What Public Education Can Learn From Chocolate Milk

chocolate milk


The criticisms of public schools are incessant:

  • School is a waste of time.
  • School discipline leads to a “school-to-prison pipeline.”
  • Schools aren’t preparing kids for the future.
  • Not enough kids are “college and career-ready.”
  • Too many kids don’t go to college.
  • Those that do need remedial classes.
  • The kids are bored.
  • Too many don’t graduate.
  • School hasn’t changed in 100 years
  • There are achievement gaps between various sub-groups.
  • Other developed countries outperform us on international tests.
  • The future of America is in the balance, and it’s an ugly fate thanks to our shitty public schools.

We have an image problem.

Not so long ago, so did chocolate milk. In 2011, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (along with other health food advocates) was able to persuade The Los Angeles Unified School District to remove chocolate milk from school cafeterias. News articles from that time reported that other large districts were considering doing the same. The kids were fat, and the schools were making them fatter by offering chocolate milk. In some districts, the answer to the question “Got Milk?” was, “Sure, but not chocolate.”

Chocolate Milk — It’s Actually Good For You!!

A few studies existed that touted the regenerative characteristics of chocolate milk for elite athletes. The fact that these studies had all sorts of problems and that, at best, chocolate milk was comparable to other supplements when it came to replenishing glycogen in elite athletes who needed a quick recovery for additional intense workouts didn’t matter much. Big Milk ran with it.

A self-interested, well-funded group called the Milk Processors Education Program has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to defend chocolate milk from attack. It took those far-from-conclusive studies, exaggerated the studies’ claims, and extrapolated the benefits to the casual athlete and the public at large. You’ll now see chocolate milk handed out at virtually every road race, even though glycogen stores will replenish through regular diet within 24 hours. There are TV ads, YouTube videos with celebrity athletes extolling the virtues of the drink, and print ads that feature NBA stars lauding its recuperative qualities. The message was clear: Chocolate milk doesn’t make people fat! The fittest people in the world drink it! It’s good for you!

It’s been successful. In the year following the start of the ad campaign, chocolate milk consumption rose from 10% to 12% among 18-24- year-olds. Runners demand it at marathons. Coaches give it to their athletes. Perhaps most importantly for the milk people, LAUSD and other school districts reversed course. The L.A. schoolkids can drink chocolate milk again, just like Olympic swimmers!

USA Swimming Athletes Tyler Clary and Jessica Hardy Dive Into New National BUILT WITH CHOCOLATE MILK(TM) Campaign (PRNewsFoto/Milk Processor Education Program)

Public Education — It’s Good For You!

Meanwhile, public education does nothing but cower in the face of ceaseless, well-financed attacks. It stands there like an out-of-shape boxer, winded, taking blow after blow, flinching, holding up its hands, whining to the refs, and hoping its opponent will get tired or distracted and leave it alone.

It’s not as if there aren’t things worth bragging about. Public education has a lot more going for it than chocolate milk (although admittedly we can’t compete on flavor).

In 2014-2015 (the most recent year with available data), graduation rates in the US reached an all-time high for the fifth straight year. In spite of more demanding standards, relentless attacks, and state budgets that have not returned to pre-recession levels, public schools are preparing more kids for success. A higher percentage of students graduate now than ever before.

Haven’t you seen the billboards?

High school GPAs strongly predict future incomes. A recent study by researchers at the University of Miami found that a one-point increase in high school GPA raises annual earnings in adulthood by around 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women. The study also shows that even a one-point increase in GPA doubles the likelihood of students completing college—from 21 percent to 42 percent—for both men and women.

A researcher at Boston College followed 81 high school valedictorians and salutatorians from graduation onward. 95 percent graduated from college. Their average GPA was 3.6. By 1994, 60 percent had received a graduate degree. Nearly 90 percent are now in professional careers with 40 percent in the highest tier jobs. They are reliable, consistent, well-adjusted, and by just about any measure, the majority have good lives.

Schools do what they’re supposed to do.

If you do well in school, you do well in life. That’s worth bragging about.

