School & District Management

CDC Analysis Suggests P.E. Can Boost Student Learning

By Erik W. Robelen — May 07, 2010 2 min read
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A new federal study finds “substantial evidence” that physical activity at school CAN help improve the academic achievement of students, including through leading to higher grades or improved standardized test scores.

But, as you may have noticed, I emphasize the word can, as the apparently exhaustive review of existing literature on the subject did not find unanimity across the data.

Issued in mid-April, the study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 50 studies it deemed credible on the issue. Across those 50, there were a total of 251 associations between physical activity at school, including P.E., and student performance. Of those, about half were positive and 48 percent were not statistically significant.

At the same time, only 1.5 percent of the associations were negative.

“Increasing or maintaining time dedicated to physical education may help, and does not appear to adversely impact, academic performance,” the study says.

The new analysis came out just days before the U.S. House of Representatives on April 21 approved a bipartisan physical-education bill. Supporters, including the American Heart Association, are hailing the measure as an important step to combat childhood obesity and improve the health of young people. But critics suggest that, even if well-intentioned, the measure’s new reporting requirements on physical activity and P.E. will burden local schools already struggling to meet a vast array of federal mandates.

For more details on the House bill, check out my recent blog item.

Here’s a quick pro and con view from the debate in the House last month, both from Republicans, suggesting there’s not exactly unanimity among GOP lawmakers on the plan, which appears to have widespread support on the Democratic side of the aisle.

“P.E. has been squeezed out of our schools; it needs to be welcomed back with both arms,” said Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican and coauthor of the measure. “We need healthier children. ... This is a minor first step.”

He added: “If we are going to have federal involvement in education decisions, we better have P.E. as part of the mix.”

But Republican Rep. Rob Bishop from Utah isn’t so sure.

“Now, are the sponsors of this bill sincere? Yes. Are the goals of this program good? Yes,” he said on the House floor. “Should the federal government take the initiative to introduce it? No. ... [S]omeone has to stand up and say, we are not a school board.”

He argued that “the reporting requirements that will be mandated on every district in this nation by this bill will produce more resentment than reform.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.