Flypaper

Less-than-humble Liam isn't willing to acknowledge the significance of the recent Philadelphia healthy-eating study. He goes so far as to say that it "has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be healthier. Of course they will!"

Of course they will? The last several decades of education research are littered with examples of promising initiatives that take "several hours a day" and don't get any results. In fact, there's a serious debate among reformers and apologists about whether it's fair to expect schools to have any impact on children's well-being--academic or otherwise--since the kiddies spend most of their days outside of school and since home factors play such a large role in determining children's fate. (Even the original Education Gadfly, Checker Finn, once estimated that children only spend nine percent of their lives in schools from age zero to eighteen.)

So here you have an initiative whereby schools serve children healthier lunches, keep them from accessing junk food and sugary drinks for seven hours a day, and teach them the basics about balanced eating. The schools have no direct control over anything else--the junk the kids might eat for breakfast, the junk they might eat for dinner, the junk they might eat for snacks, their lethargic after-school lifestyles. You might say the schools have even less control over kids' diet and exercise than over their academic development. And yet this...

As a national education player, the American Federation of Teachers has been careful not to bash No Child Left Behind too overtly. It even calls its NCLB site "Let's Get It Right" (not, say, "Throw NCLB Under the Bus"). But that's not the tone expressed by the president of its Pennsylvania affiliate when explaining its support for Hillary Clinton to Education Week's David Hoff:

Sen. Clinton has been more emphatic about overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act and has opposed merit pay for teachers, said Mr. Kirsch, who as a vice president of the national union took part in the AFT's decision to endorse Sen. Clinton in October.

Mr. Kirsch isn't kidding; Clinton's standard line is that "I want to end the No Child Left Behind program because I don't think it's working the way it was promised." So now "emphatic about overhauling" means "determined to kill."

Fordham was once charged with having an unclear position on NCLB. Ours is sunny blue day compared to the AFT's murky skies. Perhaps it's up to the incoming AFT president to set things straight. Ms. Weingarten, where do you stand?...

Liam Julian

While education is ignored in the U.S. presidential race, it's big-time politics in the U.K., where Schools Secretary Ed Balls (and, by extension, Prime Minister Gordon Brown) is taking it on the chin, not only from conservatives (see here) and fellow cabinet members (see here), but now from MPs??in his own party.

Balls's rough handling of private and faith schools could, it seems, do significant damage to Labor's prospects in the May 1 elections.

Liam Julian

I had??never heard of it.??But I predict a pandemic as soon as it makes the New York Times style section.

But what if the second version of the problem makes about as much sense as the first? If the mere sight of it causes a fluttering heart and sweaty palms? What if there is confusion between the 9 and 6 on the one hand, and the addition and multiplication symbols on the other? Or 23 is read as 32? Or the numbers and symbols are identifiable, but how to begin the problem is a complete mystery?

Update: Wikipedia tells me that perhaps 5 percent of the population may be dyscalculic.

Liam Julian

Mike wants me to eat humble pie. I'd like??to, but his arguments haven't convinced me. He writes:

In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique.

He is, of course, conflating two fields: the education field, in which "few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value," and the nutrition science??field, in which studies often give us worthwhile conclusions (when their conclusions are??tempered??by common sense, of course). The two-year Philadelphia??food study has nothing to do with education; it's about whether kids who eat healthful foods for several hours a day will be??healthier. Of course they will!??

Mike presumes that schools require studies like Philadelphia's before they'll spend more money on better cafeteria-food options. Sadly, he's probably right. My point is, and has always been, that such studies are in reality??unnecessary and simply convolute that which should be clear as day: don't feed students garbage.

We don't study whether exposing kids to less mold makes them healthier--we know it does, which is why schools invest money in keeping up their facilities and are??attacked when they allow classrooms to deteriorate. School district leaders and Mike Petrilli may require longitudinal data to tell them that, for example,??exercise is important, healthful food makes healthy people, and the less anthrax one ingests the better.??But they shouldn't....

Just last week, Liam expressed skepticism about a scrupulous research study that found that serving kids healthier food and drink led to fewer of them getting fat:

Isn't it odd that a school embraces healthy food alternatives only after a two-year research study? It reminds one of the humorous dig at think tanks: that they study reality to see if it conforms to theory. In Philadelphia's schools, it seems, common sense has truly been vindicated. It is, in fact, correct that replacing soda and potato chips with healthful alternatives will make students healthier!

Chuckle all you want, Liam, but schools have limited resources and, as you say yourself, "schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices." (So reports the Washington Post--on its front page, no less.) Why not admit that this well-designed research study could actually perform a worthwhile public service by stemming the rush from tofu to tater tots? In a field where few research studies ever make any conclusions with real-world value, this particular study deserves praise, not pique....

Liam Julian

Schools are turning to unhealthier cafeteria-food options because of rising food prices, reports the Washington Post. Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee seems to have the right idea: allow private contractors to supply lunches. One assumes that, for what schools currently spend, probably they could get more healthful and more varied food than is currently on offer.

Promise Academy in Harlem spends more per student, per day (in 2005, $5.87 at Promise covered costs for a pupil's breakfast, lunch, and snacks) than most public schools--but not that much more. And it is able to staff its kitchen with a Johnson and Wales University culinary school grad who churns out meals like whole wheat penne with fresh vegetables.

Thanks to scrupulous research, we now know that when kids eat healthful foods they grow healthier. Isn't it time schools exercised a little creativity and moved away from the chicken nuggets?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post Magazine ran a provocative piece by Jay Mathews about an excellent elementary school in Northern Virginia that has failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under No Child Left Behind for going on three years. What made the article interesting is that it didn't go for NCLB's jugular. Mathews writes:

While following [school principal] Hughey-Guy around the school one recent afternoon and talking to her teachers, I gave them every opportunity to blame the ravages of poverty, to blame the bureaucratic insistence on giving tests in English to children who have not had time to learn the language and, particularly, to blame the law. They declined to check any of those boxes. Whom did they blame? Themselves.

And, as Mathews explains, the next version of NCLB--expected to include an accountability system that looks at student progress over time, rather than just a snapshot, as the current one does--will surely find Barcroft to be A-OK. But experience to date indicates that the Barcrofts of the world are few and far between. In North Carolina, for example, when the state moved to a "growth model" (allowed by a federal pilot program), only a handful of schools in the state were let off the hook by the new system. Most of the schools "in need of improvement" under NCLB would remain so under NCLB version 2.0 because they aren't making nearly the dramatic progress necessary to catch their kids up to where they need to...

In Sunday's New York Times, Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, seeks to correct what he thinks may be a popularly-held hunch that China's growing class of educated urbanites will soon pressure the Chinese government to reform.

On the contrary, says Forney, "Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government's human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you'll meet."

He goes on:

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China's humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao's tyranny was "30 percent wrong," then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the "Dalai clique," a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"Of course," he acknowledges, "the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country's corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical."

That seems like a smart observation. One can't imagine why young city-dwellers should be especially inclined to question textbooks that exaggerate or lie outright about the glories...

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