First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Chefs cook up ideas for healthy school lunches

Check out this PBS report on what the nation’s school chefs are doing to improve the health of oft-criticized school lunch. And find more resources about healthy school lunch.

Obesity rates rise 90 percent in 17 states since 1995

Obesity rates climbed at least 90 percent in 17 states from 1995 to last year, gains that have a direct bearing on U.S. health spending, according to a report. Read more in Bloomberg.

Two boys and two girls walking to school with backpacksWho’s walking to school – and who’s not?

Children living in urban areas and from lower-income families are more likely to walk or ride a bicycle to school, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.  Those activities have proven health benefits. Read more about the research on this CNN blog. And read more about biking and walking to school from EdNews Parent.

[email protected] fundraiser announced

For people interested in healthy schools and those who like planning ahead: Consider joining LiveWell Colorado at its annual fundraising luncheon and
 celebrate the culmination of its 2011 [email protected] initiative, a
 10-week after school healthy cooking competition for high school
 students in Denver Public Schools. The winning meal will be served at
 the luncheon. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the 
Sheraton Denver Downtown
. To purchase corporate tables, tickets or to receive information on 
sponsorship opportunities, please contact Becky Grupe at 720-353-4120 Ext. 209 or [email protected].

Colorado Proud School Meal Day webinar scheduled

Do you want to participate in this year’s Colorado Proud School Meal Day, Sept. 14, but need more information? Participate in this webinar from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Aug. 1, to learn about the benefits of locally sourced food, how to find producers, how to promote the event, and much more. The one-hour webinar will include speakers from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Farm to School, LiveWell Colorado, and local school food service directors who will share their experiences and provide tips for making it a fun and successful day. Register online at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/474333266.

Recording available on state’s new PE requirements

LiveWell Colorado recently hosted a webinar focused on implementation of Colorado HB 11-1069, the “Physical Activity Expectations in Schools” legislation. To view a recording of the webinar, which discusses physical activity requirements in Colorado Schools, please click here.

Chic Penne pasta dish with pasta, chicken and broccoliGreeley school takes second in healthy recipe competition

Congratulations to Greeley’s Winograd K-8 school for bringing home an award from the national Recipes for Healthy Kids competition, which is co-sponsored by Let’s Move! and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Winograd K-8 team’s healthy and delicious “Chic’ Penne” recipe was awarded second place in the competition’s grains category. Check out the winning recipe. Read more about the competition.

Where does Colorado’s school food come from?

LiveWell Colorado has published An Overview of School Food Procurement in Colorado. This web-based report contains information about the current state of school food operations in Colorado – including school meal participation rates, who pays for what, the role of various Colorado agencies, sources and distributors of school food, and the role of the commodities program. Read the report.

Jamie OliverIn Britain, Jamie Oliver health crusade leads to fewer pupils eating school meals

Jamie Oliver’s campaign against the Turkey  Twizzler has cost the taxpayer £500million and resulted in fewer pupils eating school lunches, it emerged yesterday. More than half of primary pupils and around two-thirds of secondary school youngsters are still rejecting the TV chef’s healthier menus. Read more about what’s happening with school lunches across the pond, as they say, in the Daily Mail. Read a recent Q&A with Oliver.

TV affects a child’s sleep patterns

Young children who have a television in their bedrooms watch it more on average and are more likely to have trouble sleeping than those who don’t, a new study found.

Researchers from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington looked at sleep patterns and TV usage reported by parents for 612 children ages 3 to 5. Read more in the Boston Globe.

Colorado Springs District 11 gets a garden growing

From the superintendent: School District 11, Galileo School of Math and Science, and Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) have entered into a partnership to create an urban garden on the old Galileo tennis courts. The original Galileo grant stated that a greenhouse was to be part of the school and required creating partnerships with the community. The partnership between D11, Galileo, and PPUG will accomplish these goals. A 42′ diameter geodesic dome greenhouse will be built on the old tennis courts; this project will be completed by July of this year. The greenhouse will be 13′ high and will contain a water reservoir in the center; the water reservoir is to capture and store heat, and there will eventually be an aquaponics set-up in this reservoir. The greenhouse will be used to grow produce year round. The area outside of the greenhouse will be a sensory garden and a permaculture garden.

