The Edvocate Podcast, Episode 6: 8 Ways That Digital Age Teachers Avoid Burning Out

Being a teacher is a tough job. So much so, many new teachers end up leaving the field within their first three years. To ensure that the next generation of students have qualified teachers, we must nip this phenomenon in the bud. In this episode, we will discuss 8 ways that digital age teachers avoid burning out.

What Preschool Can Teach Us About Choice and Opportunity

There is a pantheon of sitcom cliches that, no matter how many times they’ve been done before, always turn up in new ones. Among the repeat offenders: outrageously stressful wedding planning, pregnancy and baby delivery hi-jinks, new parents shopping for the “perfect” preschool, arguments over dolls vs footballs, and how these early childhood influences will determine the baby’s entire future from school choice to occupation and social status.

The sad reality is that the last two of these absurd situations have a kernel of truth. Does getting into the right preschool really determine whether a given child will go to the best university? Probably not; but when everything from friend groups to hobbies can factor into college admissions — and attending college can determine future career opportunities and professional networks — it is easy to see how major decisions can blur into the web of minor decisions surrounding a child’s future.

Early Childhood Competition

Everything concerning kids in America has gotten more competitive, starting early in their lives. Competition for better-paying (and future-proof) careers leads to more intense competition for any professional advantage at school. Getting into the best schools (by any of a number of definitions of “best”) heaps more pressure on kids while they are still in high school. From participating in sports to getting into AP classes, high school today eschews recreation in favor of workaholism and manicured student resumes.

Altogether, life for modern kids looks less like a series of choices and opportunities, and more like a long line of dominoes, set up and and sent cascading over within weeks of their birth, if not before. How can parents possibly hope to line them up just right for success and happiness?

But the problem isn’t just the hyper-competitive atmosphere surrounding the university system, and all the inputs considered in admitting or rejecting students; it is the preoccupation with the importance of college education in the first place.

When it comes to preparing children for the challenges and opportunities of adulthood, part of the messaging we need to fix — and soon — is the idea of ”college above all others”. Tuition prices have exploded in part because demand has exploded. Even historically mid-range schools face a demand beyond their capacity. For-profit schools have had lucrative success in taking advantage of this gold-rush mentality toward degrees, even as their students fail to graduate and default on their student loans in droves. More than a third of all defaults can be attributed to students from for-profit schools, even though they are just 26 percent of borrowers.

Trading School for Something That Works

The most common jobs in America today are retailers, cashiers, and fast-food workers. None of these requires any advanced education. Even filtering opportunity in terms of careers which require some minimum of post-secondary schooling and licensure, there are nearly as many truck drivers as there are nurses. If that comparison seems inappropriate, consider that trucking can be as essential to providing healthcare as nursing: nurses can hardly hope to treat a patient if they lack the necessary supplies and equipment on which they rely.

Trucking actually exemplifies the disconnect we, as a nation, have between the pressure we put on our youth to get educated, and the limitations we construct around how they “contribute” to our collective wealth and well-being. Without truck drivers, there is no clean water, no medicine, no food, and no consumer goods for a vast majority of Americans. But the career path into trucking — as with most skilled trades — takes people somewhere outside the world of universities and degrees.

The same impact trucking has, collectively, can be attributed to electricians, plumbers, and other skilled trades on which the modern world relies, yet bestows no particular social capital. Without electricians, all the gizmos and apps of Apple and Google, two of the world’s wealthiest corporations, would be useless. Without plumbing, our entire healthcare industry would be less preoccupied with inventing the next miracle pill or pushing the boundaries of surgical medicine than it would be with mitigating disease spread by poor sanitation. We are not so insulated from these alternatives as the popular imagination would assume; just ask the folks in Flint, Michigan whether plumbing is a worthwhile vocation.

The Value of Education

None of this disputes the intrinsic value of education, or the importance of giving students opportunity by expanding their access to learning. Rather, it points out how we’ve undermined our own drive to provide kids with the best chance in life by undervaluing the careers, and educational pathways, they might well follow to find their own form of success.

