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The ‘new’ Graze to the Top program

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If you need a laugh, this is for you. It’s by Matt Farmer, a Chicago trial lawyer  who is a member of the Local School Council at Philip Rogers Elementary School. Farmer wrote this satirical piece about Race to the Top, the competitive funding program run by Arne Duncan’s Education Department to dispense federal grants to states and school districts that promised to implement specific school reforms.

He calls this “Graze to the Top.”

Secretary Arne Duncan’s April 15, 2014, remarks to employees and diners at the National Place food court in Washington.

Today we cross an important threshold in school cafeteria reform by releasing draft guidelines for states to apply for the $3.6 billion dollar Graze to the Top fund. We gather here today at Washington D.C.’s National Place food court to announce – and celebrate — a new Graze to the Top in schoolhouses across America.

For too many years, our nation’s public school students have been trapped for nearly 20 minutes a day in under-performing school cafeterias. Simply put, kids are spending too much time in lunchrooms and not enough time in classrooms. In today’s global economy, a country that eats lunch in less time than America will out-compete us.

And what we now know from international assessments is that students in countries such as Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic spend far less time eating school lunches than do their U.S. peers.

Consider public school kids in Houston, Texas. By the time they’ve graduated from high school, students in Houston will have spent six more years in school cafeterias than their counterparts in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The sad reality is that our public school stakeholders have become public school steakholders.

Graze to the Top will be an absolute game-changer. Our goal is for all students to be college cafeteria-ready by 2024.

Together, we have an amazing chance to learn from our colleagues across the globe and take to scale pre-packaged, three-minute meals that we know will make a difference in students’ lives.

Our Graze to the Top menus will be fully aligned with rigorous Kitchen Core standards, which are now being developed in state-of-the-art food labs at Edu-Dine, a cutting-edge joint venture between Microsoft and Pearson.

Fifty years ago, students staged sit-ins at lunch counters across the South. Today, our push for a world-class, three-minute school lunch is the culinary civil rights issue of our generation.

It’s fascinating to me that some of the push back against Graze to the Top is coming from white suburban moms who believe their children need at least 15 minutes to eat lunch at school. Of course, when those moms are shown lunch schedules from schools in Vietnam and Slovenia, they suddenly realize their own kids’ dining habits and metabolism rates aren’t as efficient as they need to be. They start to realize that their kids’ school cafeterias aren’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that scares them.

To get to where we as a country need to be, we are encouraging school districts to innovate. Chicago, for example, is already implementing a portfolio model of school cafeterias, which will raise the bar for data-driven dining.

Make no mistake: cafeteria competition helps all our students. In today’s knowledge-based economy, lovable lunch ladies are an anachronism our children can no longer suffer. Graze to the Top’s corporate partners, with their STEM-driven culinary teams, will lead the way by making value-added, three-minute lunches a reality for all our children.

Our children get only one chance at a transformational school lunch. The time for change is now.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · April 17, 2014

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