Education Opinion

Just A Little More Stretching

By Susan Graham — March 10, 2011 2 min read
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Childhood obesity is on the upside and childhood physical fitness is on the downside. Any educonomist can see that what we need is an exercise stimulus bill and that’s what was introduced by two doctors who serve in my state’s General Assembly.

SB 966 Public schools; physical education requirement, exception. Public schools; physical education requirement. Requires at least 150 minutes of physical education per week on average during the regular school year for grades K through eight, with a similar goal for high school students. This requirement would go into effect beginning with the 2014 -2015 school year and would not apply to any half-day kindergarten.

The House approved the bill by more than a 2-to-1 margin and the Senate approved it 38 to 2. After all, who wouldn’t want little kids to get a little more exercise? Well, the Virginia Education Association for one. Yes, educators are trying to get the Governor to veto the bill. Last night, at bridge, one woman, shaking her head, complained

I can't believe you teachers are fighting this! Kids need a chance to play and anyway, I hear teachers complaining that they need more time for planning and stuff. This one is a win/win, but you guys are never satisfied!

A lot of people agree with her, because, well, it just seems like a good idea. ">A political columnist for the Washington Post agreed with my lady friend, saying

I vote for signing it, thus forcing kids to run more relays, do more pull-ups and play more dodge ball I say that even though I'm no jock. Computer games have become more popular than tag. More kids commute to school by bus or car than on bikes or legs. They swallow too much sugar in their sodas and fat in their french fries. Opponents say it's up to families, not schools, to promote a healthy lifestyle for children. It'd be great if families did so, but they don't.

So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s estimated that less than 10 percent of Virginia elementary schools are currently providing this level of physical education instruction, so surely this is a good idea. But first, let’s ask a few questions:

What will be taught?
Virginia Standards of Quality currently require 20 minutes a day of recess, but this would add 20 additional minutes a day of formal physical education which has its own standards of learning and curriculum.

Who would teach these classes?
Most elementary schools would need to hire add a least one additional PE teacher.

Where would these classes be taught?

Some elementary schools have a PE/multipurpose room, but many do not. Buildings would have to be altered to provide additional instructional space.

When would PE be taught?

Adding more PE means either eliminating some other instruction. What content would should be skipped?

How will we pay for this?
Well, it seems the state is just flat broke. They really can’t come up with any money for this. That would require raising taxes. But surely “good teachers” wouldn’t working longer days and “creative administrators” would find ways to stretch their bare bones budget a little farther.

Our Washington Post pundit doesn’t ask any of these questions. Instead, he goes to the policymakers for input and here’s what three of those legislators have to say.

The first points out

The facts are, children are getting bigger and bigger. There are tremendous downstream consequences of that. I think this is a fair trade-off.

Another adds

Nobody blames the schools. We recognize it's a societal issue. But the schools are in a unique position to address it.

The third acknowledges that

Some people think it's maybe a little too much to ask the schools to do what this bill suggests, but I think that because way too many of our kids are overweight, we have an obesity problem that way overwhelms any problems the bill causes. I think parents needs[sic] a little help.

I’m sure parents could use a little help and public schools and teachers do want to help; it’s what we do. But with all due respect, before volunteering schools to solve all the “societal problems that face our country, wouldn’t it be a good idea to invite a few educators along with doctors and legislators to the table?

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.