Lafayette Elementary students Lining up to plant school garden.The remainder of the tennis courts will be raised beds for vegetable production. In the center of the raised beds there will be a gathering area for school classes, community meetings and classes (gardening classes and nutrition classes are a couple of examples), and other outside events.

Small areas inside the greenhouse and in the raised beds will be set aside for students to conduct plant/soil based research for classes and for science fairs. The garden itself will be a space in which all teachers can teach and all students can learn; it is not set aside just for science. There will be a compost pile to the west of the greenhouse to make soil for the raised beds. All other growing space will be for production. The District Food & Nutrition Services department will buy all of the produce grown in the garden to use in our school cafeterias. This project is designed to create revenue so that a part-time master gardener can oversee the growing spaces.

One of the typical downfalls of school-based gardens is that the primary growing season is when everyone is gone. With a part-time master gardener watching the project year round, we will be able to keep the garden in production even when people are off for the summer. The produce grown over the summer could be used to feed some of our students who rely on school lunch for a consistent meal.

This project is poised to be a national model for growing healthy food and getting it into the hands of kids; very few school districts are attempting this type of “in-house” system. Read more about school gardens.

Schools penalized for food service problems result in fine

Problems in recording which students were eligible for free meals resulted in Trinidad School District #1 being penalized by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). At last Tuesday’s meeting, the school board agreed to return $214,000 to CDE.

The district’s food service was subject to a review and audit by the state last year which revealed extensive problems in the way eligibility for free meals was being recorded. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Parents’ military deployment may harm kids’ mental health

TUESDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) – Children with a parent on long-term military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan are at increased risk for mental health problems, new research suggests. Read more in US News. Read an expert’s advice to deployed parents or their spouses.

Program keeps kids from going hungry

A turkey sandwich, an apple and a cookie.

This is the type of lunch many people take for granted, but for children who take part in Colorado`s Summer Food Service Program, this lunch is a blessing. Read more in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Late talkers do fine as they grow up: study

(Reuters Health) – In good news to parents of late talkers, an Australian study shows a slow start on language is unlikely to have lingering effects on kids’ mental health. Read more at Reuters.

USDA announces improvements in school wellness

The USDA has announced improvements included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that will enhance local wellness policies in schools in order to promote healthier lifestyles for children. Local wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal nutrition guidelines meet the minimum federal school meal standards. Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program were required to have local wellness policies in place beginning in the 2006-2007 School Year. Read more from the USDA.

First Person

A Chalkbeat roundtable: The promise and perils of charter networks like Success Academy

When we published an essay about the promise and perils of charter schools by our CEO and editor in chief Elizabeth Green last month, we heard from a lot of readers.

Elizabeth’s piece outlined her conclusions after more than a decade of reporting about charter school networks, and more specifically the Success Academy network in New York City. She wrote that charter school networks offer both great advantages — in their ability to provide rare coherence in what is taught across classrooms — and significant danger. Charter networks, she wrote, have changed public education by “extracting it from democracy as we know it.”

Some of our readers saw their own thinking reflected in her conclusions. Others had a very different take.

What was clear was that Elizabeth had kicked off a conversation that many Chalkbeat readers are ready to have, and that, as always, robust and respectful debate is good for everyone’s thinking.

So we reached out to people who engage with big questions about how schools are structured every single day, in their work or personal lives. Today, we’re sharing what they had to say. But we think this is far from the end of the conversation. If you want to add your voice, let us know.

 
 

 

Charter networks’ needs and goals may not be the community’s

By Tim Ware, former executive director of the Achievement Schools managed by the Tennessee Department of Education and founder of Ware Consulting Group

As the founder and former executive director of a high performing public charter middle school in Memphis, Tennessee, I am a firm believer in the promise of well-run charter schools. I also understand the limits of these schools.

A key aspect of public charter legislation is autonomy. This means that public charters decide how to staff their schools, which curriculum to use, how to allocate resources for student support, and how their daily and summer schedules work. However, this legislated autonomy creates issues that thoughtful policymakers need to address.

For instance, in Memphis, a high-performing public charter network began operating a chronically underperforming middle school as a part of a turnaround intervention effort. Despite significant improvements in learning and school culture, as well as the support of the community, the school grappled with dwindling enrollment and suffocating building maintenance costs. Fewer dollars were available to invest in high quality teaching and learning, social-emotional supports, and extracurricular activities. Ultimately, the charter operator made the difficult decision to cease operating the school.