Trade school isn’t just a viable option, it can be downright lucrative, as well as rewarding, secure, and meaningful. But, as with all other things, planting that idea means having the conversation earlier, and undoing the damage of generations of parents and professionals marginalizing the trades that keep America running. Universities aren’t a solution to any of America’s challenges. They are merely one of a spectrum of options people face in deciding where they want to make their mark on the world, contribute to the maintenance and advancement of society, and find both purpose and acceptance among their peers.

The more parents encourage their kids to see the alternatives to college as equally worthy, the more the national conversation will pivot away from how we can give kids a leg up on the competition. At a time when our nation’s youth could feasibly have more options to learn, create, and work than at any time in history, it is absurd that they should be under such extreme pressure to conform to the parameters of a few selective universities.

The old sitcom trope of shopping for a prestigious preschool needs to die — not just for the sake of television comedy, but to reflect a society that celebrates the diversity it already possesses.

Students Searching for Universal Data

I love looking at the cellular data network coverage maps showing where your phone will be able to connect to the Internet. Every carrier has their own version, spangled in the company colors so you know who to thank. But in a way, these maps aren’t just advertorial: they show the edge of modern civilization.

After all, mobile data is quickly becoming the new standard for Internet access; smart devices are the preferred platform for everyone from doctors and nurses to college students and presidents. It is like a systemic paraphrasing of The Lion King: “Everything the data map covers is our kingdom.”

The kingdom, in the 21st century, means relevance, engagement, access to knowledge and news, having a voice. For students and schools outside the kingdom, opportunity can seem out of reach.

Needs, Dreams, and Rights

While access to the Internet is by no means a guarantee of outcomes, achievements, or even learning, the absence of this access is effectively punitive for students, teachers, and school.

By Obama’s reckoning, “The Internet is not a luxury, but a necessity,” and key to realizing the modern American Dream. In Canada, a similar spirit informed plans to get every citizen connected to high speed internet, officially designating the service as an essential telecommunications service, thereby affording it greater protections and subjecting it to different regulations. The United Nations went even further with its finding that Internet access constitutes a new human right.

But they weren’t all talking about the same Internet.

Mobile data–the stuff of cellular plans as well as ambitious projects out of Silicon Valley to make coverage maps irrelevant–doesn’t provide the exact same connectivity as dedicated high-speed cable or fiber optic lines. Indeed, the very brands working to make global connectivity a reality would also be gatekeepers choosing which sites, services, and data their users accessed. One may safely assume that free global internet provided by Facebook would send users by default to Facebook as a homepage.

But mobile data is easier and cheaper to push out across greater areas, and to upgrade as the technology improves. This is especially true for poor, rural, or extremely remote regions–those few spots on the map devoid of color and coverage. With branded Internet filling the gaps, the range and type of content users see could well become something akin to a class-based feature.

So even as access itself is championed as the sine qua non of modern living (and schooling), different types of access–to different versions and degrees of the Internet–is further complicating the question of how much data is enough.

What Do We Mean by “Internet” ?

Schools don’t necessarily need access to the full unfiltered Internet anyway.

Nearly one quarter of all mobile searches is for porn, and some 90 percent of teenagers today will encounter some form of porn online before they reach adulthood. That is hardly part of the academic mission schools pursue by securing Internet access. But “porn” itself, not unlike “literally,” has undergone a change of definition in the Internet era away from its original, specific meaning to a term of emphasis or hyperbole.

Social media has popularized various hobbies and interest groups as pornography–just search Instagram for “food porn” and take an the epicurean journey around the world; or, to satisfy your wanderlust, find any of the hundreds of “travel porn” blogs to witness entirely lust-free accounts of vacations, road trips, and cruises. And just as each subgroup has its own, personalized version of “porn,” the world has been steadily realigning itself online into isolated pockets of alternative facts.

