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More required P.E.--a bad idea from good people

Sometimes it is the smartest, most concerned policymakers who do the most harm to schools. My favorite recent example is the Healthy Schools Act, a bill introduced by D.C. council member Mary M. Cheh and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray two weeks ago.

Cheh and Gray are good people trying to address a national epidemic of childhood obesity and insufficient physical activity. In Cheh’s press release she notes 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. It is their solution that troubles me.

I am unqualified to comment on the food parts of the bill. I have never written about nutrition. I would be embarrassed to reveal the amount of crackers, cookies and ice cream I eat each day. I can only wonder how D.C. will pay for the required fresh produce from local growers in all schools, and how they will get students to eat it.

The bill’s physical education requirements are its worst part-- a nifty-sounding reform that many of the District’s best principals and teachers will declare one of the dumbest ideas they ever heard.

At the moment, D.C. students from kindergarten through eighth grade have two P.E. periods a week of 45 minutes each. High-schoolers need just a semester and a half of a similar P.E. regime to graduate. The new bill would require every public school student in kindergarten through fifth grade to have 150 minutes of P.E. (30 minutes a day). Sixth- through eighth-graders would be required to take 225 minutes (45 a day).

Why shouldn’t our kids get more exercise? In a perfect world, that would be a lovely idea. But the D.C. schools are in crisis. We no longer have, the latest federal figures show, children with the lowest test scores in urban America. But even with recent gains we are still far below average, and not that far ahead of Detroit, which has supplanted us at the bottom of the list.

Nowhere in her press release does Cheh address the key issue--the fact that 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. She and Gray are telling teachers trying to turn around those poor performances that now they will have even less time to do it.

I know we haven’t finished that chapter yet, kids, but hey, it’s time for push-ups.

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 Healthy Schools Act says nothing about longer school days. It goes one bad step further by depriving those charters of their freedom to make their own decisions. If the bill passes, they also will have to adhere to the rule that mandates 30 to 45 minutes of P.E. a day. (The bill includes a possible exemption for charter schools that don’t have space for P.E., but that’s not the issue.)

Cheh says she is open to changes. The D.C. schools that work best are run by principals who have the power to teach their students any way they and their teachers think best, as long as achievement improves. Many of them may find a 45-minute daily P.E. period just what they need to energize their students.

But telling them they have to do it whether it works for them or not is a bad idea, one of many from politicians who thought they were doing the right thing but never considered the consequences.

For more from Jay, go to For all the Post's education coverage, go to

By Jay Mathews  | December 27, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  D.C. schools, Healthy Schools Act, Mary M. Cheh, Physical education, Vincent C. Gray, politicians that don't understand schools  
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You may be looking at the big picture but you're looking at it incorrectly.

If you do a survey on the best and brightest - I don't think that you'll find that an extra hour a day of schooling is what made the difference.

Our society is unhealthy and many if not most children in D.C. don't have opportunities to exercise in the streets. I think it's a good idea. The body and mind are connected, if the children are not healthy, it's hard to do well in school.

Adding an extra hour to the school day? Where do you get the money for that? Who's going to pay for it?

Posted by: charley42 | December 28, 2009 4:23 AM | Report abuse

CM Cheh, again, has focussed on something that has (in her opinion) a "feel good" aspect about it. (See also: bag tax, a bill to protect hibernating bats, closing of Klingle Road to the detriment of transportation across the city, trying to sell off an elementary soccer field to her developer friends...etc, etc)

Sure, who isn't a supporter for kids being healthier and getting more exercise? (the "feel good" part) Are daily 30 minute or 45 minute (for older kids) going to do the job? Besides the point you have made, Jay, that the DCPS teachers will now be asked to do their very difficult job of getting students up to very basic and minimal standards in even less school time, there are some practical aspects of the daily PE time that wll not produce the desired effect. I can imagine that elementary teachers and administrators will simply cut out recess time for their little charges in order to accommodate this proposed PE requirement. Students will then have their scant free play time regimented. As for the older students, are there locker rooms and good facilities for PE in this city? How much of that 45 minutes will be spent in changing clothes to gym clothes (or is that passe and do students now have to wear whatever clothes they work out in to school for the rest of the day?) Will administrators of older students eliminate electives in order to provide the PE requirement?