This example illustrates the limits of public charter schools. The same autonomy that allowed them to create an approach that drove improvement for children also allowed them to decide that they could no longer operate the school. This means that, as long as autonomy exists for public charter schools (and it should), we cannot eliminate traditional districts.

The solution for historically underserved communities will be found by creating strong ecosystems of education. These ecosystems should consist of a healthy mix of traditional schools, optional schools (schools with competitive entry requirements), magnet schools, public charter schools, and private schools. By ensuring that multiple types of schools flourish and are accessible to all, parents will be able to make informed choices and select a school which best meets the needs of their most precious belonging — their child.

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Focusing on charter networks is a mistake. Districts have the same potential

By Josh Thomases, dean of innovation, policy, and research at Bank Street College of Education

Elizabeth Green’s article on Eva Moskowitz misses one important detail – districts have successfully scaled change for students. In this era of attacks on government, it is worth looking closer.

The hundreds of new small high schools opened in New York City between 2000 and 2012 transformed thousands of lives. The research firm MDRC documented that impact, showing a 9.4 percent increased graduation rate and an 8 percent increase in college attendance. Notably, this increase was driven by success with groups that school systems often fail: poorer students, black students, and students with disabilities.

This extraordinary effort happened with district educators and unions, public resources and processes.

I saw this reform inside and out. I helped create a small school in the 1990s and was part of community protests against some of the initial school closures under Chancellor Joel Klein. And, in 2004, I became responsible for the development and support of new schools within the education department.

The new schools work was an example of democracy in action – with all its imperfections. There were legendary protests against the Department of Education and arguments over race, equity and power. And through all of that, the process transformed schools.

Why the success?

  1. The point was to improve teaching and learning. Everything was looked at through this lens.
  2. Educators were the agents of change. The new schools process challenged principals, teachers, community members and parents to reimagine school.
  3. External partners multiplied the power of the changes. These included school development organizations (such as New Visions and CUNY) and local partners ranging from the Brooklyn Cyclones and South Bronx Churches. For the first six years of the reform, the unions were a partner, too.
  4. The district shifted authority towards the principal and school based staff in key areas: hiring, scheduling, budgets, and curriculum.

This is not a story of perfect success; as a district, we made mistakes and they were debated publicly. But the results show that districts can take bold action to change what is happening in schools.

Charters in New York have also demonstrated they can make an important contribution to a district. The task ahead is not to forego government, but to activate its strengths.

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Charter networks are a laboratory for consistent and high-quality instruction

By Seneca Rosenberg, chief academic officer at Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville, Tennessee

My first year in the classroom, I desperately wanted to be the teacher my fourth graders deserved. A diligent student, I carefully examined California’s standards, the curriculum my district had adopted, new research, and popular trade books. I quickly saw that the approaches they outlined — for how to teach reading, for example — were often in direct conflict.

Veteran teachers advised: have your students fill out the mandated worksheets to avoid scrutiny, then close your door and teach as you want. This would have been good advice if only I had known what to do behind that door to help my students to learn.

Now, as chief academic officer of Valor Collegiate Academies, a small charter school network in Nashville, I reflect daily on how our autonomy and network structure provide crucial, and often unremarked upon, resources for developing coherent systems of teaching and learning.

Like other charter networks, Valor has the flexibility to set our educational vision and then organize our own curriculum, assessments, hiring policies, student and teacher schedules, and culture to realize it. Many of our teachers and school leaders report that our shared systems, while demanding, buffer them from some of the stress that comes with making sense of dissonant policies and practices they more regularly encountered in traditional public schools.

Even more importantly, our infrastructure provides our teachers and leaders with a common framework around which expertise can be developed, shared, and improved.

For example, at Valor, our teaching teams meet frequently to study and plan from our students’ work. We have shared protocols for data analysis and teacher coaching. Each piece has been intentionally developed as part of a system. As a result, teachers have opportunities to learn that far exceed anything I had access to as a teacher — and our students benefit.

I share some of Elizabeth Green’s ambivalence about the potential impact of the rise of charters nationally, though she inflates the extent to which charters “extract” public education from democratic control — at least in states in which authorizing laws are well crafted. I am also skeptical of Moskowitz’s suggestion that perhaps “a public school system consisting principally of charter schools would be an improvement.”