Long before Kellyanne Conway used the term, politicos and casual browsers alike self-sorted into ideological bubble communities, where challenging ideas and interpretations of science itself were cut off from one another. To go online today is to choose a camp and stay there, insulated from contradiction or contest.

Porn isn’t porn, facts aren’t facts, the Internet isn’t the Internet, and literally is now figurative–so is data really access?

The next shift in what the Internet itself really is may hold answers.

Data, Things, and People

Were Yakov Smirnoff to apply his classic Russian Reversal joke to today’s online culture, he might say, “In Soviet Russia, the Internet uses you!” Except he wouldn’t be wrong–and this role reversal isn’t limited to one place.

The Internet of Things is already making itself known around the world. Rather than users navigating the Internet through user-friendly browsers and screen-based interfaces, smart devices are taking responsibility for creating, exchanging, and accessing information. Wearables ranging from step-tracking fitness bracelets to implantable heart monitors are gaining in both popularity and functionality. In the classroom, silent monitoring systems gauge engagement, performance, and comprehension to automatically alert teachers to individual student needs and opportunities–or simply adjust tests and assignments responsively on their behalf.

In short, people don’t just use passive technology–the technology is active, autonomous, and capable of “making” its own Internet, sharing data among a network of devices, rather than between human users. In the Internet of Things, the devices do in fact use us.

Before universal Internet access even became a reality, the nature of the Internet, and data, and access have all been thrown into confusion. More critical thinking than ever is needed to navigate the world’s online troves of knowledge, in order to distinguish fact from opinion, reliable from unreliable sources, even real people from chat bots.

For all the importance we’ve come to place on getting schools and students connected, the most important skills of all remain social, interpersonal, and based in the real, rather than digital, world. Internet access remains a worthy goal, but equally important is ensuring that future generations of students and their instructors are equipped to navigate the web, given the opportunity.


Disengaged Students, Part 14: Educational Technology – Intellectual or Anti?

In this 20-part series, I explore the root causes and effects of academic disengagement in K-12 learners and explore the factors driving American society ever closer to being a nation that lacks intellectualism, or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Technology penetrates every aspect of society – even our K-12 classrooms. The way knowledge is delivered today takes the shape of tablets, and computer screens, and even in-class projectors. Does all the flash and glamor of the fancy gear take away from the basic pursuit of knowledge, though?

It Starts in Infancy

Early childhood educational technology targets children from infancy and makes it easier for parents to feel good about using media in the early childhood years. Television programs and videos claim to offer the correct answer to the parent’s question “What should my baby be learning?”  Since such programming is developed by experts who certainly know more than the average parent about child development, these marketing ploys are accepted. Programs for infants are promoted as safe in small doses, as long as parents watch them with their little ones and participate too. Instead of reading books aloud, parents put children on their laps and spend a half an hour clapping along to classical music and gazing at bright, swirling colors on a screen.

This contrived form of “bonding” replaces tangible activities like rolling around on the floor, naming objects in the home or letting a baby turn the pages of sturdy board book. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children under the age of 2 should be exposed to NO screen time, but parents adjust the recommendation to fit their own family unit and routine, telling themselves that the APA warnings are for “other families” who use television or other media as a babysitter, not families like their own that use it as a form of early education.

Once the two-year mark is passed, it seems that children face a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to television watching. A University of Michigan study found that television viewing among young children is at an eight-year high. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 watch an average of 32 hours of television every week between regular programs, videos, and programming available through gaming consoles. It is not the actual television shows that are harmful; in fact, the Journal of American Medical Association found that some educational television between the ages of 3 and 5 improves reading skills. It is the overuse of television and technology, and the underuse of basic learning activities like reading a book or playing with a ball, that lends itself to academic disengagement in the school years.

How Technology Warps the Learning Process

Even more active technological engagement, like using a computer or tablet for toddler learning activities, can foster academic disengagement by making the learning process entirely too easy. If a two-year-old child learns that the answer is always the touch of a screen away, how can the same child be expected to search for answers or show his work in his K-12 career? What parents today view as learning improvements are actually modern conveniences that devalue the pursuit of knowledge.

