Inquirer editorial disparages principals, twists facts about breakfast program





by Christopher Paslay


In their recent editorial, School Breakfast Program, the Inquirer uses clever wording to once again suggest that Philadelphia public schools are failing to serve students free breakfast. 


Philadelphia principals are left to develop feeding programs as they see fit,” the Inquirer writes.  “Many are unwilling to restructure the school day to serve breakfast.”


This statement is inaccurate and intentionally misleading.  Instead of saying, Many principals are unwilling to forfeit instructional time and serve breakfast in class, the Inquirer insinuates that principals are not serving breakfast at all, which clearly isn’t the case; the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single school. 


The typical school breakfast in Philadelphia is served in the cafeteria in the morning, about 20-30 minutes before the instructional day begins.  The breakfast is FREE, and ALL students are eligible.


Of course, not all students are taking advantage of this free breakfast.  One problem is that breakfast—and nutrition in general—is not a priority in too many homes in the city.  Parents skip breakfast and so do their children. 


In addition, many students come to school late and miss the free breakfast, opting instead to drink sodas and eat bags of potato chips as they mingle on the corner with friends.


But the Inquirer fails to acknowledge this.  In fact, they go on to use a survey conducted during PSSA testing to further mislead readers:


“A Public Citizens for Children and Youth survey of 35 Philadelphia elementary schools found that 63 percent [of principals] changed their policy to make sure kids ate breakfast during test week,” the Inquirer states.  “Besides measuring academic progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the test results are used to judge principals’ performance. So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools.”


The key phrase here is took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools. 


This sentence clearly suggests that principals are negligent when it comes to providing free breakfast to students, and that during PSSA test week, they “changed their policy” and agreed to feed their hungry children. 


This of course is not true; again, the district serves free breakfast to every child in every school. 


A more accurate way to convey the information would have been, So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast in class instead of simply offering it free of charge before school.


Later in their editorial, in a lame attempt to fill in the facts, the Inquirer acknowledges that the district does indeed provide a free breakfast to every child, and that many students simply aren’t taking advantage of the program.


“Every city school serves breakfast, and all students are eligible for the meal, regardless of income,” the Inquirer admits.  “Yet, only about 51,000 of the 165,000 district students take advantage.”


And who does the Inquirer blame for this?  Irresponsible parents?  The students themselves?  Of course not.  That would go against the newspaper’s politics.  The Inquirer absolves mothers and fathers of all blame and allows them to plead ignorance: Parents don’t take advantage of the breakfast program because they don’t know it exists.


The Inquirer instead blames principals.  It’s not enough that school leaders offer a free breakfast to every single child in their school.  Principals must also COAX them into eating it as well.  In fact, the Inquirer even recommends that schools chief Arlene Ackerman give principals their “marching orders” and hold them accountable when meals go uneaten. 


The arrogance of this is maddening.  If the Inquirer is so keen on feeding hungry children, why don’t they donate free advertising space in their newspaper to announce the district’s breakfast program to all the city’s “uninformed” parents?    


Or better still, why not run a public service message about the importance of nutrition, and encourage parents to get their children out of bed early enough to eat the healthy breakfast waiting for them free of charge in the school cafeteria?    


Classrooms are for learning, not eating.  Instructional time is limited.  Students and their families must learn to follow the most basic of routines, and acquire the life skills and discipline necessary to function in our highly structured 21st century society.      


6 thoughts on “Inquirer editorial disparages principals, twists facts about breakfast program

  1. I am so annoyed with people – even teachers – dismissing blame from the students and parents. No uniform? Oh, well, it’s not the students’ fault. Mom wasn’t able to do laundry. Late? Oh, well, it’s not the students’ fault. Mom got stuck in traffic. Absent? Oh, well, it’s not the students’ fault. Mom overslept and decided to keep the kid home. I am so sick of people putting the blame on someone else except who it belongs on … THE STUDENTS AND THE PARENTS! At what age does responsibility finally set in?

    • I agree wholeheartedly and I appreciate your piece; it’s time to stop placing all the economic & social ills of this city simply at the doorstep of its public schools. “Classrooms are for teaching not eating”–the line sticks with me. As a teacher in a Philly public school for 3 years, what became remarkably clear to me is that education is a shared responsibility, and parents are more integral to this equation–there central to it and there’s no way getting around this.

      If the Inquirer is so concerned about public schools implementing mandatory feeding programs for children, they should invest in S.E.E.D. schools where students reside at the schools themselves for 5 days a week & live an existence largely removed from the neighborhoods they were born into. The cost is 3x as much as the regular public school–and then there’s the justified uproar from local community centers & churches who feel these kids are being entirely displaced from their homes & families. But all S.E.E.D. kids DO eat in the morning. Perhaps the Inquirer writer can run with this headline.

      You can’t have it every way. The Inquirer’s editorial is flimsy & cheap & clearly written by someone looking for a quick “scoop” as opposed to a meaningful contribution in improving this city’s schools.

  2. It isn’t only the Inquirer that absolves parents and students of any responsibility and accountability. Dr. Ackerman does exactly the same thing, as does the state and our lawmakers in DC. As long as it remains politically incorrect to blame parents and students, our country will continue to drop below other countries in education. Rewarding students with inflated grades and unearned diplomas is lowering the bar. Our school district preaches “rigor in the classroom” but won’t support the teachers who attempt to make their instruction rigorous. It’s purely a numbers game: pass as many students as possible, even the ones who don’t attend school. After all, the graduation rate counts towards making AYP. This needs to change NOW!

  3. As insidious as all of this sounds…There are schools in Philadelphia that have the students eat breakfast during the first 15-20 minutes of classroom time. If they want us to do it, we’ll do it. The real story behind this free breakfast program won’t be published, but I’ll tell you my theory. It’s a money funnel. In fact, when Aramark was running the food services; a representative from the company suggested that students just take the food. They implied that the students could just throw it away, as long as our breakfast numbers went up… See the breakfast is only free to the students, somewhere it is getting paid for…and who is paying for it?…and who is being paid for it?… When Aramark was running the program, they had all these various promotional packages that ranged from repainting the cafeteria, to complete renovations…all of which were based on the number of free breakfasts the school could serve. I think even a below basic student can infer that Aramark was making $ on these “free breakfasts”…
    Now the $ trail is a bit harder to track since Aramark is out again…I’m not suggesting that we DON’T serve breakfast to those who need it, but to blame teachers and principals for students not eating breakfast….I think there is more behind this than meets the eye. I think the push is not so much because people actually care if these kids eat breakfast, its more because the numbers are not increasing…and if numbers are going down, profit is going down… I hope I’m wrong…

  4. The other thing in addition to breakfast is the ridiculous grades that we are “allowed” to give students. The lowest grade is a 50? And still most students can’t pass a class? Let alone understand the material….

    When did it become the school’s job to provide free things. Free lunch, free breakfast, free transpasses. When they reach 16, why not give them a free car. When they reach 18, why not give them a free starter home? When they reach 21 and are still in High School, why not give them a free alcoholic drink at lunch? And why not have the students stay until 6 at night and provide dinner? In fact, why don’t we open up new schools with hotel accomodations, so that students never leave school and we could parent them as well.

    Now there’s the solution.

  5. You should move breakfast to the classrooms – participation will increase 2-3x

    What good is free breakfast is a fraction of the kids eat it?

    Bring it to them

    Use that 10-15 minutes for socialization and/or learning – let the individual teachers decide

    Many of these kids are not eating regularly which impacts their behavior and learning – which can lead to long term societal issues

    Make the breakfast thing work – it’s good for all

    And stop the finger pointing – it’s lame

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s