But charter networks’ unique conditions do provide a useful laboratory. Critics who dismiss our high-performing charter networks’ many successes risk missing what we are learning from this critical innovation — coherent instructional systems — and how that might contribute to new possibilities for American education.

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In my city, no schools have it figured out

By Bernita Bradley, parent advocate and blogger at Detroit School Talk (and a Chalkbeat Reader Advisory Board Member)

Take all kids out of charter schools, they say. Close them down and require those students to attend their closest public school, no matter how far, how full the classrooms, and how low-performing. Hop on a bus more than 25 minutes to attend the closest high school near you and sit at the back of the class on the floor. After all, public schools were perfect before charter schools came along, and in order for them to be perfect again, we need everyone on board.

Don’t talk bad about public schools, they say. Don’t draw attention to the fact that we are still figuring out how to improve public schools and need your help. The city of Detroit must unite, be of one mind, and let all charter school leaders know that we are only supporting traditional public schools.

These arguments won’t work. I fight for quality public schools and fought for us to not lose more of them. However, if you strip parents of choice, you prove that you are not committed to providing children with what they need.

To be clear, I am an advocate for both sides. Parents don’t care about this war — we just want good schools that will educate all children equally. Can we have that conversation?

Let’s tell the truth about how, here in Detroit, both sides cherry-pick students and “counsel out” parents. Public schools just suspend students indefinitely until parents leave to find a charter school. Let’s tell the truth about how teaching to the test has affected both charter and public school teachers’ ability to make sure student academic growth is more robust.

Both sides could do better. My children have attended both kinds of schools. I’ve bused my kids 15 miles away. I’ve sent my kids to the top charter and public schools in the city. And no one — including charter schools — has this figured out.

I can’t think of a person would say they are totally happy with their child’s educational experience here in Detroit. We have come to the point where, while we’ve made friends in both charters and public schools, this is a journey full of struggles and broken promises that we would not wish on any parent.

Believe me, if we had our way there would be no need to choose. The school on the corner would be full and alive with students, parents, and teachers who have one common goal, to educate all kids.

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The rise of networks hurts the charter movement

By Steve Zimmerman, Coalition of Community Charter Schools

In the ongoing saga of Eva Moskowitz and her war against the the educational status quo, two key issues are overlooked. The first is that the rise of Success Academy has come at significant cost to the charter school movement and the democratic values that were at its genesis.

The rigidly top-down managerial approach of the Success network is the antithesis of the original idea of chartering: to free schools from district-imposed conformity so they have autonomy to innovate. There is no autonomy or innovation in a franchise. Franchisees follow the script.

The second issue is that Success Academy schools, for all intents and purposes, turn teachers into technicians. They are trained in a rigid model of classroom management with a relentless focus on student outcomes. As Elizabeth Green and others point out, the effectiveness of this system, at least in terms of test scores, is well documented and ostensibly justifies the orthodoxy of “no excuses” education reform.

Relentlessness, however, comes at a cost. Just as legendary as its record-high test scores is Success Academy’s teacher attrition. Success Academy appears to welcome an increasing number of bright young people to learn and execute the scripts, and then watch as they move on to their real careers after they burn out in three years. The consequences of this trend are chilling to imagine.

If we believe the purpose of public education to be the development of exceptional test takers, then Eva Moskowitz has clearly pointed the way to the promised land. If, however, we believe the purpose is the betterment of society and the development of the whole child, there are better models to emulate.

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Coherence is important, but charter networks aren’t necessary to achieve it

Andy Snyder, social studies teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City

Who should decide what students learn in school? Families or individual teachers? District and charter school leaders, elected officials, or panels of professors?

Elizabeth Green’s recent essay focuses our attention on this huge question. She points out that many other countries provide “a clear sense of what students need to learn, the basic materials necessary to help them learn it (such as a curriculum).” And she argues that some charter school networks, enabled by their anti-democratic powers, are developing coherent and meaningful ideas of what to prioritize and how to teach it well.

When I began student teaching, I was shown stacks of textbooks and boxes of transparencies, quizzes, tests, homework — corporate-branded, filled with facts, empty of meaning. I switched to another mentor and recreated the trial of John Brown. Later I left one innovative public school where administrators were attempting to bend my courses into more traditional shapes for another where the interview includes, “Describe a dream course that you would love to teach” and where we teach those courses every day.