Though the eagerness to let technology replace traditional early childhood learning methods presents large-scale problems, the intent of the parents using that technology is often benign. Why not give children a head start on learning ABCs, colors and numbers that are easily taught through repetitious technology applications? Parents are not deliberately leading their pre-K offspring down the road of academic disengagement or anti-intellectualism for life, but when they allow technology to define early childhood learning, they sow the seeds of both problems. Questions that cannot be answered within a simple application format become too difficult, or too bothersome, for children to try to sort out later on.

Educators have not yet come to grips with the issue of parental dependence on technology. The first children who have had access to mobile applications from infancy are just beginning their K-12 careers and will likely see some of that technology made available in their classrooms. How will these children react when they are given a book to read, or when they receive a returned, marked-up math worksheet that requires editing by hand? Will these children scoff at the idea of non-digital requests, or handle them graciously as part of the learning process?

As with any technological progress in classrooms, mobile technology certainly has its positive place but educators (and parents before them) should also be asking what is being replaced – and how much of K-12 learning should be delegated to technology. Dependency on technology, particularly in relation to educational goals, is planted by parents (often unknowingly), and contributes to academic disengagement by making digitally enhanced learning too convenient and traditional learning pursuits too “boring”.


Disengaged Students, Part 7: Too Much Information Access?

In this 20-part series, I explore the root causes and effects of academic disengagement in K-12 learners and explore the factors driving American society ever closer to being a nation that lacks intellectualism, or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

It’s no secret that we are living in an information age, one that has lifted data barriers across the world and opened up access to knowledge like never before seen in the history of modern humankind. On the surface, this access to information appears to be a democratization of knowledge – a way that more people can learn about more things in the fastest amount of time. In reality, though, the internet and all its interconnected technology has given rise to less effort put towards the pursuit of knowledge, and more energy focused on simply finding the quickest, easiest answer.

Is Shared Knowledge Best?

This growing challenge to intellectualism in contemporary America is grounded in a rapidly expanding access to information coupled with a complete lack of hierarchy based on expertise. Take sites like Wikipedia, for example. Such Internet sensations are victories for crowd-sourced knowledge that hypothetically offers more than one side to every argument, but they have bolstered the assumption that all knowledge is equal.

Wikipedia is known for allowing anyone, regardless of credentials, to post on its pages for the greater good of shared knowledge. Some other sites are less forthcoming about the credentials of their contributors. Businesses clamoring to improve their search engine rankings commission writing which is disguised as expert information but is actually designed to get consumers to their sites when a certain word or phrase is typed into a search bar.  The writers are more likely to have expertise in sales writing than in areas of knowledge relevant to the products and services they tout. Customer review sites give peers an idea of what to expect from a particular product or company.  In an ideal world these would offer balanced feedback, but in fact they tend to weigh heavy on the negative side; it is in human nature to warn others of danger, not to assure them that the path is safe.

More Info, Less Learning

While attempting to place more power at the fingertips of the people, the digital age is actually distorting the public’s sense of reality, blurring the lines between fact and fiction for many willfully ignorant participants. Just as the removal of limits on religious beliefs spawned many different denominations, some of which led followers completely astray, a limitless online community promotes misinformation on a regular basis. Even the information that is correct comes fraught with anti-intellectual challenges. The information that was once confined to textbooks, library visits or expensive encyclopedia sets is now just a click or brush of a touchscreen away. A child who is given everything from birth and never has to work for any of his possessions will inherently devalue those items. In the same way generations growing up with Internet access devalue knowledge.

While no one would argue against the convenience and knowledge that the Internet has provided on a global scale, ongoing use of its information predecessors is necessary in order to preserve intellectualism. At least some weight has to be given to information in order for the youngest learners to differentiate between well-researched, well-proven facts and the passionate ravings of people with no expertise or training on a particular subject.