Of course, CM Cheh and Council Chair Gray haven't thought it through. It must be such fun to pretend to have all the answers and make a decree like this and then wash their hands of any real responsibility. I would much prefer that the Council and the Mayor do a better job of managing the budget and improving after school recreational and sports programs for the young people in DC. That would help in terms of encouraging physical fitness as well as keeping kids actively engaged in programs that might prevent youth crime and motivate them to set goals and achieve them.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | December 28, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

At this point I even question the intentions of the authors of this Act. It brings notoriety on them and becomes a talking point they use in their campaigns, but the Act's effectiveness may never be measured, if effective at all. A 30 minute block of time means 10 minutes to change clothes, 3-4 minutes to record attendance, leaving you about 16 minutes of exercise time, assuming the teacher does not have to manage recalcitrant students or ditchers who 'find' there way into the PE class.
This Act will only serve those who introduce it, providing little tangible heath benefit to children. I wonder how many PE teachers, or teachers at all, Cheh and Gray consulted before introducing this Act?
Discouraging, depressing, and shameful.

Posted by: pdfordiii | December 28, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Correction to this article:

Mr. Mathews writes:
"At the moment, D.C. students from kindergarten through eighth grade have two P.E. periods a week of 45 minutes each."

No, they don't.

One of my kids went to Deal Middle School in the District for one year. They have absolutely no PE for half of the year, and for the other half, they have it every day. I'm not sure this "solution" (done for scheduling convenience) complies with existing law. As far as I know, this is still the policy.

Who will ensure that new laws will be complied with when existing ones are flaunted?

Posted by: trace1 | December 28, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Jay. They have good intentions, but flawed vision. I would support longer school days and even year-round public schools, to get students up to standard in core competencies, and to give them real opportunities for PE and recess. I also support another poster's idea that the city needs dramatic improvement of rec center athletic programs that include a variety of sports programs for girls and boys. The suburbs do a much better job of organizing leagues so that kids start young in soccer, baseball, basketball, football, gymnastics, dance, etc... DC's rec programs are very scant and mostly geared to boys. Now that the schools and rec centers have improved facilities, communities need to come together with some city funding to give kids more opportunities to exercise, learn teamwork and competition.

Posted by: DCcomm | December 28, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I wish Mary Cheh, Vincent Gray, and all of the other Council members would be a student for a day at a DC middle or high school. Then they might worry less about PE and instead question why grammar, writing, and classical root vocabulary isn't a serious part of the curriculum.

Posted by: trace1 | December 28, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Imposing new mandates on schools isn't something to take likely, but requring more PE s a no-brainer. How can you claim to support education reform to help children and be so blind to their educational and physical needs. Have you talked to a teacher who begrudges time for PE? How many more teachers know that they would be far more effective in classroom instruction if we respected the human needs of students? (and how many teachers begrudge the time wasted on excessive testing?)

I hope you'll remember this column the next time you want to pooh pooh complaints about the destructive narrowing of the curriculum by NCLB.

Sometimes I think you just write these things to be provocative. But I guess you really don't understand teaching and learning. Stop thinking of urban students as some exotic species that have nothing in common with your world or that of your kids. Think of how horrified you would be if "reformers" sought to impose the ideas you defend on your kids. You can't chop up kids into measurable pieces. What is it about the Golden Rule that reformers can't comprehend?

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 28, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Alert: What follows is tongue-in-cheek; however, there is an important message in it.

I think mandatory increased gym time in schools is a fabulous idea. Gym teachers can now be added to the list of teachers who are rated on the ability to increase student achievement, which in this case, means a decrease in students’ weight. Teachers who do not decrease their overweight students’ weight by 10% will be fired and replaced by young, energetic teachers who can do jumping jacks all day long. Teachers will also be evaluated though the school year by master weight reducers who will rate teachers on their ability to keep all the kids hopping for the 30 minutes that the teacher is being evaluated and for providing differentiated exercises depending on individual student weight issues.

DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee will be praised for putting children first, above adult interests, when she says: “As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles. You can’t say, ‘My students watched too much television today,’ or ‘No one let them play outdoors after school,’ or ‘Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn’t cook a healthy dinner and had to eat potato chips instead.”

