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This Just In: USDA Study Shows That Students Like Nutritious Food!… And THIS Just In: The USDA Findings Were Buried

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley recently wrote a story describing the findings of a USDA study that effectively supported the reforms to the lunch program introduced by the Obama administration, reforms that increased the nutritional content of the meals without increasing the waste. The findings themselves are compelling:

The best news was that the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), a multi-component measure of diet quality, shot up dramatically for both school-provided breakfasts and lunches.

For the 2009-2010 school year, the score for breakfast was an abysmal 49.6 out of 100 (even lower than the overall American average of 59), rising to 71.3 by the 2014-2015 school year. In that same time frame, the lunch score went from 57.9 to 81.5. The score for whole grains in school meals went from 25 to 95 percent of the maximum score, and the score for greens and beans rose from 21 to 72 percent.

In addition, there was greater participation in school meal programs at schools with the highest healthy food standards. And the study found food waste, a troubling national problem in the lunchroom, remained relatively unchanged.

Better nutrition: check… greater participation: check… food waste unchanged: check. Mission accomplished in terms of achieving nutrition and participation and no increase in food waste. This seems like a story that illustrates how government can work! This seems like a story that warrants wide coverage! But, alas, nutrition, like everything else, is driven by politics and politics is driven by money so this report was effectively buried and ignored. Here’s Ms. Reiley’s opening paragraphs:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has good news it seemingly wants nobody to know about.

On April 23, the USDA released its “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” with no news release, no fanfare. The link on the USDA website disappeared for several days after that and was altogether inaccessible before reappearing under a different URL.

Later in the article Ms. Reiley offers an additional explanation about the (ahem) understated release:

It seems fairly outside of the norm for a federal agency to release a study that directly contradicts what the administration’s position is,” explained Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why it was released very quietly.”

But the current administration is obsessed with deregulation, and loosening the relatively tighter requirements necessary to ensure a healthy meal fulfills their overarching goal:

“The Trump administration wants to tick off the maximum number of regulations it can say it rolled back,” Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. “It’s another tick mark on the deregulatory agenda.”

And the deregulation of nutritious meals is only one of the deregulatory efforts that undercuts the well-being of citizens. The NYTimes reported recently on 83 EPA rules the administration modified, many of which will increase air and water pollution and almost all of which ignore climate science.

And if the voters and children suffer as a result of deregulation, who benefits? I think anyone who reads this blog knows the answer: shareholders and the plutocrats.

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Teaching—an important job, but a challenging work environment

June 10, 2019 Leave a comment

EPI writers Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss offer some thoughtful insights linking working conditions to retention. One point they miss: the need to tech-to-the-test limits the opportunities for teachers to determine what and how they teach… and that limitation reinforces the notion that teachers are not professionals who can be trusted to do their work independently. Their closing sentences are on point!

It is not to be missed that school climate is shaped by larger societal forces such as poverty, segregation, and inequality—and that the climate, the inequities in education, and the shortage greatly reflect the underfunding in education and public policy more broadly. Problems here converged because teachers’ and students’ needs go hand with hand. Clearly, children are not put first when their teachers’ working conditions are let be so distressing.

Source: Teaching—an important job, but a challenging work environment

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Class of 0000 Idea Spawns Common Dreams Coverage… My Op Ed

June 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Common Dreams writer Julia Conley wrote a post this weekend describing commencement addresses across the country that adopted the “Class of 0000” theme… a theme that was a call to action against climate change. Ms. Conley reported that over 350 addresses used this issue as a theme… but many speakers were unable to deliver their commencement addresses with this theme because it was deemed to be “too political”. She wrote:

Students in Massachusetts, California, Arizona, and elsewhere have been told they cannot give the Class of 0000 speech—angering students who say their schools have previously been open to protests like the National Student Walkout for gun control reform last year.

“It’s shocking to me that we could voice our opinions then, but are silenced when we want to talk about climate change,” Jessica Lopez, a senior at Health Sciences High and Middle College told The Guardian.A lot of adults blame our generation for being sensitive but we have to deal with the problems they have caused. It’s really frustrating. We are vocal about climate change because no one else is going to do anything about it.”

“On this issue, it feels like the adults are the children,” Lopez added.

Alas, too many members of my generation HAVE behaved like children… choosing to ignore pesky scientific facts that do not mesh with our desire to consume more and more of the limited resources available to us on the planet.

