Sunday, June 1, 2014

Educational Food Fight

This past week featured not one, but two terrible ideas related to schools that people need to know about. One is a conservative issue while the other, oddly enough, is one of those issues that has bipartisan stupidity blowing its tailwind (there's a visual, no?).

Declaring that serving school children fresh fruits and vegetables might be too expensive for some districts, the House Appropriations Committee voted to allow states to get waivers so they don't have to meet the health standards. This, of course, is Michele Obama's number one policy concern as First Lady, and she certainly weighed in on the issue, so it's really no surprise that the Republicans would want to allow states to opt out of the program. After all, there are all of those meat, potato, sugar and fast/snack food interests that need to get something for their campaign contributions. And they can't give either Obama a political victory, can they?

The main opposition is that the program is costly and restrictive, and I can se why. Students, at first, probably throw out a lot of nutritious food, especially if they're not getting it at home and they don't like it. And junk food is less expensive than fresh fruits and vegetables because those industries want people to stretch their budgets on those foods, not on apples, kale and avocados.

But the larger issue is that it's the job of schools to educate, not only in the classroom but also in the cafeteria and the playground. Can you imagine schools opting out of safety regulations or allowing students to fight during recess or physical education because, well, isn't competition and survival of the fittest the main building blocks of a free enterprise, entrepreneurial economy? What's the difference between that and modeling and serving healthy food in the cafeteria? What you bring from home is your business. In school, it's in the state's interest to keep people healthy. When you've seen, as I have, students coming our of the cafeteria line with pizza with french fries, then you know there's a problem.

The bipartisan ridiculousness is over the Common Core Curriculum Standards. The left doesn't like them because of their reliance on tests and the right doesn't like them because they want the states to be able to craft their own standards and believe that the federal government has no business regulating schools. Both sides have good points, but in the end, the United States will only be able to compete with other countries if every student learns the same body of knowledge.

And the problem is not just one of geography. States across the country have a hodgepodge of standards that are difficult to reconcile, from when they require students to master certain mathematics and science skills to requiring physical education or how many years of United States History students must take. Where I teach, students do not get any instruction in Greek or Roman history, which is the basis our form of government. Yes, we should be teaching multicultural perspectives, but to be able to graduate from high school with no knowledge of the great people who presaged Western culture is not a quality practice.

The Common Core standards do need serious editing and we do need other evaluative measures than tests to measure their effectiveness. Getting rid of them, though, is not the answer.

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  1. I once saw the following served for lunch: fried onion rings + fried chicken "fingers" on a white sub roll with a side of...wait for it...french fries.

    1. And it gets worse than that, but the students throw away the healthy food.

  2. Ravitch on Common Core:
    "The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them."