10.17.2009

You Are What Your Students Eat: Principals On the Hook for School Breakfast

It's a real struggle to get my kids to eat breakfast at home before school. I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a real excuse. For me, it's not about money or having to leave for work obscenely early. It's totally all about lack of organization. Trying to get three kids dressed, at the table and eating, while I make lunches and get myself ready for work is no mean feat. And I am miserable at it.

That's why I was intrigued by the new push at our school to eat breakfast in the cafeteria before class starts. Our principal sent a note advising us that our children were encouraged to eat in the cafeteria before school - there was no mention of an income requirement.

And then I saw this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I urge you to read the article but the gist of it is this: principals are now accountable for the number of student breakfasts eaten in each school. It actually affects their performance rating.

The reasons for this are kind of complicated but revolve around two basic concepts:

  1. Children who eat a good breakfast tend to perform better in school.
  2. The previous USDA policy of asking parents to fill out forms to qualify for free breakfast was met with great opposition.

Now, as I understand it, if a majority of students qualify for free breakfast and lunch, the entire school is eligible to receive free breakfast and lunch, no forms required. That part kind of feels okay - because I'd hate for a kid not to be able to ate because of paperwork. But making free breakfast available to everyone with a kind of "use it or lose it" slant doesn't feel right.

Even worse, if we're going to judge on numbers, I think we're looking at the wrong ones. While I realize that many children don't get a good breakfast because of a host of factors, I agree with Michael Lerner, president of Teamsters Local 502, Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, that it's not realistic to hold the principal accountable for the number of children who eat at school. What if, for example, a high performing school has a number of kids who eat at home? Should the principal be blamed for this?

I find it all a bit disturbing. And I'm not in the minority here. A Philly Inquirer poll showed that 95% of those who voted were opposed to the new the District policy.

Philadelphia school principals have a lot on their plates already. Let's not add sausage and eggs to it, too.

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