The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA, released November 13 by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association, finds that while 74.5 percent of states mandate physical education in elementary through high school, most still fail to require a specific amount of instructional time and nearly half allow exemptions, waivers and/or substitutions. These “loopholes” reduce the effectiveness of policy efforts to ensure the quality of physical education currently taught in the nation’s schools.
“While other studies demonstrate the importance of quality physical education in helping students learn the necessary skills, knowledge and experiences they need to be physically active for a lifetime, the Shape of the Nation Report has been disclosing the inadequacies of physical education policies in this country since 1987,” said NASPE President Mary Jo Sariscsany, associate professor, California State University, Northridge. “It is time to eliminate the ‘loopholes.’ We urge parents to join our efforts to be more proactive and effective advocates for physical education to ensure that their children’s schools and school districts are complying with required state physical education policies. Every school should implement the recommendations outlined in this report.”
“The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood obesity epidemic,” said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. “Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious problems.”
The report found that the majority of states mandate that students take physical education (43 states for elementary, 41 states for middle and 44 states for high school). However, gaps exist in over half of these states. Thirty-three states permit schools and school districts to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit. Twenty-eight states allow schools or school districts to grant exemptions/waivers for physical education. Other key findings include:
- Only six states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, K-12.
- Forty nine states plus the District of Columbia have their own state standards for physical education; only Iowa has not adopted state standards.
- Only 26 states (51 percent) require some form of student assessment in physical education.
- Only 30 states (59 percent) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online physical education courses.
- Compared to 2010, twice as many states (28 vs.14) require physical education grades to be included in students’ grade point averages.
- Only 14 states (27 percent) require schools/school districts to perform fitness assessments. Only 11 states (22 percent) prohibit the practice of withholding physical activity, including recess, as punishment and prohibit the use of physical activity as punishment for inappropriate behavior or for disciplinary reasons.
NASPE and the American Heart Association recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week/30 minutes per day of instructional physical education for elementary school children, and 225 minutes per week/45 minutes per day for middle and high school students for the entire school year. Currently, no states follow these nationally recommended guidelines at all levels. The complete list of physical education program recommendations is included in the full report.
In addition to pushing for mandatory physical education in all K-12 schools in the United States, the two associations encourage parents to be more proactive in advocating for school districts and communities to develop and promote the use of safe, well-maintained and close-to-home sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and facilities for physical activity and sport participation. More importantly, parents and other adult role models need to set good examples by being active themselves.
The Shape of the Nation Report, which surveys physical education coordinators in all 50 state education agencies and the District of Columbia, raises awareness and provides data for an ongoing evaluation of the progress made and challenges that remain in physical education policies. This year’s Shape of the Nation report includes new elements that address the areas of school physical activity requirements such as recess, classroom physical activity breaks, the use of physical activity as punishment, support for the Safe Routes to School program and local school wellness policies.
The preeminent national authority on physical education and a recognized leader in sport and physical activity, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) is a non-profit professional membership association that sets the standard for practice in physical education and sport. Contact NASPE at www.naspeinfo.org.