Michael Kurtz, Lycoming College – Weekend Feeding Programs Can Boost Children’s Educational Outcomes

It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.

Michael Kurtz, associate professor of economics at Lycoming College, examines one way to rectify this for disadvantaged children.

Michael Kurtz’s primary research interest is in education economics. Specifically, he studies how to measure teaching effectiveness and how those measures can be used to their full potential without overstating the inference gained. His research on education intersects with health economics with his work on understanding how weekend nutrition affects scholastic outcomes such as test scores, absences and behavioral incidents.

Weekend Feeding Programs Can Boost Children’s Educational Outcomes

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Weekend feeding or “BackPack” programs that provide food to children have grown dramatically in recent years, but their impacts on educational outcomes have not been studied. My team and I have new research that provides the first evidence of the effects of weekend feeding programs on academic performance in the form of increased end of grade test scores.

Our study combined administrative student data on test scores and absences in Northwest North Carolina elementary schools with primary data gathered from a foodbank about the number of participating children.

We observed how economically disadvantaged students performed on end of grade tests, both before and after the BackPack program was introduced to a school.  After controlling for student and school characteristics known to impact test scores, such as the student to teacher ratio, we compared the economically disadvantaged students to non-disadvantaged students in the same school and to disadvantaged students who attended schools that did not get the benefit of the Backpack program.

Specifically, we measured the impact in standard deviations and found a sizable .09 increase in reading scores for economically disadvantaged students at BackPack schools and suggestive evidence of similar beneficial effect for math scores. This magnitude is comparable to those found for other nutritional interventions like expansion of school breakfast programs.

These effects are large enough to substantially reduce the performance gap experienced by economically disadvantaged students and appear strongest for the younger primary school students, around third grade, and weaker performing students.

This study provides strong evidence that expansion of these programs could be a cost-effective way to not only reduce childhood food insecurity but also improve scholastic outcomes for the neediest students. 

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