Keeping Kids in School Longer Won't Make Them Skinnier


Since The New York Times posted a chunk my Bloggingheads from yesterday with Daily Beast contributor Dana Goldstein on the mainpage this morning, I thought I'd follow up on the topic of the section they chose: Extending the school day and offering kids three state-selected meals a day to slim them down. 

In case you need a reminder of what schools are currently serving to kids, it's this:

Goldstein proposes an extended school day as a logical response to the problem that parents are currently in charge of most of their kids' meals, and obesity data suggest that those parents are not doing a particularly brilliant job. Especially poor parents. In the Bloggingheads segment, I note that schools suck, as do school lunches, and forcing kids to consume more of that suck doesn't strike me as a great plan for solving America's problems.

But the impulse to move decisions for the care and feeding of the nation's chubby children into the hands of the government is a strong one, so I'll embroider on the point a bit more: The tough thing here is to resist the temptation to compare the real mistakes of parents to the imagined successes of a radically different school system.

In her follow up blog post Goldstein writes:

I'm imagining something like what the best public, private, and charter schools are already doing: a mix of additional instructional time and mealtimes with small group break-out activities like reading clubs, sports, board games, supervised computer time, library browsing time, and art and music lessons.

This sounds lovely, but it's not feasible in the near- or mid-term. As Goldstein also notes, achieving this will require teachers to put in more hours and welcome specialized part-time instructors into their schools, two things teachers unions have almost uniformly opposed.

It also requires giving up on the idea that dinner with family (even if it's often a quick run to McDonald's) is a vital time for family bonding and parental checking in. It means taking one of the biggest parental duties—feeding your kids—out of the hands of (poor) parents because they aren't performing up to someone else's standards.

Essentially, we're talking about swapping out parental muddling-through for an educational and nutritional experiment that virtually none of the adults involved in state education or nutrition services have demonstated any interest in trying.

The idea of a longer school day is catching on, with or without other reforms. But an extended school day and expanded lunch program is much more likely to produce a couple of extra hours of sit-still-and-be-quiet time and the meal above in triplicate than gently supervised frolicking and snacks of Kale Krunchers ™.