Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 6
Obama-Era Nutrition Standards Loosened for School Meals
By Evie Blad
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue
rolled out an interim rule designed to "provide flexibility" to schools in meeting nutrition
standards set by the Obama administration.
The changes-which take effect next school
year-affect rules related to whole grains, sodium, and milk served with school meals. They
fall short of the aggressive scale-back that
some conservative members of Congress have
pushed for in recent years.
The original nutrition rules, championed
by former first lady Michelle Obama, require
schools to cut back on salt and fat and to serve
more whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
The standards, created under the Healthy,
Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, were praised
by groups concerned about childhood obesity,
but K-12 and industry groups said they've
been costly and difficult for many schools.
Under the rules announced last week, states
can grant exemptions during the 2017-18
school year from requirements that all grain
products in school meals are whole-grain rich
if schools are "experiencing hardship" in meeting them. That extends previous flexibility
the agency granted after schools complained
it was difficult to find whole-grain foods like
pastas to meet the rule. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture said it "will take all necessary
regulatory actions to implement a long-term
solution" related to whole grains.
Through 2020, schools will be considered in
compliance with sodium rules for school foods
if they meet current restrictions. The original
nutrition standards included a schedule of
restrictions that limited salt more and more
over time. Schools were scheduled to implement tougher sodium requirements in the
2017-18 school year. Some schools said the
limits made meals less desirable for students.
The USDA will also create a rule that will
allow schools to serve 1 percent flavored milk,
Perdue said. Under the previous rules, schools
could only serve non-fat flavored milk.
When the rules were originally created,
the intent was that they should be regularly
reviewed, Perdue said as he announced the
changes at a school in Leesburg, Va.
Record U.S. Graduation
Rate Not Seen as Inflated
By Catherine Gewertz
Watered-down graduation requirements, mistaken calculations,
and push-outs of unsuccessful students may have falsely boosted
high school graduation rates in a
few states, but are not widespread
enough to have inflated the national
graduation rate, which is at an alltime high of 83.2 percent, according
to a new study.
The eighth edition of the annual
"Building A Grad Nation" report, released last week, took on the skepticism that surrounded President
Barack Obama's October announcement of the national graduationrate milestone.
Statistics in the report capture
the persistent disparities in graduation rates that lie just beneath
the record overall high of 83 percent. The report urges state policymakers to pay better attention to
low-income and minority students,
students with disabilities, and students learning English, since larger
shares of those groups tend not to
earn their diplomas in four years.
A unique feature of this year's report is its attempt to address doubts
about the validity of the country's
high graduation rate. Even though
states are now required to use the
same method to calculate graduation rates-the "adjusted cohort
graduation rate," which tracks the
percentage of 9th graders who earn
diplomas four years later-states
have wiggle room that can affect
For instance: How do states count
students who become home schoolers toward the end of high school?
How do they count diplomas from
alternative schools that also confer
GEDs? If states don't count some
students, researchers would expect
to see more shrinkage in the size of
each class than could be explained
by enrollment declines.
The interim changes came with a promise
that the USDA would look for longer-term
ways to alter the school nutrition regulations.
The USDA estimates that the more-stringent
requirements cost districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in the 2015 fiscal year.
"This announcement is the result of years
of feedback from students, schools, and food
service experts about the challenges they are
facing in meeting the final regulations for
school meals," Perdue said. "If kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash,
they aren't getting any nutrition-thus undermining the intent of the program."
Health Advocates Disappointed
He announced the changes alongside Sen. Pat
Roberts, R-Kansas, who chairs the Senate agriculture committee, and leaders of the School
Nutrition Association, an industry group that
has pushed for changes to school meal rules.
Patricia Montague, the association's CEO,
said in a statement that her group welcomed
the new flexibility. "School nutrition profession-
BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS
The nation's 83.2 percent graduation rate masks some differences among subgroups of students. For example,
African-Americans, who comprise 15.9 percent of the overall school population, had a 74.6 percent graduation rate.
The rate topped 90 percent, though, for Asian/Pacific Islander students, a much smaller slice of enrollment.
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 10, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Few Signs of Shrinkage
Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns
Hopkins University, which produce the "Grad Nation" report, examined cohort data and, in most
states, didn't find evidence of such
disproportionate shrinkage. But it
did find that pattern in six states,
but didn't name them. It only noted
that "while inappropriately removing students from cohorts may be
a cause of inflated graduation in
some individual school districts, it
is likely not an issue for the national
trend of rising graduation rates."
Another source of skepticism
about the U.S. graduation rate
stems from schools' increasing use
of credit-recovery programs, which
typically use computer-based, selfpaced programs to help students
complete work they need for their
Other doubts center on the way
some schools get students who could
be dropout risks off their books:
They persuade those students to
home school, or shunt them into alternative schools. The "Grad Nation"
report said that "fears" of push-outs
to alternative schools are "legitimate," but are more likely to affect
school- or district-level graduation
rates than state or national numbers. In most cases, the study said,
state rates count the transferred
students in their new schools.
Convincing low-performing students to home school, however, can
indeed inflate states' graduation
rates, the report said, because it
means students are removed from
their class cohort, and not counted
als are committed to the students they serve
and will continue working with USDA and the
secretary to strengthen and protect school meal
programs," she said.