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

For Johnt4853---my views on this are the result of hundreds of conversations with educators who work in DC schools, and in schools in other cities with similar problems, over the last 20 years or so. They have taught me just about everything I know about teaching and learning, and this latest bill is exactly the kind of thing that drives them crazy---people several rungs up the ladder telling them how they should help their students. You are obviously a smart person with other sources of information. Please tell us more about them, and what they are telling you.

For Trace1---thanks very much for the inside information on Deal. I was repeating what officials told our reporter who did the story, but as you have pointed out, they often don't know about variations in individual schools either.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 28, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

oops, tying too fast .. . replace "isn't" with "aren't"

But Jay is right. Something will have to be cut to come up with another 45 minutes out of the day.

Posted by: trace1 | December 28, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Progressive Liberals Creating a Diabolical Society:
Also google Boston Children's Hospital Sex Change Clinic
Also google Dawn Stefanowicz Out from Under
Also google Planned Parenthood as this organization goes into the public Schools and gives young girls birth control pills so they become pregnant, then take them for an abortion, many times without the parents permission
Also google You're Teaching My Child What?

This is the Liberal progressives using our children as pawns, to pander to the Drug Industry and Sex Industry. Please sign the petition to rid our children of Kevin Jennings the
s0-Called Safe School Czar!

Posted by: boski66 | December 28, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse


What is the context of those conversations? If you are talking about educators stressed out by the conflicting demands, then I've heard plenty of similar statements.

If you are saying that educators thought it was good to take PE out of school, then I've never heard that. I've heard plenty of educators discuss the policies that keep kids in classrooms by banning field trips, etc., but even the people who order those policies think they are harmful.

The question you ask determines the answer you get, and maybe the lack of teaching experience limits the lack of different questions. Ask teachers if they would be more effective in whatever minutes in class that they have if kids also had PE. Ask secondary teachers about the culmitative effect of narrowing the curriculum and the abandoning of health-related efforts. Ask secondary teachers about their students' attitudes. Do high school students report that the test prep and narrowing of schooling was a sign of respect to them? In my experience, high school students are universal in their condemnation of the narrowing of their school experience. They believe they are being robbed, and many see it as just another step in the cheap labor, prison complex.

I get plenty of students returning and thanking me for my classroom instruction, but I've never had one thank me for raising their test scores. They thank me for respecting their minds and souls, not for more drill. But I get as many who thank me for our lunch basketball games. What they wanted the most was a father to play ball with, but a teacher/teammate is the next best thing.

And maybe that's where you should ask different questions, in the gym or the playground.

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 28, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

By the way, nowadays I rarely step foot in the gym. The principals would like to gve me, and anyone else, and of course the kids more time for exercise, but their hands are tied. One year when the gym was just closed for testing, I got to see the contrast. Ordinarily I'd be the only adult with over 100 kids and there would be no harsh words. Go into the cafeteria and there would be at least one cop, a security guard, two principals, and another half dozen teachers and counselors and a ton of conflict. Our principals aren't stupid. They've like to give the kids some exercise and respect. But their hands are tied and they will be as long as "accountability" is the mantra.

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 28, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Continued tongue-in-cheek: Why hasn’t the parallel course of increasing childhood obesity and declining student achievement been noticed before? Clearly it’s another example of how lazy, union-protected teachers do not have the best interests of children at heart, but only care about their own paychecks and, after decades of mediocre or poor performance, their fat pensions.

Thank goodness for teacher recruiting firms, big-hearted, child-oriented foundations and influential education writers. Certainly now that this has been pointed out, these child advocates will leap at the opportunity to rightly blame teachers for this latest offense against children.

Teacher recruiting firms will handle the constant turnover of teachers needed to find the type that can tackle this newly-indentified teacher responsibility. Foundations will fund all sorts of innovative programs to develop and evaluate teachers’ success in decreasing childhood obesity. Education writers will choose a media-darling school leader to tout as a no-nonsense miracle worker who will simultaneously stamp out childhood obesity and low academic performance if only everyone will have blind faith in her no matter what she says or does.

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I was going to say great points, in particular efavorite, dccitizen1 and johnt4853, but then I remembered I have no connection to DCPS.

Posted by: edlharris | December 28, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Jay- you are so wrong about this one, it would probably help those kids most a risk in DC schools. There is a lot of evidence out there that kids may need physical activity as a form of release. NYT ran an interesting piece about how outside time related to recess also help kids recently
But the long and short is that organized physical activity may be one of the more important missing pieces.

