Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Evaluating the Educational Impact of the National School Lunch Program
My absence from Eleanor Ave. for the last couple months can be explained in one word: thesis. Although, technically, it is a “professional paper,” calling it a thesis avoids lots of additional explanation. No matter what you call it, they both involve lots of words and lots of time.
Because my EA postings ceased as a result of this large collection of words, I decided that I should post the final document.
Brief summary: The National School Lunch Program (commonly referred to as “free/reduced lunch") provides millions of meals to low income school children every day. The students eligible for free and reduced lunches achieve at almost one standard deviation below their peers on math and reading test scores. In this paper I ask: do low income children receive any cognitive benefits from receiving a free or low cost meal at school? In previous research, the answer has been “no, not really, except for select demographics on certain tests.” Many results even indicated that participation led to lower test scores. What these researchers did not consider is if, without out the NSLP, eligible students would receive a meal anyway – from their parents, a sibling, a neighbor, or a food shelf. For this reason, my paper looks at low income children who also have “low food security” – essentially an index of hunger. For these children, participation in the NSLP free lunch program appears to lead to positive, statistically significant improvements in tests scores, but particularly reading scores. However, there remain some null and negative results which are likely attributable to the nature of the survey questions. Additionally, the paper provides recommendations for policymakers and future research on this topic.
For more details about these topics, the history of the program, and methods/models for evaluating the NSLP, check out the full paper.
Special thanks to my advisers, the Humphrey School, and the many others that helped with the editing, support, and encouragement that made this paper possible.