It’s Time to Fight Back

Despite its obvious benefits, hardly anyone is trumpeting the value of a public education. It doesn’t seem difficult to throw money at a few celebrities and have them talk about the importance of public schools. Such a campaign should fall to the Department of Education. Tax money should be used to promote an educational system that exists to serve all. Instead of tearing down the institution, the DOE ought to be building it up. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine other federal departments acting like the DOE does. The Department of Justice doesn’t go around publicly bitching about the recidivism rate or blaming cops and judges for failing to curtail crime. The Department of Agriculture doesn’t badmouth farmers.

Since the Department of Ed seems more intent on destroying public education than promoting it, we have to rely on other people. The only groups who consistently attempt to defend public ed are the nation’s teachers’ unions. They do what they can, but their motives will always be questioned because their primary job is to look out for their members and because they give almost all of their money to one political party, making enemies of half the country. When it comes to public relations, union support is a liability because half of the country doesn’t trust them and never will.

Public education needs a PR department, funded by wealthy benefactors who understand its importance to a democratic society and who are frankly willing to lose money to save it. We need rich idealists who will put their money where their mouths are to stand up to corporate reformers, whose mission is to destroy public schools so they can replace them with private options that will line their pockets.

There are legions of famous successful people who attended public schools. You’d never know it. Other than a handful of celebrities like John Stewart and Matt Damon, most people, even those who’ve had phenomenal success in life, don’t do much to support public schools. Pressure should be put on them. Public education needs their money and influence. And it needs to use it to fight back.

I look forward to a day when I turn on my TV and see the latest pop star, billion-dollar athlete, or TV personality look into the camera and say the words, “Public school worked for me, it works for this country, and it will work for your kids.”


Note: If you’d like to know more about the chocolate milk research, I found this site informative.


Every Student An Athlete

The Most Offensive F-Word in Education

The Willful Ignorance of Education Research


Every Student An Athlete (ESAA)



We have a crisis in America. Our kids are fat. To combat this epidemic, Congress has decided to make exercise compulsory. They’re prepared to spend billions of other people’s money. It’s a simple plan. They’re going to cut one hour off the end of the school day and students will be bused to their local gym. If no gym exists, one will be built. Students — check that — “athletes” will be assigned a personal trainer.  Some trainers will be responsible for 25 kids, others more like 150. It’s called, “Every Student An Athlete,” and the goal is simple: no more fat kids by 2025. I spoke to the plan’s architect, Tara Bullidea, and dug deeper into the details:

MURPH: Hi, Tara. So every kid, starting when they’re five, will be required to work out for one hour after school each day. How will you enforce it?

TARA: This is just like school. Athletes have to attend. It’s mandatory. I mean, I guess their parents could pick them up from school and take them home, but we really don’t want them to. We’ll threaten stuff and, oh… you know what, I just thought of this — we’ll hold the gyms accountable for athletes’ attendance! That ought to do it.

MURPH: So the gym will be punished if too many of their athletes don’t show up to exercise?

TARA: You got it!

MURPH: Okay. What if the athletes come but don’t want to participate? What if they refuse to follow their trainers’ instructions? Or what if they actively interfere with the workouts of other athletes?

TARA: Those athletes will be in big trouble. They’ll have to sit out or even be sent home.

MURPH: But wouldn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose? They may want to sit out, and if they’re sent home, they’re not getting the exercise they need.

TARA: True. Trainers shouldn’t do that. They should do everything they can to get those students to work out. I guess maybe they should make it more fun. They should, um, build relationships so athletes will want to work out! You know, now that I think about it, if a trainer has some athletes with bad attitudes, it’s really the trainers’ fault, isn’t it? Such poor athlete attitudes should be reflected on the trainers’ year-end ratings.

MURPH: The trainers are going to be rated? How will that work?

TARA: That’s my favorite part. Look, we don’t want any consequences for the athletes. I mean, if they fail to lose weight, they’re only hurting themselves, right? But the trainers? We’re paying the trainers! The taxpayers will expect a decent return on investment. So we will hold the trainers accountable for their athletes’ weight loss.

MURPH: Oh, I see. So will there be bonuses for really good trainers? Some way to reward excellence?

