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46 States Mandate P.E., But Only Four Require in All Grades

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Although the number of states that mandate at least some physical-education instruction in public schools has increased from 42 in 1987 to 46 this year, P.E. teachers are still under pressure to defend their programs amid shrinking education budgets, a new report says.

Three years after the federal government declared its support for requiring all K-12 students to participate in daily physical education--as one of a set of national goals released by the U.S. Public Health Service--only four states require students in all grades to enroll in P.E. classes, according to the report to be released this week by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Entitled "The Shape of the Nation,'' it is based on a survey of physical-education requirements in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Twenty-five states require only one year of physical education in high school, the survey found. And Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wyoming have no state mandates for P.E. at all.

"P.E. has been undervalued because it has been associated with sports and athletics as opposed to reading, writing, and arithmetic,'' said Judith C. Young, the executive director of the N.A.S.P.E.

Underqualified Teachers

The report also contends that many elementary school P.E. teachers are woefully underqualified for the job. Thirty-six states allow classroom teachers who lack credentials in fitness and sport to teach physical education to elementary school students, while only 12 states require state-certified specialists to teach elementary-level P.E. classes.

All states require certification for middle and high school P.E. teachers.

Some schools substitute recess and organized sports for P.E. instruction, an arrangement that Ms. Young said is inappropriate.

"We are not trying to teach them how to play tennis or golf, but to make them a physically competent person,'' she said, adding that P.E. teachers' main task is to impart skills that help insure students live healthy lives.

There are no "magic numbers'' for the amount of time each school should devote to P.E., Ms. Young said. But the N.A.S.P.E., which will unveil new standards in March, recommends in the report that elementary pupils receive at least 30 minutes of P.E. each day and that secondary school students have at least 45 minutes of the subject daily.

Half of P.E. class periods should be "active time,'' during which the class is engaged in physical activity, the report recommends.

The report can be ordered for $3, plus mailing costs, by calling (800) 321-0789.

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