If American children are to learn to think for themselves, they need more information than what can be found in a search engine, and they need tools with which to sort out and evaluate the information which they find. But what will make them want to take the long route to data when there are so many convenient shortcuts? That’s the question educators and parents have to broach if there is to be a semblance of any intellectualism when this generation graduates and starts contributing to American society.

Time to Reboot the Safety Lecture

When we play the perennial favorite game of Blaming Other Generations, we tend to focus on relative merits and deficiencies: which generation is more or less polite, hard-working, civic-minded, etc. One thing we don’t always talk about is what different generations are afraid of.

In terms of everyday fears and how we manage them, current and future generations have some reasonable fears that no previous generation is equipped to allay.

Digital Bogeymen

Just a few years ago, cyber threats barely made the list of the biggest concerns industry experts had about the biggest risks faced by corporations. Now, in 2017, the new Trump administration has already been dogged by accusations and ambiguity on issues of cyber security both on a personal and a national level. The nation and world are hyper-conscious of the risks–and opportunities–associated with cyber security. This has the appearances of being the new normal.

In the past we’ve had “stranger danger” to warn us about trusting unfamiliar faces; then there was the (mostly apocryphal) threat of razor blades or poisons lurking in Halloween candy; the 1980s brought schools the Just Say No program to handle the epidemic of drug abuse. Sad as it may seem, generations always have their touchstone public safety issues. Yet when it comes to cyber threats faced by kids today, there isn’t quite as snappy a name for what the problem is or what to do about it. And unlike Trick-or-Treating, it isn’t something likely to dissipate as they age–quite the opposite.

It is harder to teach stranger danger to kids for whom both the strangers, and the dangers they create, are invisible, blurred away by friendly user interfaces and the anonymity of the internet. Now that all our devices are smart and internet connected, it isn’t even just online behavior that needs monitoring, since all interaction with a device stands a decent chance of being recorded and shared online without any active indication of doing so. Social media is the new playground, and simply being present is enough to generate troves of personal data and an omnipresent virtual profile that is part public-facing, and part proprietary deposit box.

Responsibility Isn’t Just Personal

We know age and judgement don’t always go together–historically, that led to things like legal drinking ages, guardianship laws, mandatory schooling. Putting age restrictions on the use of internet-capable devices is obviously a non-starter. The risks associated with careless behavior online or around computers can put everyone online in peril. One unsecured user can compromise an entire system; that could be a family computer, a shared phone, a public library, or even an airport or hospital.

Good judgement is even harder to teach online than in driver’s education. Every year, more and more taxpayers are defrauded by simple scams leveraging technology to impersonate authorities. Stranger danger has gone digital, with all the associated risks taken to a global scale.

Equipping kids today with the skills and understanding they need to stay safe online is no longer a matter of personal security or individual responsibility. The threats are just too complex for that. Cyber security and online behavior is now a matter of civic duty, community service, and good citizenship all rolled into one.

Learning to Survive

None of this is to say that we should be teaching kids to fear their phones, computers, or technology. Technology is as powerful a learning tool as it is a liability.

Kids benefit from early exposure to modern tech devices. Blending tech with teaching scales our ability to personalize learning, to reach both at-risk and high-performing students at their level, and get them where they need to be. Teaching modern youths how to do their own research and learn about the world they live in virtually demands the use of computers and phones. Gamification promises to make lessons relevant, engaging, and improve retention, and increasingly relies on technology to work its magic.

And whether it happens at home or in the classroom, modern kids are growing up impressively familiar with their digital devices. But it is a mistake to think that the younger generations, by virtue of being more inherently tech-savvy, are also more conscious of risk, security, and privacy. Very likely the opposite is true, given just how much technology has done to erode not just our privacy, but our expectations of privacy. It is a quick jump from privacy to security online.

