Are Chicago Public School (CPS) officials stealing candy from babies, or more to the point, skimming millions of dollars from funds collected to provide thousands of children with nutritious food? Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) is a federally funded program offering students free breakfast at school.
An internal memo surfaces stating:
CPS gets as much as $1.76 per student for a meal costing about a buck. So the district has the potential for $8.9 million of new revenue out of feeding kids cheap breakfasts.
So, what does the title of this diary have to do with Chicago and corruption? Bear with me while I attempt to connect the dots. The New York study referred to here began in 1979 and lasted for a period of four years. It included over 1 million students in 803 NYC public schools and was an earnest attempt to determine whether a healthy diet and academic achievement are related. In contrast, the CPS Breakfast in the Classroom program, has no such lofty goal, falls short of feeding kids healthy food and in the process is perhaps stealing the lunch (breakfast) money of thousands of its students.
Before holding teachers accountable for every single ailment of our education system became fashionable, school districts experimented (in the true sense of the word) to find data to support the hypothesis that poverty and achievement are related. It's hard to believe that just 25 short years ago we cared enough about kids to fund a jaw-droppingly innovative experiment like the NYC one. I hope you'll join me below because this isn't just about feeding children good food so they can do better at school, it's about a paradigm shift. Not a good one. We should pay attention.
Reading an outrage "Breakfast of Champions" about the CPS breakfast program posted by Susan Ohanian recently jogged my memory about a nutrition-related study conducted some years ago. The study, as I recalled, was conducted back in the day before everything was posted on the internet, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it, but after some scouring, I did. I'm sharing it because I think it's important to remember how differently at one time we viewed public education and children -- before the profit motive and the movement to privatize education became prevalent forces to be reckoned with.
The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools, Schoenthaler, SJ, Doraz WE, Wakefield JA. 1986 (Please link to the study to see the graph in all its glory and simplicity. It's a thing of beauty.)
In the spring of 1979, New York City’s public schools ranked in the 39th percentile on standardized California Achievement Test scores given nationwide. That means that 61 percent of the nation’s public schools scored higher. They had been in the lower half of the country for years. However, for a few years in the 1980s, these same 803 schools ranked in the upper half of the nation’s schools. They went from 11% below the national average to 5% above it. What happened?
The introduction of a diet policy which lowered sucrose, synthetic food color/flavors, and two preservatives (BHA and BHT) over 4 years in 803 public schools was followed by a 15.7% increase in mean academic percentile ranking above the rest of the nation's schools who used the same standardized tests. Prior to the 15.7% gain, the standard deviation of the annual change in nation percentile rating had been less than 1%.
The New York City study is based on information gained from the Feingold
diet. Unfortunately, once the food service director retired, New York returned to the usual fare they had been serving. The lesson to be learned here is that people make a difference, and the motives of those people make all the difference. Which brings us to the Chicago program.
If states were asked to design a meal plan for students that would be the least beneficial to them nutritionally, environmentally, and socially, Chicago's Breakfast in the Classroom would win the race to the top. The federally funded program consists of cheap food, bussed by students to their classrooms where teachers are preparing for the day, to be gulped down in 10 minutes.
The program hails itself as innovative. It's not. The BIC plan is to serve a free breakfast to as many students as possible to improve the bottom line of food service in schools. In a New York Times piece, Linda Somers, parent and the pediatric outpatient nutritionist at Children's Memorial Hospital, says the Chicago menu is horrible:
They're serving crap.
One classic -- a pancake wrapped around a sausage on a stick, to be dipped into syrup -- was very likely filled with saturated fat and calories.
Besides the Chicago program, there seem to be other programs labeled "Breakfast in the Classroom." It's difficult to distinguish whether they are all under the same federal umbrella. For example, the Oregon program seems have healthier menus: whole grain breads and cereals, cheese, yogurt, and fresh fruit, but their stated priorities include the profit motive. (Emphasis added.)
The advantages of BIC are many, but two key benefits emerge:
1. Students begin their day nourished and ready to learn. Research shows that educational dollars are maximized when children begin their school day with breakfast. Breakfast improves academic scores while reducing absenteeism, classroom disruptions, and trips to the school nurse.
2. Feeding more students breakfast can improve the financial bottom line of the school food service program.
Still another BIC program is funded by Wal-mart. Dallas Independent School District, Texas; Little Rock School District, Arkansas; Memphis City Schools, Tennessee; Orange County Public Schools, Florida; and Prince George’s County Public Schools, Maryland are the recipients of funding from the Walton Family Foundation. The Wal-mart goal is to leverage the Breakfast in the Classroom strategies to increase student participation in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program. I couldn't find any menus from this program, but am skeptical about Wal-mart's involvement in any education endeavor.
Today New York City school lunches are provided by SchoolFood, the largest school lunch provider in the country. A cursory search of both traditional and charter NYC schools didn't turn up a single lunch menu online, but vending machines seem to be popular. In contrast, a school district in Wisconsin decided to take matters into its own hands. Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching. What's going on in Appleton, Wisconsin? The goal was to show that fresh, nutritious food can make a real difference in the student's behavior, learning and health. Find out how some other communities are improving nutrition and academics at School Lunch.
Feeding America's hungry children is commendable. We should strive to make sure no child goes hungry. But nutritious food with low sugar and fat content, no additives, and an appropriate time and place to eat it should be the driving force -- not profit. The BIC program doesn't require standards for the nutritional value of the food as the New York study did. Instead, shoring up the bottom line and making school food programs highly profitable ventures seems to be the goal. Tax payers should demand that food service programs such as BIC comply to the highest nutritional standards. Every cent of our taxpayer dollars should be spent on fresh food, grown and managed locally, that reaches the mouths of hungry children. This is a instance where common core standards would be appropriate and desirable.