Posted by: Brooklander | December 28, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

As a life-long resident of the District of Columbia, I agree with the Healthy Schools Act submitted by Chairman Gray and Councilwoman Cheh. When I attended junior and senior high school in the District, in the 1960's, the students were required to take gym and physical health classroom instructions one hour each school day. We were also served a balance meal for lunch. The school's cafeteria staff prepared and cooked a nutritous meal with beef, ham or poultry entree and two vegetables for lunch, and it was served on porcelain plates and with silver ware utensils. Several years ago, as a then DC Public Schools employee, I had the opportunity to eat lunch at McKinley Senior High School, my alma mater. Although the cafeteria had been recently renovated, the meal I ate that day was not nearly as nutritious as the meals I ate 40 years ago. Moreover, I had to eat off a paper plate and with plastic utensils. While eating that lunch meal, I remember reminiscing back to my days as a secondary student and realizing how fortunate I was to attend DC Public Schools but felt some complicity as a tax payer about how students today have been devalued. I believe the Healthy Schools Act proposed by the City Council will profoundly improve the health and welfare of our children.

Posted by: michaellane1 | December 28, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

For Brooklander---again, in a perfect world, more PE for DC kids might be a plus, but it is highly unlikely, given the scarcity of resources and plans and facilites for PE, it will be structured in a way to give them the healthier lifestyles Cheh has in mind.

For johnt4853---I appreciate the thoughtful answer. Yours sounds like a suburban school. My conversations have been mostly with teachers trying to raise achievement in urban schools, and finding their ideas limited by the district rules that say what textbook they have to use, what curriculum they must follow, and how much time they have in their day. Have you ever had a chance to ask anyone like that what they think of a plan that would cut back on the amount of time they have to teach, so there can be more PE? All of the concerns you cite are real ones, but you haven't addressed the DC issue---what to do when a majority of the students are below grade level.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 28, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Edlharris! Of course, your opinion is welcome (at least by me, and especially if you like what I say---ha ha ha) even though you say you have "no connection" to DCPS. A lot of people "don't have a connection", but it's great to have a forum for a conversation and to hear many views.

@Brooklander: You're missing the point. No one is arguing for less physical activity. Of course, outdoor time related to recess helps children. Physical activity helps children. Good food helps children. But mandating a set time for PE during the DCPS school day will probably mean cutting out recess for children, so where is the benefit? Or it will mean less time for the sorely needed academics or less time for students to explore interests through elective courses. If Cheh and Gray wanted to do some heavy lifting about this, they would work towards finding a way to fund a longer school day or to provide much better after school recreational and sports programs.

And by the way, requiring more PE time daily is not "free". Who will teach the PE classes? Where an elementary school might employ one PE teacher to handle the PE requirements now, two or three might be needed to handle the new requirements.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | December 28, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Students in Japan exercise for thirty minutes every morning. It helps to put them in a proper frame of mind. Many of our students would benefit from this as well as a way of leaving behind the anger and fear they live with in their homes and communities. It makes perfect sense. There's only so many facts you can shove down people's minds and hearts before they stop listening. Exercise is refreshing on many levels.

Those who want a longer school day, are you prepared to pay teacher more for this? Teachers in Japan teach half as much and spent twice as much time on planning. The problem with education in this country is societal - stop blaming the teachers or those who want to put the humanity back into the day. What has been mandated for the last 8 years isn't working. Why amp it up even more?

Posted by: lk11 | December 28, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Academics are crucial, but the mind and body connection is very real. If you leave the health of the child out of the picture, the education that was meant to give them a better life will be for naught, and an unproductive, unhealthy adult will be the result. PE classes are worth the time and cost. When paired with a quality education, they will improve learning.

School is the place that our children learn many socialization skills that help them live productively in society. Many of these skills are not learned as they take academic courses. Sports and physical activity is often linked with skills that help our students interact positively with society. Particularly in schools where families have economic hardships and are not as able to work with their children due to work schedules and single parent settings, having a strong sports program will help these children to better understand the social skills they will need later in life.

Some of our most needy children eat large amounts of cheap fast foods. These meals are counter productive to a healthy lifestyle. The health and nutrition information that are freequently included in a PE curriulum will help our children understand what a healthy meal is and why eating properly will be beneficial to them.

