Free Breakfast Program A Social Commentary

Maria DeVito, writing for the Newark Advocate, reports on 2-29-16 “Newark schools launch free breakfast program”. In it she states “The pilot program started at Ben Franklin on Jan. 8, but Newark City Schools Superintendent Doug Ute said the district plans to provide breakfast at all its schools starting next school year.” One reason for this was given as “Last year, the district realized that of the students who were eligible to eat a free breakfast, only about 30 percent were taking advantage”. The rest of the article covers the nuts and bolts specifics of the program and its implementation (such as “The school uses the federal reimbursements it gets for students to pay for the program, which the students named Morning Kickoff, Cable Miller said.”). It also notes that “Licking Valley Local Schools has been offering free breakfast to all of its students for about six or seven years, said Jan Jennings, the district’s cafeteria director.” and that “Heath City Schools just started serving breakfast to all of its students this year, Superintendent Trevor Thomas said.” Analysis, of course, is intrigued by all this, especially that “only about 30 percent were taking advantage”. Analysis wonders what is behind all this? That same leap day (2-29-16), Janie Boschma, writing for The Atlantic, came out with a very long and complicated study entitled “The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools”. She begins with the rather cut and dry (and almost lifted out of each page of American history) “In almost all major American cities, most African American and Hispanic students attend public schools where a majority of their classmates qualify as poor or low-income, a new analysis of federal data shows. This systemic economic and racial isolation looms as a huge obstacle for efforts to expand opportunity because researchers have found that the single-most powerful predictor of racial gaps in educational achievement is the extent to which students attend schools surrounded by other low-income students.” This is followed by a slew of statistics, studies, and sources which all pretty much indicate that big city or small, these students find themselves in schools where 75% or more of their peers can be designated as low income or poor. “the National Equity Atlas [“The Atlas is a joint project of PolicyLink and the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, or PERE”] defines low-income students as those eligible for the federal free- and reduced-lunch program.” Given that Ohio has opted to emphasize charter schools as a “choice” remedy, Analysis considers the significance of the disparity. Boschma writes “The overwhelming isolation of students of color in schools with mostly low-income classmates threatens to undermine efforts both to improve educational outcomes and to provide a pipeline of skilled workers for the economy at a time when such students comprise a majority of the nation’s public school enrollment.” Again a slew of statistics, studies and sources citing how graduation rates, test scores, college matriculation, etc. are affected. “The issue, Reardon said [“Sean F. Reardon, a professor at Stanford University’s graduate school of education and one of the nation’s leading experts on residential and educational segregation”], isn’t “that sitting next to a poor kid makes you do less well in school.” Rather, he said, “it’s that school poverty turns out to be a good proxy for the quality of a school. They are in poorer communities, they have less local resources, they have fewer parents with college degrees, they have fewer two parent families where there are parents who can come spend time volunteering in the school, they have a harder time attracting the best teachers. So for a lot of reasons schools serving poor kids tend to have fewer resources, both economic and social capital resources.”” OK, so that would explain the initial low participation rate at Newark’s Ben Franklin (“only about 30 percent were taking advantage”). To participate is to admit, much as use of “food stamp” plastic reveals one’s situation. But why take a program intended for a part and extend it to all (“All the students at Ben Franklin Elementary School were offered the same meal as part of a pilot program that offers all students a free breakfast regardless of whether they are part of the free and reduced-price lunch program.”)? Again, Boschma writes ” In some cities, urban leaders are trying new strategies to confront these trends. They are driven by a belief that for prosperity to continue, they need to craft policy that ensures their own young people are equipped to compete for the jobs the city is creating.” Though her article focuses primarily on racial/ethnic disparity, the problem, as problem, returns to one of economic conditions – income disparity with prosperity as the solution. “These high levels of concentrated poverty in schools persist—and have increased overall—even in cities where there has been tremendous growth since the recession.” This would account for the use of this program in rural Licking Valley as well as economic wunderkind Heath. As DeVito reported for the Newark Advocate in her 2-26-16 article, “Local experts: Diversity a necessary conversation topic”, “According the United States Census Bureau, in 2014 less than 10 percent of the county population’s identified as a minority. The biggest minority population was African Americans with 3.8 percent.” What drives or “creates” this breakfast program since the racial/ethnic factors described by Boschma would preclude its use? Indeed, as Boschma writes, “Socioeconomic integration is a legal alternative to racial reintegration—ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2007 in the case of Parents Involved v. Seattle—that largely produces the same effect.” Analysis finds that having everyone eating together without pretense for exception is definitely a form of socioeconomic integration, something affirming and for which schools implementing it should be lauded.

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