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Prevention Institute

October 19, 2011

Physical Education Matters:
Protecting and Promoting Physical Education for All Children

Physical activity is critical for a child’s physical, mental, and social development, and Physical Education has the potential to ensure that all students K-12 participate in recommended levels of health-promoting movement throughout the school day. However, in many communities across the country, Physical Education — along with other critical subjects — has been eliminated or severely reduced. Despite studies that show a positive relationship between physical activity and grade point average, rate of learning, and classroom conduct, some districts are eliminating physical education mandates, struggling to establish them, or are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the requirements without proper staffing or allocated time throughout the school day.

Physical Education is under threat in some school districts:

  • The Bakersfield City School District in California is requesting a waiver that will allow struggling junior high students to take more math and English courses and only the minimum physical education required.  Despite the fact that students in the district have physical fitness levels well below the State’s average, officials believe that decreasing the number of hours some students spend in PE will benefit them academically.
  • Despite a state requirement that all students participate in Physical Education at least 3 days a week, a recent audit shows that not a single New York City school is in full compliance with the mandate. While students are required to take state tests in math, English, and other subjects, there is no similar mechanism to monitor schools’ Physical Education proficiency.

But other schools and communities are working to put Physical Education front and center:

  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction in California Tom Torlakson is launching Team California for Healthy Kids (TCHK) to increase physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous physical activity throughout the day, every day, in schools and communities. Maintaining and supporting quality Physical Education programs is a key component of his endeavor.
  • Massachusetts has introduced legislation that will enforce minimum Physical Education standards in all grades and all public schools. Although Physical Education is currently a required subject in Massachusetts’s schools, state regulations set no minimum time requirements for students to participate, and budget crunches have led some districts to scale back or eliminate their programs. If this legislation passes, it will make Physical Education a required subject in all grades, and ban waivers to opt out of these classes.

By addressing the quality, quantity, and intensity of Physical Education across the country, policymakers, decision makers, and teachers can maximize children’s potential for a lifetime of physical activity, health, and wellness.

Take Action in Your Community

  1. Use Tom Torlakson’s press conference on October 20th  as a timely hook to pitch a story to a reporter, or write an op-ed highlighting the importance of Physical Education in your community’s schools.
  2. Respond to stories in your local papers on Physical Education and fitness.
  3. Conduct an assessment of Physical Education programs in your own community, and use the findings to draw attention and build momentum for high-quality programs.

Here are some angles to cover in your online comments, letters to the editor, blogs, and op-eds:

  • We need policies that protect our children’s health. Physical activity is essential if children are to achieve important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. Physical Education during the school day assures that children will reach these targets. Currently, 50% of California schools do not enforce existing Physical Education mandates. More than a third of all adolescents enrolled in California public schools do not particpate in any school-based Physical Education classes whatsoever. To safeguard our children’s health, we must foster and support Physical Education in our schools.
  • Taking time for Physical Education doesn’t detract from academic achievement. Participation in Physical Education classes and recess are integral to academic achievement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that physical activity doesn’t take away from educational performance but actually enhances it.
  • We can’t afford not to invest in our children’s health. Preventable illness and chronic disease related to unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity accounts for nearly 17% of our health care costs —that’s $168 million a year in medical costs alone. Physical Education fosters a lifetime commitment to health and wellness. It is a critical strategy if we are to reverse unprecedented surges in Type II diabetes and an array of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.
  • All kids deserve a fair chance at health.  Not all school environments are created equally. In California, students in more affluent schools spend 20% more Physical Education time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than students in low-income schools. Low-resource schools deserve qualified Physical Education instructors, well-maintained facilities, and equipment, leadership, and support from school and district administrators to guarantee an equal opportunity for physical activity for every child, every day. 

Did you pitch a story, submit an editorial, or get something in the news?
Send us a quick note so we can make sure your efforts are recognized.

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