Feeding New York City public school kids a free breakfast in classrooms did not contribute to improved academic outcomes, nor did it increase school attendance.
Those were two of the key primary endpoints of a recent study, performed by the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University and published in the Journal of Policy Analysis.
The NYC public school system has been offering free breakfast to students before the academic day begins since 2003. This project, called Breakfast in The Classroom (BIC), has been rolled out in about 400 of the 1,750 NYC public schools. BIC offers children their morning meals after they are already in the classroom – which typically takes, according to the BIC website, about 15 minutes each day. The breakfast options include two grains and a fruit.
The idea behind serving food in the classroom is to eliminate the stigma of having to arrive early to have breakfast at the school cafeteria, where breakfast is normally offered. The NYC Coalition Against Hunger estimates that there are 500,000 (1 in 4) children who live in homes where providing breakfast is not financially feasible. Some students may be too ashamed to be thought of as poor, and simply forgo eating anything at all. The idea behind BIC was that there would be a drop in absences and also that students would perform better academically having had proper fuel for the brain.
Nobody is against providing a child a nutritious start to the day. The issue with BIC is that it should not be done in a classroom – it is simply not the place for feeding kids and if the initial hypothesis was that it would improve attendance and school performance – since the evidence doesn’t support it.
“When looking at academic achievement and attendance," said Sean Corcoran, PhD, of New York University, the lead author of the study, "there are few added benefits of having breakfast in the classroom beyond those already provided by free breakfast.”
Also, the idea that you can fix something like poor academic performance by offering a destigmatized free breakfast is being overly simplistic. How often a student shows up for school, and how well a student performs on an exam, is multifactorial, and it cannot be fixed by enforcing a disruptive program and taking away valuable teaching time.
Hopefully, the next initiative proposed by the city will take into account the results from this project, and redirect resources toward providing healthier meal options in the cafeteria and not the classroom.