Many of our students are kinesthetic learners and need physical stimulus or they shut down and are unable to stay focused. A break from coursework in the fresh air or gym will help these students return to class ready for work.

In addition the added benefit from these programs is a healthier population. With health costs soaring and health care becoming cost prohibitive for many, the last thing we want is to produce an unhealthy generation of citizens. Providing daily exercise not only will help our students as they participate, but will lead them to better understand the dynamics between exercise, eating and a healthy lifestyle.

Posted by: iKate | December 28, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Did you ever learn about diminishing returns?

For example, the longer a student spends studying for an exam, the less productive studying becomes. Exercise has been shown to increase concentration in both youth and adults. Thus, making the hours that are spend studying in school even more productive then not having the exercise at all.

Posted by: harburgm | December 28, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

So, Edlharris, if you're ever challenged again on your creds to comment on DC issues, you can cite dccitizen1. Otherwise,no apologies needed.

To Jay - I have no doubt that a carefully considered and well-implemented PE program would be very beneficial to students. I have no idea if that would be the case and given the current sorry state of DCPS management, I'm not hopeful.

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Here are my two favorite lines from a 2006 Education Next article* on physical education:

“…weight, and that includes overweight, is the result of a complex set of interactions between an individual’s genes, behavior, and the environment….”

“…we all know that rising childhood obesity stems from powerful social and cultural factors over which the schools have little or no control….”

Imagine similar comments being made about factors affecting academic achievement. The writer and the publication would be publicly maligned for being politically incorrect and just plain wrong.

Yet, when it comes to academic achievement, it is perfectly acceptable to ascribe complete responsibility to teachers. How can that be?

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher at Banneker AHS in DC, I'm really torn on this one. Gym is important because physical conditioning leads to healthier bodies, healthier bodies lead to healthier minds, healthier minds leads to better students.

This could be done if we added an extra hour, gave every teacher two planning periods, one of them would be during first period, the other for seventh. Half the staff could come to school an hour later, the other half could leave an hour earlier. It wouldn't cost more, with the exception of the need for another gym teacher at Banneker (assuming that we run gym seven periods). Other than that, it really does cut into the time we have for education.

Posted by: mjbdan1 | December 28, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse

sorry - here is the reference for the above quote from Education Next:

* Fall 2006, Don’t Sweat It, How some schools do--and don't do—PE By Bob Cullen

Posted by: efavorite | December 28, 2009 8:11 PM | Report abuse


I guarantee that my school isn't suburban. I've lost track of the number of my kids who killed someone or have been killed but its past 40. We lost another this month. I've had 180 or so students this year with about 105 on IEPs, ELLs, or 504s for serious illness, and I've never had so many mentally ill students.

The healing power of a one on one basketball game and the conversations afterwards is profound.

My adopted daughter taught in Bed Stuy and now is back in an Oklahoma City elementary school where she, a young Black woman from generational poverty referee's in a majority Hispanic elementary school between four different racial groups where the prison culture competely pervades the neighborhood. The poverty is the same as the projects of Brooklyn but the violence and racial conflict is much worst down here. When her brother got back from his combat tour and saw the bullet holes he exclaimed "My sister teaches in Afganistan. Brandy is continually bringing families to service agencies and counseling.

No! We don't teach in charter schools. We deal with whatever society dishes out. Teaching is fundamentally an affair of the heart not the brain. And even if you just look at the politics, tell a mom her kids test scores incresed and she'll smile. Tell you how you are helping her kids live a healthy and happy life, and you'll have her commitment.

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 28, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

By the time a student is in high school, PE ought to be optional. I was a competitive figure skater and trained around 15 hrs/wk. Yet because I was not a varsity athlete, I had to waste a period per day on PE, which at my alma mater was a complete joke. I would've much rather had that period free to take an academic class.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | December 29, 2009 12:21 AM | Report abuse

If a student is getting regular PE type physical activity outside of school, that could be considered adequate. However, I don't think making PE optional is the solution. I think students should provide ongoing evidence that they are receiving the outside training. Also, it may be that there is some educational/interpersonal advantage to being involved in school PE that should be taken into account.

Posted by: efavorite | December 29, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

For johnt4853. Thanks for the rich and true post. Another piece of bad analysis by me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 29, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the harsh words. Rereading my post, I saw that I was way too critical.