After hearing Bill McKibben speak at the Norwich Congregational Church (the nearby bookstore was too small to handle the crowd) I wrote an ope ed piece that our local newspaper published, a piece that referenced the Class of 0000 idea. Here it is:

Last week the Valley News featured a front page article by Tim Camerato about Hillary Clinton’s talk at Dartmouth College and a second page column by John Gregg about the political perspectives of John Lynch. Both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Lynch represent the “centrist” ground of the Democratic Party, the group of politicians who seek incremental change and bi-partisanship.

Mr. Camerato reported that Ms. Clinton urged caution in entering into impeachment proceedings, expressed concern that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election might be overlooked entering the 2020 election cycle, spoke about the need to engage in diplomacy instead of provocation in international affairs, and spoke about the struggles women face in the developing world and America.

Mr. Lynch expressed his support for Joe Biden, who he characterized as capable of re-unifying the country, and expressed reservations about those candidates who are attempting to “drag the party too far left”. Mr. Lynch feels that most voters don’t like “discussions that appear to be pushing America toward socialism”.

I was sorry neither Ms. Clinton nor Mr. Lynch spoke about climate change. But after listening to a talk last Wednesday by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben at the Congregational Church in Norwich and given their desire to seek middle ground, I think I know why. According to Bill McKibben’s latest thinking, we are past the time when incremental political change and individual actions can reverse the impact of humans on global warming. To change the course we are now will require aggressive action by the government, citizen activism at all levels, and solutions that require nothing less than a change of our collective mindset.  

In his sobering and persuasive talk to roughly 100 gathered at the Congregational Church in Norwich, Mr. McKibben described the melting of the polar ice caps, the super storms in Mozambique that dumped over 6 FEET of rain, and the fires that destroyed entire towns in California. He described how the immigration problems in Europe and in our country are linked to climate change. He explained that decade-long droughts in eastern Syria and the highlands of Central America compelled farmers and their families to abandon their fallow fields to seek work in cities. And because work was unavailable in the cities the economies were de-stabilized resulting in civil wars in Syria and narco-terrorism in Central America. These conditions made life untenable for families in those countries and when they sought asylum in Europe and our country, it created an “immigration crisis”. The roots of this “immigration crisis”, then, are not economic, political, or religious. The roots are climate change, a change that environmentalists predicted and a change that as far back as the early 1980s oil companies knew would occur if we continued to burn fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben did not need to say what the audience already concluded: in 2020 climate change is a political issue that dwarfs the topics that currently dominate the news. Impeachment, Russia’s interference in our politics, international relations, and the “discussions that appear to be pushing America toward socialism” are inconsequential compared to climate change. Bill McKibben did not need to say this to the audience because he knew that a late April poll taken by CNN of those voters who are “Democrats or democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote” view “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change” as the most important issue for 2020 candidates to take in the upcoming election.

What would it mean to “take aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change”? To Bill McKibben it would mean more than voluntary action on the part of those who value the environment… and a LOT more than the incremental actions proposed by “centrists” like Ms. Clinton and Mr. Biden. In a recent Politico article, he offered three specific tests for 2020 candidates in the context of climate change:

First, a pledge to endorse a forthcoming detailed Green New Deal that will emerge from a series of 100 Town Hall meetings being convened by the Sunrise Movement, the group of young people who launched the outline of this initiative and are now fleshing out the details.

Second, a promise to “Keep It in the Ground”: that is “to stop new permits for drilling and mining on federal ground, and to apply a climate test to all new proposed infrastructure.” Mr. McKibben notes that this could be accomplished by Executive order, making it a promise that a candidate can make and keep with or without legislative action.

The third pledge Bill McKibben proposes for 2020 candidates is the easiest one to track and the easiest one to keep: reject any funding from the fossil fuel industry.

“Aggressive action” could require legislation like a carbon tax, a budget that would increase government subsidies for alternative energy while simultaneously limiting the subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and a commitment to the kind of wholesale change advocated by organizations like the Class of 0000, a group of young climate activists who seek to build a coalition of first-time voters who will prioritize climate change in the 2020 election. In an effort to get voters and candidates making climate change a priority, this group is urging valedictorians and commencement speakers to deliver a short, blunt message to those gathered at commencement:

Zero emissions. Zero excuses. Zero time to waste.