Life Lessons

The first thing we need is to stop looking at cyber security out of self-interest, and teach it as a matter of collective importance. The odd employer, university, or public library may set standards to bolster security, but kids would be better served learning to think about cyber security the same way they do about showering. It is good for you, and for everyone around you, and it shouldn’t be up to someone else to remind you to do it.

We might also consider the limitations of the fear-driven approach to education that underpinned everything from stranger-danger to Just Say No. Fear has its limits, especially when the threat is abstract or hidden. Teaching kids to take pride in being vigilant about cyber security early on primes them for a lifetime of awareness and purposeful behavior.

Whatever we do, we owe it to our kids as well as ourselves to teach cyber security as a core subject in school–and at home. It has finally become that important. And unlike the odd literature project or bit of historical trivia, there won’t be anyone asking, “When will I ever use this?”

Why the K-12 Blame Game Benefits No One

By Matthew Lynch

With skyrocketing costs, budget crises, inconsistent curricula, poor standardized testing scores, and poor morale among teachers, administrators, and students, the need for sustainable and pervasive educational change is greater now than ever before. The number of questions related to the quality of the U.S. educational system from multiple sectors of society is at an all-time high.

Many American parents have seen reports that American schools rank well below schools in countries such as China and Japan, or have heard President Obama declare a “dropout crisis.” An abundance of news reports and discouraging case studies has created panic among education stakeholders, who want to know why American school systems are failing. However, many insist on playing the “blame game,” which in most cases is counterproductive.

Many Americans believe that only a small percentage of leaders understand the complexities of the school system, and that individuals who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of our teachers and students. It’s not hard to see why this is the typical opinion. Consider these points:

  • The American school system is the best-financed system in the world, but is one of the lowest performing.
  • The American school system as a whole has an appalling performance record. For children living in urban environments, the story is even more alarming. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where the too many educators lack the credentials and skills necessary to perform their duties adequately.
  • High student-to-teacher ratios are found in most urban schools, and these schools often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges they face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken urban areas it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal.

Many people question whether the No Child Left Behind Act has contributed to achieving academic success. Although NCLB was well intentioned, it has not lived up to the hopes of government or schools. In the eyes of some, NCLB has actually contributed to subpar academics becoming even worse.  If American educators and school personnel do not make a concerted effort to develop effective measures to hold schools accountable for the education of all of our children, then the education crisis will continue.

There is an exception to every rule: some urban school systems are providing a quality education. Unfortunately, however, only a small number of school systems meet the state and federal government student performance requirements. For underperforming urban school systems, the problem usually lies with the inability to sustain existing reform efforts and initiatives. Mayors and school superintendents in these areas often concoct grandiose reform plans that are merely political devices meant to beguile voters into believing they genuinely care about educational reform. The idea that politicians create school reform to gain popularity and votes is sad and sobering. It is discouraging to realize that our children’s futures might be used as a political device to win elections.

Politicians are not the only people at fault for the shoddy education American children are receiving, but no one will take responsibility for subpar educational environments. If administrators were asked who was at fault, they might point to a lack of parental involvement and too few quality teachers. If teachers were asked who was at fault they might also cite a lack of parental involvement and ineffective administration. If parents were asked who was at fault they might blame teachers and school administrators. Society in general seems to conclude that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors contributing to educational failure.

Whatever the reason, Americans have become the laughing stock of the free world when it comes to K-12 education. The solution, of course, is for the country to unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America’s future via educational excellence without playing the “blame game.” But where does that realistically begin?

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: The Impact of School Lunch on Student Performance

By Gabe Duverge

By now, it is no mystery that what people eat has an effect on their daily physical and mental health. When people keep themselves well-nourished, they can participate more fully and effectively in a wide variety of activities. Of course, nutrition has an impact on K-12 students as well, from their academic performance to their behavior in the classroom.

During the 2012–2013 school year, more than 30 million students participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. By providing healthy lunches, schools can help their students perform better in the classroom and improve their overall health.

The State of School Lunches

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is the largest professional organization for school lunch providers in the country, with 55,000 members. The SNA offers a fact sheet of statistics about the current state of the National School Lunch Program.

