Missed Chances (Things I Should Have Written About)

California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers SF Chronicle
The new law would no longer require principals in low-scoring schools to hire unwanted teachers. Like Balboa, these rank 1, 2, or 3 on the state's 10-point Academic Performance Index. Principals in higher-scoring schools would have a window of time each year to hire whom they please -- beginning on April 15 and running through the summer.

A is for Afro Mother Jones
For the only white student in class, St. James elementary offered a double major in minority experience.

The Lunchroom Rebellion New Yorker via ChefAnn
"Come on!" Cooper said. "The war costs more than a billion dollars a week! Why don't we say we'll double what we spend on school lunch?...I want to sue the U.S.D.A.!" I'd heard her say, her eyes gleaming. "I want Oprah to pick this up! I want school lunch to be an election issue in 2008!" But first she had a few thousand mouths to feed.

When Toddlers Turn on the TV and Actually Learn NYT
"Blue’s Clues,” which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, has been credited with helping young children learn from the screen. Academic research has shown that viewers ages 3 to 5 score better on tests of problem solving than those who haven’t watched the show.But what happens with children younger than 3?

Report Urges Changes in the Teaching of Math in U.S. Schools NYT
In a major shift from its influential recommendations 17 years ago, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics yesterday issued a report urging that math teaching in kindergarten through eighth grade focus on a few basic skills.


Blogger Caroline said...

As a school-food activist in the San Francisco Unified School District, I blogged about the New Yorker profile of Berkeley's chef:


Reality bites in Berkeley school food revolution

The Sept. 4 New Yorker carries an intriguing profile of Ann Cooper, student nutrition director in Berkeley Unified — hired and often touted as a celebrity chef making revolutionary changes in Berkeley's school food.

Berkeley Unified has long been cited as a paradise of handcrafted salad bars stocked with organic baby lettuce. But actually, while there have been some impressive pilot efforts here and there led by Alice Waters, Berkeley's overall school food situation wasn't pretty, with soda and junk overrunning the schools long after SFUSD's menus had been cleaned up.

New Yorker reporter Burkhard Bilger grasps the nuances and the difficulties — and I say this as a frequent criticism of media oversimplification and "it's a miracle!" hype (and a journalist myself).

The Chron did an article on Cooper in June that was in the hype category when it comes to the food piece of the story, though it did emphasize the labor unrest and other resistance that she's coping with (or provoking?). It's not helpful when news coverage make sweeping change sound simple, conveying the impression that Berkeley is doing these fabulous things and any district that cares (unlike lazy old San Francisco) can have its kids savoring home-cooked organic gourmet fare too.

The New Yorker article makes it clear that there are a whole lot of problems and obstacles impeding Cooper's dreams. I'm sorry that's the case, because it would be nice if there were a shining role model to follow, but it's not like that.

The Berkeley food program serves only 4,000 kids in 16 schools and is allowed to run a massive deficit covered by the school district, apparently uncomplainingly (unlike in SFUSD). It has funding from Alice Waters, who pays Cooper's salary. The meals also cost the kids significantly more than SFUSD could possibly charge.

The New Yorker article implies that Cooper is out of compliance with numerous USDA regulations. For the first year she didn't provide nutritional breakdowns of her meals at all.

She's overwhelmed with the cost of labor and in apparent labor-relations hot water. She sounds openly contemptuous of the veteran kitchen manager (an African-American woman who's worked there 17 years), and in return, that employee is clearly resentful.

The kids have petitioned in protest against her healthy foods, so she has had to make many compromises.

Cooper is in what sounds like increasing conflict between the organic-pie-in-the-sky dreams of Alice Waters, who pays her salary, and hard reality. Here's a good quote from the New Yorker story about that.

"Alice is a really wonderful visionary," [Cooper said]. "But this work is all about baby steps, and she can't see baby steps. In her perfect world, she'd like to have the kids served bountiful baskets of fresh-picked berries. And you know what? It ain't happening."

That's a bit of a contrast with a line from the Chronicle story:

Where her predecessors took baby steps toward change, Cooper is moving like a Hummer in high gear.

But the Chron also pointed out:

...she's running into a mix of enthusiasm and resistance up and down the line, from government regulators, parents, teachers, kids and some of her employees.

And this quote from the New Yorker story also evokes a picture of dreamy vision meeting dose of reality:

Cooper had been as idealistic as Waters once, but the longer she struggled to feed the masses the more she appreciated mass production: centralized kitchens, mainstream recipes, economies of scale. FullBloom [a vendor], for example, had grown from a small bakery in the back of an espresso shop in San Francisco — the kind of soulful local enterprise that Waters adored — into a factory that made two hundred thousand pastries a day. That size allowed the bakery to spend months formulating pizzas for Cooper, knowing that they might recoup the investment later by baking for other schools. "Alice doesn't want to work with anyone as large as FullBloom," Cooper said. "And I'm not sure I can work with anyone smaller. If I asked them to do the kind of R&D FullBloom did, they'd just say, 'Get the f*** out of here'."

Cooper's book "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children" is due out this month. The Berkeley gig is not just a job — it's also author research.

— Caroline

10:24 AM  

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