As an aging Baby Boomer who remembers attending one of the first Earth Day gatherings in 1970 in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, I applaud those in the emerging generation who are pushing to reverse the direction our country is heading. I hoped our generation might clean up the environment and make the planet a better place. Thanks to the creation of the EPA six months after the first Earth Day and the enforcement of regulations that agency created shortly thereafter, the rivers no longer caught fire and the air became cleaner than it was in the late 1960s. But in two short years we’ve witnessed the issuance of executive orders that dismantled the regulations that protect clean air and water, we’ve experienced a 30-year low in criminal enforcement by the EPA, we’ve withdrawn from international climate accords, and we’ve accepted the appointments of key government officials who deny scientific findings that indicate an urgent need to limit the use of fossil fuel. We are back-pedaling on the environment in the name of economic growth while the continued emission of fossil fuels creates chaos across the globe.

MAYBE the Class of 0000 will get us back on track. But they will only do so if they can bring climate change to the forefront in 2020 even if doing so will require more than half-measures. As Bill McKibben told the audience in Norwich, the laws of Congress and the laws of physics have grown increasingly divergent, and the laws of physics are not likely to yield. When it comes to climate change, there is no middle ground… only higher ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Communitarian Pragmatists are De-Schooling the University

June 9, 2019 Leave a comment

The Anti-College is on the Rise“, Molly Worthen’s op ed in today’s NYTimes, describes an emerging disenchantment with higher education among many of today’s students… a disenchantment that COULD restore our democracy and change our perspective about the purpose of schooling.

In a comment I posted, I wrote:

Ivan Illich would be glad to see that his ideas about deschooling society are finally getting some traction. It is too bad that it took decades of “rankings” based on “hard data” assembled by US News and World Report and the US government’s obsession with equating the quality of colleges with post-graduate earnings to get students to see the pointlessness of getting into a rat race that ultimately leads to high debt and little purpose.

If the “quality” of a college or university is defined by easy to gather metrics devised by a magazine who used its rating system to boost its circulation… or defined by the earnings of its graduates… we are allowing greed to prevail. The colleges described in Ms. Worthen’s essay, which include my older daughter’s alma mater Evergreen State College, place a premium on independent thinking, self-directed learning, and humanity. We need those qualities more than we need anything else nowadays.

MAYBE NYC’s Elite Schools Admissions Debacle Will Dislodge Dominance of Standardized Tests

June 8, 2019 Leave a comment
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From Guatemala to Moscow to Washington, Neoliberalism and Privatization Driving Our Crises

June 7, 2019 Leave a comment

It doesn’t require much imagination to see the connection between austerity and privatization in public education in our country. The Federal government has NEVER come close to fully funding Special Education which shifts the costs to the states and local governments and after the 2008 collapse neither the states nor local governments have fully recovered and neither want to raise the taxes they need to make a recovery possible. As a result, public schools– particularly those serving poor children in property poor communities–  have operated in a perpetual state of austerity. And the financial “scolds” describes in Mr. Buell’s article are jumping on the voucher-privatization bandwagon while teaching declines as a profession young people aspire to.

Source: From Guatemala to Moscow to Washington, Neoliberalism and Privatization Driving Our Crises

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No Surprise: NH Supreme Court Finds Funding Levels Unconstitutional… A HUGE Surprise Would Be Having Anything Happen as a Result

June 7, 2019 Leave a comment

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog posted a synopsis of NH Superior Court Judge Ruoff’s 98-page decision on the constitutionality of the current funding in NH and once again it was determined to be unconstitutional. Here are a few choice tidbits from the judge’s decision as gleaned from the ANHPE post:

  • “RSA 198:40-a,II(a) sets the current base adequacy aid award for all schools at $3,562.71 per student, based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008. The parties agree that not a single school in the State of New Hampshire could or does function at $3,562.71 per student. ”Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a
    determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.”
  • “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record…”
  • The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.
  • “As repeatedly found above, the Joint Committee’s [that determined the adequacy funding formula] conclusions were not only unsupported by the legislative record but were clearly or demonstrably inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”
  •  “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The Governor’s reaction was as unsurprising as the judge’s decision… and completely contradicts the findings in bold red italics above:

Governor Sununu issued a statement saying, “”The state is reviewing the order, but we continue to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a courtroom.”

There is no way that “local elected leaders” in property poor communities can EVER provide adequate funds… but the Governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way the Legislature, “the prosper governmental body” to devise an equitable formula, can accomplish the feat without getting more revenues… which, of course, means higher taxes or more “tricks” like the expansion of the lottery. Will this ever happen in my home state? It’s been over thirty years since the first lawsuit was “won” and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not at all encouraged.