Madison schools serve free dinners

Some public schools in Madison, Wisconsin are serving a free dinner to  students who participate in after-school programs.  That’s in addition to federally subsidized breakfast, lunch and post-school snacks, which are free only for children from low- and moderate-income families.

Just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, as Falk Elementary’s Safe Haven after-school program was winding down, students lined up to wash their hands for dinner.

The menu for the Madison School District’s new dinner program included turkey sandwiches, fruit cups, broccoli and chocolate milk.

It’s healthier food than the soda, sugary candy, snacks and fast food some students will eat before going to evening activities or homes with working parents who prepare later meals, after-school program director Kelly Zagrodnik said.

If the school has enough low-income students, then all students in after-school programs are eligible for a free meal, regardless of family income.  Federal funds — $2.86 per meal — cover the cost.

Mayor Paul Soglin wants free dinners at all schools to entice children to sign up for after-school program, which include “access to tutors, mentors, study skills sessions, supervised recreation and sports.”

Are there families who’d pass up after-school activities — and free child care — unless their kid could get a 5 pm dinner?

A student could eat breakfast at home, breakfast at school, lunch, after-school snack, early dinner at school and late dinner at home.  No wonder  childhood obesity is our greatest national security threat.

Or perhaps parents are supposed to stopped feeding their children at home, so the school can do it better.

Madison is a relatively affluent town, writes Ann Althouse.

‘Broader, Bolder’ is ‘narrow, niggling, naive’

Low achievement by low-income students isn’t caused by poverty, argues Paul Peterson in Education Next.  He’s responding to a speech by Helen Ladd to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management calling for fighting poverty and income inequality rather than trying to change schools.

Education reform policies “are not likely to contribute much in the future —to raising overall student achievement or to reducing [gaps in] achievement,” said Ladd, an advocate of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. Instead, policy makers should adopt “macro-economic policies designed to reduce unemployment, cash assistance programs for poor families, tax credits for low wage workers, or or an all-out assault ‘war on poverty.’”

Family income correlates with reading and math scores, but research hasn’t found a causal link, Peterson writes. It’s possible that “parents who make a better living also . . . do a better job of raising their children.”

In a 2011 Brookings Institution report, increasing a poor family’s income by 50 percent lifted math achievement by 20 percent of a standard deviation,” but that drops to 6.4 percent after adjusting for “race, mother’s and father’s education, single or two-parent family, smoking during pregnancy, and so forth.”  It’s more than twice as important for achievement to have a mother with a high school diploma instead of a mother who dropped out.

Drawing on a study by Stanford education professor Sean Reardon, Ladd says that the gap in reading achievement between students from families in the lowest and highest income deciles is larger for those born in 2001 than for those born in the early 1940s. She suspects it is because those living in poor families today have “poor health, limited access to home environments with rich language and experiences, low birth weight, limited access to high-quality pre-school opportunities, less participation in many activities in the summer and after school that middle class families take for granted, and more movement in and out of schools because of the way that the housing market operates.”

But her trend data hardly support that conclusion. Those born to poor families in 2000 had much better access to medical and preschool facilities than those born in 1940. Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, summer programs, housing subsidies, and the other components of Johnson’s War on Poverty did not become available until 1965. Why didn’t those broad, bold strokes reduce the achievement gap?

What has changed for the worse is family structure, Peterson writes. More children are growing up in single-parent families, which doubles the risk that a child will drop out of high school.

Ladd proposes spending more on preschool, after-school programs, school-based health clinics and social services. These programs “have never been shown to have more than modest effects on student achievement,” Peterson writes. She also wants high-quality schools with good teachers for needy students — with no way to judge quality. “In sum, the Broader, Bolder platform is narrow, niggling, naïve, and negligible. . . . They promise little hope of stemming the rising number of single-parent families, a major contributor to both child poverty and low levels of student performance. “

School of One

Once a school troublemaker, Ta-Nehisi Coates became a successful journalist.  He wonders if a personalized education would have worked for him. In The Littlest Schoolhouse in The Atlantic, he looks at the School of One, a personalized after-school math program for seventh graders at a three New York City middle schools.

Joel Rose, a Teach for America veteran, uses computers to teach each child at his “optimal level.” He worked with Wireless Generation to create an algorithm weighing a student’s academic needs, learning preferences and classroom resources.

. . . first, the student and his parents and teachers are surveyed about his classroom habits. Then the student takes a diagnostic test to see how well he understands basic math. Those data are then sent to the New York Department of Education’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan, where School of One’s algorithm produces a tentative lesson plan. That lesson plan is then e-mailed to the student’s teachers, who revise it as they see fit. At the end of every day, the student takes another short diagnostic, which is used to create another tentative lesson plan that appears in the teachers’ inboxes by eight o’clock that evening.

The result is that one student might learn to add fractions at a dry-erase board with a small group, while another student uses the Internet to practice calculating the area of a circle with a tutor in Kentucky, while still another student learns about factoring through a game on his laptop.

Piloted in 2009 as a summer program at a Chinatown middle school, School of One raised scores by 28 percent. Coates visited tech-savvy I.S. 339, a Latino-and-black school in the South Bronx that’s trying the program.

Principal Jason Levy, who started as a Teach for America teacher, had tried to personalize education by “grouping his teachers into teams assigned to the same students, enabling them to compare notes and design specific strategies for kids who were faltering.”  Test scores rose dramatically with 62 percent of students now on track in math, up from 9 percent six years ago.  Levy welcomed School of One.

. . .  30 or so kids in small groups were hashing out the nuances of seventh-grade math. Some worked by themselves on laptops, with headsets linking them to a virtual tutor. Others were at a dry-erase board with a teacher or high-school tutor. At the front of the room, a large electronic monitor, like an airport arrivals board, identified every student in the room and the station where he or she should be working.

Next year, School of One will replace the math curricula in the three pilot schools. Most of the funding will come from private foundations.