Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Good Idea, But For The Right Reason?

Kids in many Massachusetts schools get only 20 minutes or less for lunch. A state lawmaker wants to change all that:
Rep. Joyce A. Spiliotis said the lunch period is so short because schools are devoting more time to preparing students for standardized tests under the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

"Our children's physical and emotional needs are coming second to MCAS scores in our state right now," said Spiliotis, a Democrat. "If children aren't eating and don't get enough physical exercise, then they're not going to get back to class and pay attention. They're going to be lackadaisical and lethargic."

Some students say they can never finish lunch because of long cafeteria lines, and some teachers bringing the students late.

Local school systems determine lunch times and many school districts say they have boosted class time to better prepare for state tests, reported the Boston Globe Saturday.

The average lunch period in U.S. elementary schools has decreased from about 30 minutes to 23.7 minutes, according to the School Nutrition Association in Alexandria, Va.
I think that it's a good idea that kids have at least a 30 minute lunch break. It may be possible, however, that State Representative Spiliotis is mistaken about the reason why lunch breaks are so short. I don't think that they're necessarily short because of testing, but because in many schools the faculty would much rather have a shorter lunch break and an earlier student dismissal.

Contrary to what many folks think, the length of the school day isn't determined by the number of hours that children are on campus, but by the number of instructional minutes that each child is being taught. By shortening the lunch break, schools can dismiss the kids earlier.

At some campuses, (such as our junior high school) administrators have expressed an extreme reluctance to extend the lunch period out of fear that once students finish eating, they will then get into trouble. This "trouble" would involve shouting, horseplay, fighting, and pupils generally running amok.

In our district, the collective bargaining agreement between the administration and the union doesn't allow for a lunch break shorter than 30 minutes, and in fact permits each school to have up to an hour. No type of student supervision or other duty may be assigned to teachers during their lunch.

I think that 30 minutes really should be the minimum amount of time for any lunch break, whether for kids or adults. Ideally, teachers should not be expected to supervise kids during lunch. The grown-ups need a break too.

The way many schools choose to avoid requiring teachers to work at lunch time is by hiring parents (at the minimum wage) for an hour to an hour-and-a-half to supervise the students. And of course, the administrative staff is out on the yard supervising the pupils. This is the way that it's done at our junior high school, and the system works just fine.

View the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education as well as entry instructions for the next edition right here.

Main Page/Latest Posts