TARA: No, silly. Nothing like that. We can’t afford bonuses. No, what we’re going to do is punish the gyms that don’t get their athletes’ to shed the pounds. If a gym is really bad — like if only a few kids achieve expected yearly weight loss (EYWL, pronounced “I-will”) — we may even close the gym. Or at least fire all the trainers. Also, each trainer will be rated at the end of the year, and we would expect gyms to fire the trainers with the lowest ratings. As for the best trainers, we’ll  give them the laziest, most overweight kids.

MURPH: How will you figure out which trainers deserve low ratings?

TARA: We’ll just go in and weigh all the athletes at the start of the year and weigh them again at the end of the year. If they haven’t lost enough weight, that trainer will get a bad rating.

MURPH: How much weight should each kid lose? What’s going to be the cut-off?

TARA: Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just say 10% of their original weight. Actually, on second thought, we’ll change the target every year and not tell the trainers what the new goal is. I know. We’ll come up with a really complicated formula to assess the trainers. That way, if someone starts to question it, we’ll just explain to them that they’re not smart enough to figure it out. In reality, I won’t be smart enough to figure it out either. Hardly anyone will. We’ll just say that some statisticians somewhere said it’s fine and that will be enough.

MURPH: But isn’t it unfair to hold trainers accountable when they only see the athletes for five hours a week? What if the kids go home and their parents undo all the trainers’ hard work? What if they feed their kids horrible food and never exercise themselves? What if they, God forbid, denigrate the whole idea of a healthy lifestyle? Isn’t it possible that some parents, either through ignorance or willful neglect, will sabotage the trainers’ efforts? Should trainers be punished for that?

TARA: Uh, huh. Yep.

MURPH: Okay. How about these trainers? We’re putting a lot on them and trusting them with the future health of the nation. How will you ensure that they’re up to the task?

TARA: You know, I’ve thought a lot about that. We’re going to be rating them, so they have a strong incentive to really study their craft and become excellent at what they do. They’ll be judged on their performance (okay, actually their athletes’ performance, but let’s not split hairs), so they’ll probably try really hard. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to require them to train kids certain ways. Now, sometimes those ways will be based on the latest scientific research on wellness. But other times, they’ll just be based on the latest fad, like maybe a popular book that’s out at the time. And to be sure they’re all doing pretty much the same thing, we’re going to make them sit through lots of meetings where we train them in these methods. We really want them to train their athletes the way we think they should train them.

MURPH: But then, shouldn’t it be you who is held accountable? I mean, if the trainers are just following your marching orders and they don’t get results, isn’t that your fault?

TARA: I don’t think so. Perhaps they aren’t training with fidelity. Maybe they aren’t very good at implementing the required methods. Their fault, for sure.

MURPH: Let’s change gears and focus on the kids.

TARA: Athletes.

MURPH: Right. What about those athletes who come from families that can’t afford tennis shoes or gym shorts?

TARA: We’ll provide those.

MURPH: So will all gyms get the same equipment? Will they have the same budgets?

TARA: Hahahahaha! No. Taxes will be raised at the local level for equipment, so certain areas will have newer machines than other areas. But every gym will have some equipment. Research tells us that it’s not the equipment that matters, but the trainer. So we won’t accept any excuses from trainers who have to work with older equipment, or even equipment that no longer works. Those trainers will simply have to be more creative.

MURPH: That sounds difficult. It might be hard to get good trainers to work at gyms with broken machines. Will you pay these trainers more?

TARA. No. Less, actually.


TARA: It’s fine! It’s all going to work out fine. We’re going to have no fat kids by 2025. They’re all going to hit their EYWL targets. Every Student An Athlete is going to be an amazing success because I really want it to be!

MURPH: Aren’t the athletes going to get tired of all this working out? Won’t they need some breaks? Even elite athletes take some time off.

TARA: Yes, you’re right. We’ll build in a few two-week breaks throughout the year and we’ll give them — I don’t know — two straight months off in the summer. It’s too hot to work out then anyway.

MURPH: But won’t a lot of athletes, especially those whose parents don’t value exercise and healthy eating, regain the weight and fall back into bad habits?

TARA: Perhaps. But the trainers will just have to work extra hard to make up for it.

MURPH: Just one last question, Tara. What is your background? Do you own a gym? Are you a former Olympian? Have you ever been a trainer yourself?

TARA: No, nothing like that. I’m rich. I’m very, very rich.