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Worries mount over lack of physical education in schools

This news story was published on January 8, 2012.
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By Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers –

WASHINGTON — With public schools cutting back on spending for physical education, some members of Congress want to intervene, worried that the nation’s schools are churning out too many fat kids.

The cutbacks are happening across the country.

In Washington state, the Franklin Pierce school district in the Tacoma suburb of Parkland discovered that it could save a quarter-million dollars by reassigning its seven physical education teachers to different positions.

And in New York, a city audit found that only 6 percent of the city’s schools came anywhere near to offering the required two hours of physical education, or PE, for elementary-age children each week.

“It’s obviously a clear problem,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “Childhood obesity is spiking, and actually our overall health is to some degree declining.”

When Congress considers overhauling its federal education law early this year, Smith and a bipartisan group of 84 other House members want to include language that would pressure schools to offer more PE: Their idea is to force school officials to issue yearly reports on how much time students engage in physical activity, making it easier for the public to compare schools.

“Most schools offer physical education and health, but now we want to keep track of that,” Smith said. He said schools would be offered “a broad encouragement to say, ‘Hey, we ought to be paying attention to physical health.’ ”

It’s all part of a plan to try to fight an alarming increase in childhood obesity. Recent studies have shown that 17 percent of the nation’s 6- to 19-year-olds are obese, and that more than a third are overweight. Those rates have about doubled in the past three decades.

The plan will face opposition from many Republicans, who argue that curriculum decisions should be left to the states and local school boards.

When the House Education and the Workforce Committee last year suggested changes to the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, Republicans proposed scrapping 43 school programs, including the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, which gives PE grants to local school districts. Many Republicans on the panel said that giving money to the schools to promote PE was an inappropriate role for the federal government.

But the program survived and in December, Congress signed off on $78.8 million in grants for 2012.

Currently, only five states — Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont — require physical education every year from kindergarten through 12th grade. And no federal law requires PE to be offered. Last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell vetoed a bill that would have required the state’s public schools to teach PE in elementary and middle schools, calling the measure an unfunded mandate.

Forty-eight states have their own standards for physical education, but only two-thirds of them require local districts to comply with them, according to a 2010 report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, known as NASPE.

The report, called “Shape of the Nation,” said that nearly two-thirds of all high school students are not getting enough exercise, with more than a third of them watching television for at least three hours a day.

NASPE, along with many health organizations, recommends that students exercise for at least an hour every day. And the group suggests that schools provide at least 150 minutes per week of PE for elementary-age children and 225 minutes for middle and high school students. Alabama is the only state that’s complying with the recommendations.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., is sponsoring a bill that would put NAPSE’s recommendations into law. If Congress doesn’t act, he said, obesity-related costs could hit $1 trillion a year by 2030 and could “literally bankrupt our nation.”

After the October audit in New York, City Comptroller John Liu said that the city’s Department of Education “is failing gym.” His audit of 31 elementary schools found none complying with a requirement that they offer at least 120 minutes a week of physical education for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Members of Congress are offering many different plans in an attempt to get kids exercising more.

The FIT Kids Act co-sponsored by Smith — short for the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act — would measure schools on how they’re progressing in comparison to national standards. And it would pay for research to examine the link between children’s health and their academic achievement. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, is sponsoring a bill that would give grants to schools to help them build or repair athletic facilities.

And Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has introduced the PHIT Act, short for the Personal Health Investment Today Act, which would allow for the deduction or pre-tax use of $2,000 a year for families to pay for expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities.

A group of 250 retired generals and admirals has joined the cause, as well, arguing that about a quarter of all young Americans weigh too much to join the military.

The group, a nonprofit organization called Mission: Readiness, is worried that too many schools have eliminated physical education and aren’t serving enough healthy lunches. It wants Congress to reconsider its November decision to allow school cafeterias to continue serving pizza and French fries, when lawmakers rejected a plan by the Obama administration that would have limited servings of starchy vegetables and tomato paste.

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6 Responses to Worries mount over lack of physical education in schools

  1. Avatar

    free play casino no deposit Reply Report comment

    January 17, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Certainly an appealing study including a diverse way to consider stuff.

  2. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    January 9, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Very well said Biker. Another real problem today is the school counselor’s telling every child that they must go to college. The majority of children should not go to college as they are not college material. There is nothing wrong with that except our society says there is. We need plumbers. electricians, machinists and so on and these are good jobs that pay well and are prideful professions.

  3. Avatar

    BIKER Reply Report comment

    January 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Are you kidding? The real problem is all the politicians, state leaders, and all the dumb people at the top. We used to have shop class, home economics, music, welding, wood working, and p.e., all the basic skills for young people to move into adult hood. It is now more important for the state and the government to take care of the most populous prison system we have ever had. Not to mention, three square meals per day, a nice warm fuzzy bed, free health care, dental care, and eye care, nice gym to play basketball, nice weight room to keep muscles in tone, nice grassy court yard to get all your nice outdoor exercise, and after you get tired of all that physical activity you can go to you’re free library and get a good education so you are able to sue your state or government after to your release. WOW! What have we become when we are not able to take care of our own children. Think about it dumb as*es we spend more on one prisoner in a year then we do a student for four years. Mr. Politician and State Leader.. I hope you sleep well tonight knowing you take care of prisoners, thieves, child molesters, embezzlers, druggies and all the other criminals out there better than you take care of the young and the innocent children that are supposed contribute to society or run this country someday.

  4. John Bunnell

    John Bunnell Reply Report comment

    January 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Then we wonder why we have generations of obese children growing up. With all the video games and no PE in school tells me alot. I asked my grandsons what they do in PE, and was told, nothing physical. What the schools idea of PE is, writing a report on the history of basketball, what the H… I couldn’t believe it when they told me that. How about dropping golf, thats a real physical game, or maybe bowling to help fund a real physical ed program. Maybe there’s no real physical ed teachers anymore. I hate to say it, but maybe the government should step in and force the schools to, get in shape.. Jobba the Hut, class of 2012.

  5. Avatar

    Larry Reply Report comment

    January 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I don’t know what has happened over the years to the schools. When I was in school (a long time ago) we had to take P.E. and pass it just like any other class. This happened all the way through grade school through high school. It was required that each child be able to do so many push ups, chin ups, sit ups, run so far and do other physical stuff. I know a lot of girls didn’t like it and some of the fat boys didn’t either but unless a doctor said they were unable to do it they were required to take the class.