Through the program, nearly 100,000 schools and institutions serve lunches each day. Of the total 30 million students served:

  • 2 million are receiving free lunches (children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible)
  • 5 million are receiving reduced-price lunches (children from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible)
  • 7 million pay full price (school districts set their own prices for paid meals)

Currently, 130 percent of the poverty level is $31,005 for a family of four, and 185 percent is $44,123.

This data points toward one of the major issues with school lunches in America. If 19.2 million students are receiving free lunches due to their socioeconomic status, school lunch could be their only opportunity for a nutritious meal each day.

The National School Lunch Program costs the country $12.65 billion. Almost all of this money comes from the federal government.

School Lunch Legislation

In 1945, President Harry S. Truman signed into law the National School Lunch Act, which created the National School Lunch Program. In post-World War II America, Truman and Congress intended the bill to help absorb new farm surpluses.

When President Barack Obama was elected, first lady Michelle Obama sought to revitalize the National School Lunch Program as a part of her mission against childhood obesity. Nearly one in three American children are either overweight or obese, putting them at risk for chronic health problems related to obesity, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

School lunches had reached a point where they were not providing the nutrients students needed to succeed and be healthy. With so many students relying on free school lunches as their primary meal for the day, reform became imperative.

In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bill made significant changes to school lunches for the first time in decades.

The most important change was the introduction of higher nutrition standards developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill also places emphasis on the utilization of local farms and gardens to provide students with fresh produce. It requires schools to be audited every three years to see if they have met the nutrition standards.

As the USDA worked on turning the guidelines into regulations, pushback came from several groups. Some members of Congress who had supported the legislation began to criticize government intrusion into schools, and food companies that became fearful of falling profits began to lobby for delaying the changes.

Nevertheless, the USDA regulations went into effect during the 2012-2013 school year. With every meal, schools are required to offer students fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains and lean protein, according to the Student Nutrition Association.

Some school districts have had to overcome challenges with implementing the USDA standards due to the increasing cost of feeding students. In school cafeterias, lunches must be easy to prepare and distribute in an efficient manner.

Impact of Nutrition on Students

For years, scientists have been studying the effect of nutrition on student performance. In 2008, a Journal of School Health study discovered that fifth-graders eating fast food scored worse on standardized literary assessments. A follow-up study of fifth-graders published in The Journal of Educational Research in 2012 linked eating fast food to declining math and reading scores. How exactly do these foods affect children?

Nutrition can affect students either directly or indirectly. A 2014 report, “Nutrition and Students’ Academic Performance,” summarizes research on these issues.

Direct Effects

There are several direct effects that involve the immediate impact of nutrition on the daily performance of a student. Mental and behavioral problems can be traced back to unhealthy nutrition and poor eating habits.

Nutritional deficiencies in zinc, B vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids and protein have been shown to affect the cognitive development of children. There is also evidence to suggest that diets with high amounts of trans and saturated fats can have a negative impact on cognition. This will harm the ability of students to learn at a pace necessary for school success.

Scientists have also established a link between student behavior and nutrition. Access to proper nutrition can help students maintain psychosocial well-being and reduce aggression. This can have a positive effect on students by avoiding discipline and school suspension.

Indirect Effects

The indirect effects of poor nutrition can be severely detrimental to the performance of students over time. Students with unhealthy lifestyles are far more likely to become sick. These illnesses then have an effect on the amount of class time missed. By not attending classes, students are much more likely to fall behind. And when they are in class, they are more likely to have little energy and to have concentration issues.

The Future of School Lunch and Student Performance

Teachers know that school lunches are a key part of the school system. They have a daily impact on the well-being of students both inside and outside of school. If you’re a teacher interested in developing your leadership skills and expanding your knowledge of how to improve student academic performance, consider the online Master of Arts in Education from Campbellsville University. The fully online program can help you gain the credentials you need while maintaining your responsibilities. Learn more today!