Among the regulations Perdue's rule won't
affect are competitive foods standards, which
govern what schools can offer in vending machines, on cafeteria a la carte lines, and through
fundraisers. Some conservative lawmakers, including Roberts, say those rules unfairly hurt
extracurricular budgets and drive students
away from eating school meals.
Groups who support the nutrition standards
are disappointed with the changes, including
National PTA and the American Academy of
"For some children, the only food they eat
each day comes from the federal school meals
program," American Academy of Pediatrics
President Fernando Stein said in a statement.
"They rely on these meals to give them the
right balance of fruits, vegetables and whole
grains so they can concentrate and succeed in
school. Healthy eating habits start early and
schools have an important role to play."
Children with disabilities
SOURCE: Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University
in the graduation rate. The same
goes for a practice that's been uncovered in some alternative schools:
getting likely-to-fail students off
their books by assigning them a
code that suggests that they've enrolled in adult education.
Right now, the home schooling and alternative-school sectors
aren't a big enough slice of the national landscape to affect the U.S.
graduation rate, the report says, but
practices designed to shift low-performing students into those sectors
warrant "careful monitoring."
Is the Bar Lower?
Many have argued that the graduation rate has lost meaning because
it's gotten easier to graduate. They
point out that some states offer new
types of diplomas that carry lessrigorous requirements. The "Grad
Nation" researchers concluded that
offering multiple kinds of diplomas
doesn't, by itself, raise questions
about the graduation rate. It can
support students' blending collegeprep classes with career-and-technical education courses, a mixture
that has been shown to boost college- and career-readiness.
If states were lowering standards
for diplomas, the report says, there
would likely be declines in scores on
tests such as the ACT and the SAT,
and Advanced Placement exams.
More students are taking and passing AP exams, the study says, and
scores on college-entrance exams
have held steady or risen slightly
even as the pool of test-takers expands.
High schools that enroll 100 or
more students and graduate fewer
than two-thirds in four years are
n Graduation rate
n Percent of school population
schools under the Every Student
Succeeds Act, and must get special support. In 2015, 2,249 high
schools-12 percent of all high
schools-fit that definition, the report says. Six in 10 of the students
in those schools are low-income.
Two-thirds are nonwhite.
This year's report again raises a
particular flag about graduation
rates in certain types of schools.
Charter virtual schools account
for less than 1 percent of all schools,
but 9.2 percent of those with low
graduation rates. District-operated
virtual schools are an even smaller
slice of the pie: .2 percent, and yet
they account for 2.6 percent of the
low-graduation-rate schools. Alternative schools, which serve large
populations of at-risk students, comprise 6 percent of all high schools,
but 30 percent of schools with low
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 10, 2017
Education Week - May 10, 2017
Pruning Dead-End Pathways In Career Tech. Ed.
Teachers Lace Academics With Relationship Skills
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Ed-Tech Leadership Hazy Under Trump
Parker Davis and Alina Lopez, right, talk about words and acts that cause happiness, in a 2nd grade classroom at Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. Peer-to-peer conversations are part of an effort to build academic and social-emotional skills
Legislatures Tackle ESSA, Fiscal Issues
News in Brief
Record U.S. Graduation Rate Not Seen as Inflated
Obama-Era Nutrition Standards Loosened for School Meals
Mostly White Town Can Leave Diverse District, Court Says
Teacher Residencies Can Help Curb Shortages, Studies Say
Do Parents See Math as ‘Less Useful’ Than Reading?
Oregon GEAR UP Links Rural Students To Private Colleges
2017 Budget Deal Defers Fierce Fights on Education Aid
Trump Orders Hard Look At Federal Reach on K-12 Policy
Hurdles Remain for Calif. K-12 Funding Formula, Study Says
100 Days: How Three Presidents Stack Up on K-12
Rafiq R. Kalam Id-Din II: Black Teachers Matter. School Integration Doesn’t
By Robert W. Runcie & Antwan Wilson: How We Stopped Sending Students to Jail
Q&A With Peggy Orenstein: Let’s Talk to K-12 Girls About Sex
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
David Jacobson: A Purple Agenda for (Early) Education
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Legislatures Tackle ESSA, Fiscal Issues
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 2
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 3
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 5
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Obama-Era Nutrition Standards Loosened for School Meals
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Mostly White Town Can Leave Diverse District, Court Says
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Teacher Residencies Can Help Curb Shortages, Studies Say
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Do Parents See Math as ‘Less Useful’ Than Reading?
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Oregon GEAR UP Links Rural Students To Private Colleges
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 11
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 12
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 13
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 14
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 15
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 16
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 17
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 2017 Budget Deal Defers Fierce Fights on Education Aid
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 19
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Hurdles Remain for Calif. K-12 Funding Formula, Study Says
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 100 Days: How Three Presidents Stack Up on K-12
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 22
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 23
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - By Robert W. Runcie & Antwan Wilson: How We Stopped Sending Students to Jail
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - Letters
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 26
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 27
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 29
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 30
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - 31
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - David Jacobson: A Purple Agenda for (Early) Education
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - CW1
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - CW2
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - CW3
Education Week - May 10, 2017 - CW4