Also, I was just rereading Charles Payne and he reminded me of why I am so defensive of fellow teachers. Even when I know teachers are wrong, I stifle those feelings becase if they are expressed out loud it just makes a difficult situation worse.

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 29, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I hope to see more posts from johnt4853. Adds a lot to the discussion.

Posted by: trace1 | December 29, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks. Check me out at I guest blog there 3 to 4 times a week. The back stuff is under category John Thompson

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 29, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"At the moment, D.C. students from kindergarten through eighth grade have two P.E. periods a week of 45 minutes each."

Jay, where did you get this misinformation? My DCPS elementary school offers one 45 min period of PE per week.

Posted by: Nemessis | December 29, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathew’s column, though well intentioned, is somewhat factually incorrect and plays into people’s fears that anything that is not directly and obviously related to ‘reading and writing’ cannot be beneficial to student learning.
Countless studies have shown the relationship between student health (physical, mental and emotional) and learning (Arthur et al, 2006; Castelli et al, 2007; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006, Getting Results, 2008; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2007; Sallis et al, 1999, etc.). These studies highlight that student academic achievement increases when physical activity time increases.

Our most recent edition of Educational Leadership published here at ASCD highlights the link between Health and Learning and many of the successful programs implemented by schools

This current attention on PE should not be viewed merely as a health issue, as was cited in Mr. Mathew’s piece, but as an overarching student-learning and school-improvement issue. The major issue with many of these so called ‘failing’ schools in our country is that they continue to do the same action – increase the amount of time students are required to do Language Arts and Math – over and over again – hoping that by increasing the amount of time students spend sitting/reading/supposedly concentrating they will inevitably learn more. This though has been proven to be a false relationship and the concept a false prophecy. Students who are actively involved in their course of study, meaningfully engaged in what they are doing, encouraged to perform well both in and out of the classroom, respected by adults in the school setting, and of course healthy perform better academically .

Walk into any school that performs well academically and what do you typically find? Students who are engaged in arrange of activities outside of merely Language Arts and Math including arts, music, drama as well as detailed and well-run PE programs.

I look forward to more pieces from Mr. Mathews on the role of PE and physical activity in our schools.

Sean Slade, MEd
Director - Healthy School Communities

Posted by: SeanSladeASCD | December 30, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I don’t know about the DC schools in the 1960s, but in my Midwestern school we were NOT served a balanced meal for lunch. The schools were given the agricultural products the agricultural department needed to find a market for to help the farmers. That meant lots of butter—all vegetables were cooked in a buttery sauce, and every sandwich (including the peanut butter sandwiches!) had a layer of butter on the bread. The meals were very starchy—corn, gingerbread, and a sandwich was a normal menu. Every student was served the same meal, and all students in the same grade were given the same amount of food, regardless of size. For a few days, one principal tried to decree that every bite of food had to be eaten by every student before anyone could leave the table, but I suspect a few parents of students with allergies objected. Sometimes on Friday, we had a paper cup full of greenish-black “fruit juice” that was very, very sweet and from no fruit any of us could identify. Eventually, some student kept track and discovered that we only had this juice at the end of a week when we had a lot of canned fruit—apparently the “fruit juice” was the sugared syrup from the fruit served each day! And plastic silverware and paper plates would have been welcome—it was not common but not unheard of to get a tray with dried food on it.

Things haven’t improved much—I recently substituted in a public school where Chex Party Mix was the dessert!

And phys ed? I entered school running and playing at recess. After a few years of phys ed, I learned I was too clumsy to be welcome in team games; in addition, I was heavily dependent on eyeglasses and aware of the financial drain on my parents every time I got hit in the face in volleyball or dodge ball. Years later I learned of the existence of safety goggles; my parents admitted they had always been puzzled by my talent for getting my glasses broken so often, since they had assumed the school provided them. I also learned that the main point of badminton is not to hit the birdie over the net—it is to practice the proper stance and grip on the racket for the entire period. After a few weeks of memorizing the rules and practicing the stance, we might play for a period, and then we would have a test on the rules (sitting every other seat and every other row in the bleachers with one hand in front of our eyes so we would not be able to see another student’s paper).

The “good old days” weren’t all that good.

(By the way, are the students who need more phys ed the same ones who are denied recess to provide more time for practicing for standardized tests?)

Posted by: opinionatedreader | January 1, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

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