A Problem of Priorities

All this week (and this coming Monday), Moose has been taking the PARCC Assessment at his school, which is the standardized test our state has been using for grades 3-8. It’s a long six days of testing; something we dread all winter long.

The school tries to make the test days a little more fun by having color themes for each day. They also offer a free breakfast to each student who is involved in the testing. So Moose eats his breakfast at home like he does every morning, and then goes to school to eat “Second Breakfast” Hobbit-style. This amuses him, and anything that helps him get through these long days is quite welcome.


There is another side to that story, and my amusement at Moose’s love of his bonus breakfast is tempered by my knowledge of the sad dichotomy at play here. Because if you stop to think about it, you realize why the school offers a free breakfast during the standardized testing period. It’s well-documented that children who have eaten perform better in school, and this should come as no surprise. Hunger, a growling stomach, thinking about your next meal (or sadly wondering where that meal is going to come from) all distract children from their primary task at school…learning. Children who are hungry don’t retain as much information, don’t perform as well, are less likely to succeed.

So, the school offers a free breakfast to the test-takers every morning. Why? Isn’t it obvious? It’s because the school wants good test scores. They want the students to reflect the institution well. They want to minimize as many distractions as possible so the students have good results. They know full bellies help children perform better.

And that right there pretty much sums up the problem with education in America…misplaced priorities.

The days of standardized testing should be the least of the schools’ concerns. If they’re truly worried about the well-being of their students, they should be offering a free breakfast every day, to make sure that on the regular old, normal instruction, ending in “y” days that make up the majority of the school year, the students are focused, as free from distractions as possible, so they can get down to the task of learning. Of absorbing as much information as possible. Of becoming critical thinkers.

But we’ve got it all backwards when it comes to education, and instead of placing the emphasis on the importance of learning, and supporting students as they do that, we instead focus primarily on the results. But if the students haven’t been supported in their learning all year-long, what kind of results can the school really except to achieve?

I understand that there are financial considerations to providing a free breakfast to any student who needs it all year-long. And I know that there are some programs in place that offer free or reduced-cost breakfasts to at least part of the student population already. But I also know that for many, that carries a stigma that free breakfast for everyone doesn’t, and so it’s possible that program isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential in the first place.

I’m glad that for six days, children who otherwise may not have been able to eat breakfast for whatever reason have a morning meal available to them in the school cafeteria. But what about the other 35 weeks of the school year? Until we can figure out how to straighten out the educational priorities in the country, not only are the test results going to continue to disappoint, the children in our school system are not going to receive the education they deserve.

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