PE is not job one for schools

Requiring more P.E. time for D.C. students is a bad idea from good people, writes Jay Mathews on Class Struggle.

D.C. council member Mary M. Cheh and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray worry that “18 percent of D.C. high school students are obese, 70 percent fail to meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended levels of physical activity and 84 percent do not attend physical education classes daily.” Their Healthy Schools Act would require schools to buy “fresh produce from local growners,” which is bound to raise costs, and require 150 minutes of PE per week for K-5 students and 225 minutes for middle schoolers.

. . . the D.C. schools need to do a better job using the limited time they have, about six and a half hours a day, to address students’ weaknesses in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

If Cheh were saying we should add an hour to the school day of every child, and use half of that new time for more exercise, I would cheer. Many of the city’s most successful public schools are charters that have used their independence from district rules to give children eight or nine hours of learning each day.

The proposed law requires all schools, including charters, to devote more time to P.E. (and more money to lunch), regardless of whether the principal thinks that’s the best use of time and money.

When I was a high school student in Illinois, daily P.E. was required for all four years. The P.E. teachers had lobbied the state Legislature for the mandate. Only three years of English was required for graduation. I won state honors in the National Council of Teachers of English contest for a personal essay, “Confessions of a Physically Educated Woman,” on my loathing for field hockey. Which was required.

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  1. Oh goody! Another mandate!

    This will make things so much easier. You see, we couldn’t figure out what to do with all this extra free time we had. Thank you kind masters.

  2. We’re required to do just that in Florida, but they’ve made it worse by requiring 30-minute uninterrupted blocks. We’ve had to say good-bye to science and social studies (even though science is tested!) just to fit this mandate in. Brilliant!

  3. The PE lobby is mindless, fanatic and obstructive.

    In CA, it is the only subject with a legal mandate of minimum time spent on it.

  4. Robert, you are absolutely right. Both at school board meetings and in informal conversations with teachers (not just PE), I have heard suggestions to give PE credit for playing on school JV/Varsity teams immediately rejected, with the comment “then we wouldn’t need as many PE teachers.” PE is seen as a jobs program for adults as much, if not more, than a desirable option for kids. We should remember that while we do have a large number of overweight/inactive kids, we also have a large number of full-time athletes. There are more kids at both ends of the spectrum and their needs are vastly different. It’s just another example that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work.

  5. Addendum: I currently reside in a state with a large farm/ranch population, and lots of kids get plenty of exercise the old-fashioned way; they do chores. That was also true in the state where I was raised; even 10-year-olds helped with the milking etc. before and after school. Different districts/schools have different populations and different needs.


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