Kids won’t eat healthy school lunches

Making School Lunches Healthier Doesn’t Mean Kids Will Eat Them, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Los Angeles Unified has been fighting childhood obesity for years: It ” outlawed sodas in schools in 2004, banned selling junk food on campus, and swapped the bulk of its canned and frozen produce for fresh,” writes Khazan. Still,  42 percent of students are overweight or obese.

In 2011, the district went after school lunches.

. .  .the new menus were the most austere measure yet, cutting kid-friendly favorites like chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and nachos. Instead, little Jayden and Mia would dine would dine on vegetarian curries, tostada salad, and fresh pears.

A student rebellion ensued—kids brought Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to school rather than much on quinoa salad—and L.A. Unified was forced to settle for a middle ground between Alice Waters and Ronald McDonald.

Under the new new menu, “Hamburgers will be offered daily,” the L.A. Times reported. “Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor.”

But students are still “beelining toward carbs and meat and avoiding fruits and vegetables,” according to a study in the April issue of Preventative Medicine. Examining middle schoolers lunch trays, researchers found that “32 percent of students did not take the fruit from the line, and almost 40 percent did not take the vegetables. Among those who did take a fruit or vegetable, 22 percent threw away the fruit and 31 percent tossed the vegetables without eating a single bite.”

 So in essence, just over half the students both took and ate some fruit, and about 42 percent both took and ate a vegetable.

Salads were the most common vegetable to be left untouched, while whole fruits, like apples and oranges, were far less popular than fruit cups or juices.

Food waste totals at least $100,000 a day, estimates the Times.

School districts are losing their paying lunchers because of new federal regulations, reports Reason. Congressional Republicans may give money-losing districts a one-year waiver of federal regulations, reports Reason.

Michelle Obama adamantly opposes any changes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Other proposed changes include “scrapping a requirement that foods be 100% whole-grain by July 2014 and sticking with the current 50% target; holding to the newly enacted standard for sodium rather than a lower target scheduled to go into effect in a few years; and eliminating the requirement that students take a fruit or vegetable, regardless of whether they plan to eat it.”

One of my stepdaughter is a nutritionist who designs school lunches. The insanely complex guidelines must be met every day, she says. It’s not possible to go a little under in one category on Monday and make it up on Tuesday.

Parents ‘trigger’ change — without a charter

At a Los Angeles school, a parents’ group used the state’s “parent trigger” law to get the changes they wanted, while keeping West Athens Elementary in the school district, writes Natasha Lindstrom for the Hechinger Report.

Los Angeles Unified agreed “to bolster school behavior and safety plans, improve communication between parents and teachers and provide increased professional development and support for teachers,” reports Lindstrom. The district will spend $300,000 to fund a full-time psychologist, a part-time psychiatrist social worker and a full-time attendance officer.

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children's Los Angeles school to discuss the next steps to force a major overhaul of their struggling neighborhood school. They're among the first in the nation to use the so-called "parent trigger" law to transform a school. (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children’s Los Angeles school.  (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

The law lets a majority of parents at a low-performing school petition for changes “ranging from replacing the principal and half the staff to converting the school into a charter,”  reports Lindstrom.

Gabe Rose, deputy executive director of Parent Revolution, said he views the collaboration as a positive sign that these types of efforts can lead to changes without disrupting and dividing communities. In this case, the parent trigger served as leverage, a negotiating tool to ensure parent concerns were heard, but invoking the actual law didn’t prove necessary, he said.

“Districts have seen the story play out enough times now, I think, that they understand they have to take organized parents seriously because they have real rights and they have real power if they stick together,” Rose said.

Two early trigger campaigns in Adelanto and Compton were fought fiercely. By negotiating with parents, Los Angeles Unified now has avoided a takeover fight at three schools. At 24th Street Elementary, a deal was worked out: The district runs the K-4 grades while a charter operator runs grades 5 to 8.

School safety problems — and a principal who was never available — prompted West Athens parents to form a union, says Winter Hall, whose kindergarten daughter was bullied. Once the instructional director began listening to their concerns, “we opted out of trigger and decided maybe this would work, maybe we could collaborate instead.”

Teacher suspended for kids’ science projects

A Los Angeles teacher was suspended because two students’ science fair projects shot dealt with shooting projectiles, reports the LA Times.

Students and parents have rallied around Greg Schiller after his suspension, with pay, from the Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts, a very expensive new high school in downtown LA.

One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)

Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.

Administrators told Schiller that he was removed from his classroom for “supervising the building, research and development of imitation weapons,” according to teachers union representative Roger Scott.

“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

This may not have been zero tolerance gone wild, the Times suggests. As the union rep on campus, Schiller had been negotiating with administrators over updating the employment agreement. 

My first husband submitted a design for an atomic bomb for his fifth-grade science fair and nobody said boo.

LA charters raise math, reading scores

Los Angeles charter students gain 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 days in math than similar students in district schools, concludes a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Low-income Hispanic students did even better, gaining 58 additional days of learning in reading and 115 more days in math.

Citywide, 48 percent of charter schools have significantly larger learning gains in reading, while 44 percent do so in math, the 2014 CREDO study found. Thirteen percent of Los Angeles charter schools have results that are significantly worse than their district school peers in reading and 22 percent perform worse in math.

Urban charters serving low-income students show the strongest gains in recent research.

LA superintendent speaks at choice rally

“We believe that every single family and student has the right to a choice of a highly effective school in Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy at a National School Choice Week rally. That won’t boost his popularity with the teachers’ unions.

Suspended learning

Reformers should support the Obama administration’s effort to “reduce the overuse of suspensions and expulsions,” argues RiShawn Biddle in a Dropout Nation podcast. Harsh discipline pushes troubled kids out of school, he argues. And it doesn’t work.

