in eight is not engaged in further education or work at age 24. They estimate the latter group has $18.8 billion less income over their lifetimes and accumulate $50.5 billion in social costs for each cohort of 24-year-olds.

The report does not offer any suggestions about what might be done to reduce this problem, and that’s absolutely fine. There’s no shame in pointing out a problem without positing the solution. Unfortunately, in launching the report, Victoria University Vice- Chancellor Peter Dawkins ignored this precept, making a colossal leap with the suggestion that schools should spend more time helping students develop life skills rather than placing an ‘excessive’ focus on literacy and numeracy.

NAPLAN test results in 2016 revealed one in four students in Year 9 barely meet the very low national minimum literacy and numeracy standards. Results from the 2015 international PISA tests of 15-year-olds are also damning ― 39 per cent of students were below the national proficient standard in reading and 45 per cent below the national proficient standard in mathematical literacy.

Assuming these figures are accurate, it is no mystery why so many young people ditch school as soon as they can, and then struggle to find stable work.

I am all for giving young people ‘life skills’, but it is difficult to think of any skills more useful for education, employment, and good health than reading, writing, and a good grasp of arithmetic. This is true irrespective of the type of work – even ‘unskilled’ jobs require a functional level of literacy. Just getting a driving license is very difficult if you can’t read; try getting a blue-collar job without one.

Example 2: The latest UNICEF report card put Australia at the bottom of the class for the quality of school education. To my knowledge, I have never been accused of being a Pollyanna about Australian education, and the above statistics bear out my stance. But the UNICEF assessment is dubious at best. The UNICEF index of ‘quality’ is based on a combination of student achievement in the PISA tests and preschool participation rates. On this index, Mexico places equal third in the world with South Korea even though its PISA results are below the OECD average!

Nonetheless, in this case ― yet again ― the prescription to treat Australia’s educational malaise is pure quackery. UNICEF Australia director of policy and advocacy Amy Lamoin says we should look to Scandinavian countries where “There’s a lot of experimentation and discovery in their learning, and shorter school days with more focus on extra-curricular activities.”

While it’s difficult to be certain from one quote, Ms Lamoin seems to be endorsing the discovery or inquiry-based approach to classroom pedagogy. This is the precise opposite of what the evidence from PISA and other research tells us lead to better outcomes for students – that is, rigorous, rich curricula and purposeful, explicit teaching.

Fortunately, this week we also have an example of responsive policy making from the South Australian government. After a number of reading researchers expressed detailed concerns to the Department of Education and Child Development about the design of their trial of the UK Phonics Screening Check – namely, arguing that it should involve students in Year 1 rather than just Reception ― Education Minister Susan Close announced a review of the trial design and implementation. That’s the good news this week. One out of three isn’t bad.


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