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SLICE Act Would Cut Pizza-As-a-Vegetable Provision

In response to congressional action last fall that allows a small amount of tomato paste to count as a serving of vegetables in school meals—and in turn making a slice of pizza the equivalent of a half-cup of broccoli on lunch trays—U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would put an end to the practice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had wanted to end a provision in school meal rules that allows one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza to count as one-half cup of vegetables, rather than one-eighth of a cup. The switch would have matched the rules for tomato paste with those for all other fruit and vegetable pastes and purees.

The USDA was in the midst of rewriting school lunch and breakfast rules and had already lost a battle on restricting the amount of potatoes students are served. But Congress tweaked the agriculture appropriations bill in November so that the agency can't spend any money on counting tomato paste the way it proposed. Food companies argued that putting a half-cup of tomato paste on a single slice to allow it to continue counting as a vegetable would make the pizza inedible. (Simply adding other vegetables per slice could also have resolved the issue, however.)

"Big food companies have their priorities, which include selling cheap, unhealthy foods at high profits," said Polis. "But parents and schools have their priorities: making sure our kids eat right because research shows a clear connection between nutrition and student performance in school."

Polis' SLICE Act—School Lunch Improvements for Children's Education—would restore the USDA's authority to count an eighth of a cup of tomato paste as just an eighth of a cup of vegetables. It would also give the USDA the power to implement reductions in sodium and boost the amount of whole grains required in school meals.

—Nirvi Shah


Latino Voters: Education Over Immigration in 2012

A survey released last week by two organizations that favor private school vouchers and other forms of school choice shows that Latino voters are more concerned about improving the quality of K-12 education than they are about reforming immigration policies.

Like all voters surveyed, Latinos listed the economy and job creation as their chief area of concern. Latinos in the survey ranked improving K-12 education as their next top issue over budget-deficit reduction, which was the second-ranked issue for all voters. Fifty-eight percent of Latinos agreed with the statement that "we need to hear more from the presidential candidates on how they will improve education," compared with 37 percent who agreed with the statement that "we need to hear more from the presidential candidates on other issues before we talk about education."

The poll was conducted for the pro-school-choice groups—the American Federation of Children and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.

Reforming immigration policy fell into fifth place out of the five areas that pollsters asked respondents to rank in terms of importance for local and state governments to address. That was the case for both all voters and Latino voters.

The telephone poll, conducted in English and Spanish, queried 750 likely voters in five Latino-heavy states: Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Nevada.

—Lesli A. Maxwell


Who's Responsible for Teacher Quality Control?

The dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, Robert Pianta, pens a provocative piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that poses what's probably the essential teacher-quality question du jour: Who should be responsible for defining and policing the standards of the teaching profession?

The genesis of the piece is the U.S. Department of Education's effort to write new rules governing teacher preparation, which collapsed last month. While Pianta isn't fond of some of the department's proposals, he argues that the drive to do something on teacher preparation has been born out of failure of higher education, and other related agencies, to monitor quality.

"Teacher unions, higher education, and even alternative teacher-preparation routes such as Teach For America have ceded responsibility for building credible and open internal quality controls. Education schools and other preparers of teachers have failed to build competency- and knowledge-assessment systems to identify and measure the skills that teachers need for successful performance," he writes.

"Such systems would be capable of publicly verifying that teachers met certain known performance benchmarks before they entered the profession, and passing would mean a high likelihood that the students taught by a graduate would make progress academically."

There are a number of teacher-quality standards out there—the inTASC standards created by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the standards set by the teacher-college-accreditation bodies, and every state's own professional licensing and program-approval standards, for starters. Arguably, these standards haven't been well linked to assessment mechanisms, nor have they been the lever that their creators have hoped to change the nature of how teachers are trained.

A few education schools have begun to move in this direction. And others are pinning their hopes on the Teacher Performance Assessment, a licensing test being piloted in about half the states. Only time will tell if they actually begin to do the things that Pianta outlines in the commentary.

—Stephen Sawchuk

Vol. 31, Issue 32, Page 11

Published in Print: May 23, 2012, as Blogs of the Week
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