Setting racial quotas for discipline will have a “disparate impact” on disruptive students’ classmates, writes Hans Bader. Their classroom safety and learning time will be sacrificed. 

Like crime rates, student misconduct rates aren’t the same across racial categories, Bader writes.

 The Supreme Court ruled many years ago that such racial disparities don’t prove racism or unconstitutional discrimination. But in guidance released last week by the Education and Justice Departments, the Obama administration signaled that it will hold school districts liable for such racial disparities under federal Title VI regulations. In the long run, the only practical way for school districts to comply with this guidance is to tacitly adopt unconstitutional racial quotas in school discipline.

Schools can be held liable for “racially disparate impact” for non-racist policies that unintentionally lead to more minority suspensions, writes Bader.

Many schools adopted zero-common-sense policies to avoid charges of racial bias. The new policy opposes zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion. It also discourages calling the police for school misbehavior, a growing trend.

The feds have no authority to set school discipline policies — unless they’re protecting minority or disabled students from discrimination. Of course, they could recommend more sensible and flexible discipline policies without bringing race into it, but they want to do more.

Los Angeles Unified is relaxing its zero-tolerance discipline policy, reports NPR. The district won’t issue “school police citations and court appearances for minor offenses such as fighting, loitering, underage drinking, and defacing desks and walls.” Instead, schools will try “restorative justice.”

Miami-Dade rethinks tablet handout

The Miami-Dade school district has “pushed the pause button” on buying tablet computers for every student. Similar initiatives have run into trouble in Los Angeles, Guilford County, N.C., and elsewhere, notes Education Week.

“This is about being prudent, pragmatic, and cautious,” said Sylvia J. Diaz, the district’s deputy superintendent for innovation and school choice.

She described the Los Angeles Unified School District’s high-profile plan to provide 660,000 iPads to students and staff members as a source of particular concern, pointing to confusion among many parents as to what their responsibility and liability is for their children’s tablets; the rising cost projections associated with the initiative; concerns about a lack of adequate teacher training; problems with students bypassing the devices’ security filters; and concerns about the readiness and quality of the digital curricular content that Los Angeles is purchasing as part of its plan.

One specific piece of the Los Angeles plan that gave Miami-Dade officials particular pause, Diaz said, was the district’s failure to include keyboards as part of its initial half-billion dollar purchasing plan.

The Guilford County, N.C., school system is suspending its tablet computing initiative, noted Diaz.  “The fact that they had 1,500 broken tablets after having them in circulation for [only a few] weeks was a huge red flag for me,” she said.

LA’s Parent College raises expectations

At Parent College, which serves low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods, parents learn how to improve their children’s college prospects, reports  PBS NewsHour.

Nadia Solis, a single mother and high school dropout, spends one Saturday each month during the school year at Parent College learning about learning. Her children attend 99th Street Elementary, one of the 17 low-performing schools now managed by the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The Partnership invests 10 percent of its budget on family and community engagement. Test scores are rising.

One day, Solis told her daughter to study hard so she could go to college.

SOLIS: Her answer to me was, if you didn’t finish high school, why are you telling me? Well, what is this that I have to do it?

I just gave her a simple — a simple answer of, well, I just couldn’t. But the minute that I had Parent College the next week, it was my first question to my teacher: What can I do to get my GED?

Solis has earned her GED.

iPads that work

After writing about the iPad disaster in Los Angeles Unified, Hechinger’s Anya Kamenetz talked to a Chicago teacher who’s using iPads to help students succeed.

When the iPad first came out in 2010, Jennie Magiera made fun of her friends for buying them: “Nice job–you got a giant iPhone that can’t make phone calls!!”  But when a grant bought iPads for her fourth and fifth grade class, the teacher quickly found a path to transforming her teaching and learning practice. While tests are only one measurement of success, she went from having just one student out of 15 “exceed” on state tests in fourth grade, to having 10 “exceed” the next year.

Magiera is now the digital learning coordinator of the Academy of Urban School Leadership, a network of 29 public (non-charter) schools serving low-income students. She’s seen technology reveal hidden talents.

A disruptive, low-scoring student used “screencasting” to create a video explaining his math strategy.

“The answer was 15 cents and he wrote $16. . . . when I go into his screencast video, it was 60 seconds of the best math I’ve ever seen as a math teacher.”

The student had arrived at the wrong answer because of a tiny mistake, but he had devised his own original path through the problem, using his knowledge of fractions to create a system of proportions, a concept he wouldn’t be introduced to for another year or two. “He solved it completely on his own, narrated it beautifully, had the most amazing thought process.”  From watching this one minute of video, Magiera got insights into this student’s math skills that she hadn’t learned from having him in the classroom for over a year.

When the student rewatched his video, he caught his mistake.

She saw his reactions go from defiance (“lady, I already did it for you once, you want me to watch it now?”) to pride (“yeah! I got that!”) to dismay (“Oh my god, I messed that up! I can’t believe it! I was so close,”). And finally he asked her, “Can I do it again?”

Another student was afraid to speak up in class. Magiera used the iPads to let students participate in a text-based chat as part of the class discussion. The shy student was “the best in the conversation . . .  thriving and flourishing in a community of thought.”

$1 billion for iPads, 1 week to hack security

Beautiful Morris smiles as she works on her new iPad, provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Beautiful Morris smiles as she works on her new iPad, provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District. — Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Unified is spending $1 billion to give iPads to every student. It took one week for high school students to hack through security so they could visit unapproved sites, reports the Los Angeles Times.Officials halted home use of the Apple tablets until further notice.The hacking “prompted questions about overall preparations for the $1-billion tablet initiative, notes the Times. For example, school officials haven’t decided whether parents will be liable if a $700 laptop is lost or damaged.