Thursday, April 14, 2016
Most states are dropping the ball on keeping kids active and fit and preparing them for a healthy future
Students across the nation would benefit from strong state requirements for physical education. However, 2016 Shape of the Nation™, released by SHAPE America - Society of Health and Physical Educators and Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows most states are dropping the ball on keeping kids active and fit and preparing them for a healthy future.
The report highlights only a handful of states set any minimum amount of time for elementary (19) and middle school (15) students to participate in physical education. Shape of the Nation compiles data on the status of physical education requirements from every state and Washington, D.C., and provides a snapshot of how each state is meeting – or not meeting – the criteria of a high-quality physical education state policy. While only Oregon and the District of Columbia require the amount of time recommended by national experts at both elementary and middle school levels, this does not always equate to effective implementation in every school. More than half of states (62%) permit school districts or schools to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit, undermining the requirements above. Unfortunately, many states also allow physical activity to be withheld or used as a punishment. The vast majority of states only meet about half of the criteria and a few – including Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas and Utah – need to pick up the pace on their state policies.
Each state profile in the report is a guidepost for states as they consider how to close the achievement gap and improve the health of students. The good news for states is that the recent passage of the federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), includes physical education as part of a well-rounded education, meaning that school districts can use Title I, Title II and Title IV federal funding to improve their physical education programs. States must now address the whole child through their state education plans by offering students access to a well-rounded education, which should include robust physical education programs.
National guidelines recommend moderate to intense physical activity for children at least one hour a day. To help meet these, the American Heart Association and SHAPE America recommend states require elementary students receive 150 minutes per week and middle and high school students receive 225 minutes per week of instructional physical education.
While the guidelines are built on the need to develop lifelong healthy habits, there are a number of other benefits to being active for children. First, studies show that when kids participate in daily physical education, there is an immediate benefit to their ability to learn in other classes and achieve higher test scores. Not only does physical education, increase academic achievement and improved classroom behavior but the skills learned in physical education lay the foundation for a lifetime of fitness that our nation cannot afford to lose.
From the seemingly simple action of throwing a baseball to the more intricate action of hula hoops and jump ropes, physical education teaches our children critical movements and brings with it the sheer joy of making your first goal, basket or catch. This is no small moment in a society where the lack of physical activity is keeping our children from achieving their full potential as heart-healthy adults.