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Bruno: Balanced Reform Includes School Breakfast

High_Satisfaction_03Schools in a number of states are set to start offering free breakfasts to students (in some cases regardless of income) as part of a new Department of Agriculture expansion of the school lunch program.

Coincidentally, a new study in Mind, Brain, and Education illustrates why this is probably a good idea. The researchers found that adolescents who eat breakfast do better in school than those who don't, even controlling for age, sex, parental education, and current academic level.

In some ways this is not a very interesting story because, really, who's going to get upset at the prospect of making sure kids don't show up to class hungry? At the same time, though, that's exactly what makes it a great story. Hopefully it can serve as a reminder that there are at least some school "reforms" that reformers of all stripes can enthusiastically support. The question is whether building consensus to move ahead with school reform has to be as difficult as we usually make it out to be. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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As a longtime school food advocate I can point out that as usual, it's not as simple as it sounds.

Eating school breakfast in the caf requires students to come to school at least 20-25 minutes early. For younger students, it requires adults to get them to school that early. I know that sounds like a minor obstacle especially for a good free breakfast (or low-cost even for students who don't qualify for subsidized meal), but teachers can attest that it's not so easy.

The solution is clear: breakfast in the classroom during the first few minutes of class. But teachers have some big concerns about that too. What do you think, @Paul?

While not all kids can get to school early, many can and choose to do so because, frankly, they prefer to be at school. For a lot of kids, especially kids from poorer communities, it's the physically and emotionally safest place for them to be. Or just the most fun. We had a lot of kids show up to school early even when they weren't taking advantage of the breakfast.

I definitely agree that even free provision of breakfast doesn't guarantee access. It sure does help, though.

I've been at schools that do it both ways: the cafeteria or in class, and there are definitely pros and cons. I don't have a strong feeling about which is the better way to go.

Based on participation where it's being tried, breakfast in the classroom is by far the best way to go. ("Participation"=student nutrition jargon for how many kids are eating, obviously.) But it is controversial with teachers.

My kids' elementary school alma mater, Lakeshore in SF's Sunset District in the southwest part of the city, had a fairly large population of kids bused from the low-income Bayview District on the east side (by parental request). It truly wasn't logistically possible to get those kids to school early enough for school breakfast. The bus pickups in the Bayview were then way too early for families who didn't want the school breakfast. So breakfast in the classroom would have solved that.

If I may offer my input, the problem there is, inevitably, the school board will view that as “detracting from instruction time”, and attempt to solve the problem by lengthening the school day or cutting even more time out of lunch and recess, which virtually no voter would spring for.

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