But I’ve seen in Germany the effects of a thoughtful curriculum — classes connect between disciplines and spiral powerfully between grades, and teachers adapt rather than invent.  Improvised individual efforts often produce a worse result than a strong system. That’s why I commute in New York by subway, not bicycle.

The systemic approach can break down too. Today we curse the defunding of our transit agency, and we saw what happened to the Common Core. How can charter schools develop truly excellent curriculum when their priority seems to be preparing students to win against bad bubble tests?

Students, no matter what kind of school they attend, deserve lessons crafted by well-trained practitioners who draw from the best ideas of the profession.

In the best future I can imagine, each school or district adapts curriculum from one of several coherent curriculum packages developed over years with millions of dollars and genius and honest sweat. Teachers trained in that tradition lead students in cultivating the deep questions and necessary knowledge, and students graduate with a sense of how it all adds up and what they can bring with them into the world.

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First Person

I’m a teacher in Memphis, and I know ‘grading floors’ aren’t a cheat — they’re a key motivator

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Shelly

Growing up, my father used to tell me not to come to him with a problem unless I had a solution.

That meant I learned quickly what kinds of solutions wouldn’t go over well — like ones involving my father and his money. His policy also meant that I had to weigh pros and cons, thinking about what I was able to do, what I wasn’t, and whom I needed help from in order to make things happen.

I sometimes wish decision-makers in Memphis had a father like mine. Because more often than not, it seems we are talking about the problems void of a solution or even possible solutions to vet.

Right now, the issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools is the “grading floor,” or the policy of setting a lowest possible grade a teacher can assign a student. They have been temporarily banned after a controversy over high-school grade changing.

Grading floors aren’t new to teachers in Memphis, or to me, a fifth-grade teacher. I have taught and still teach students who are at least two grade levels behind. This was true when I taught fourth grade and when I taught sixth grade. Honestly, as the grade level increased, so did the gaps I saw.

More often than not, these students have been failed by a school, teacher, leader or system that did not adequately prepare them for the next grade. Meanwhile, in my classroom, I have a responsibility to teach grade-level material — adjusting it for individual students — and to grade their work accordingly.

That’s where “grading floors” come in. Without a grading floor, all of my current students would have grades below a 65 percent.

Can you imagine seeing the face of a fifth-grade boy who tried his hardest on your test, who answered all the questions you gave orally, who made connections to the text through auditory comprehension, only to receive a 0 on his paper?

I don’t have to imagine – I see similar reactions multiple times a day. Whether it’s a 65 percent or a 14 percent, it’s still an F, which signals to them “failure.” The difference between the two was summed up by Superintendent Hopson, who stated, “With a zero, it’s impossible to pass a course. It creates kids who don’t have hope, disciplinary issues; that creates a really bad scenario.”

I know that as years go by and a student’s proficiency gap increases, confidence decreases, too. With a lowered confidence comes a lower level of self-efficacy — the belief that they can do what they need to do to succeed. This, to me, is the argument for the grading floor.

In completing research for my master’s degree, I studied the correlation between reading comprehension scores and the use of a motivational curriculum. There was, as might have guessed, an increase in reading scores for students who received this additional curriculum.

So every day, I speak life into my students, who see Fs far too often in their daily lives. It is not my job as their teacher to eradicate their confidence, stifle their effort, and diminish their confidence by giving them “true” Fs.

“This is not an indication of your hard work, son. Yet, the reality is, we have to work harder,” I tell students. “We have to grind in order to make up what we’ve missed and I’m the best coach you have this year.”

In education, there are no absolutes, so I don’t propose implementing grading floors across the board. But I do understand their potential — not to make students appear more skilled than they are, or to make schools appear to be better than they are, but to keep students motivated enough to stay on track, even when it’s difficult.

If it is implemented, a grade floor must be coupled with data and other reports that provide parents, teachers, and other stakeholders with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally. Parents shouldn’t see their child’s progress through rose-colored glasses, or be slapped by reality when options for their child are limited during and after high school.

But without hope, effort and attainment are impossible. If we can’t give hope to our kids, what are we here for?

I don’t have all the answers, but in the spirit of my father, don’t come with a problem unless you have a solution.

Marlena Little is a fifth-grade teacher in Memphis. A version of this piece first appeared on Memphis K-12, a blog for parents and students.