Student Well-Being

Few Schools Have Comprehensive Physical Activity Programs, Survey Finds

By Bryan Toporek — October 13, 2011 2 min read
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Less than 20 percent of K-12 schools nationwide provide their students with before-, during-, and after-school opportunities to engage in physical activity, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Given the National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s (part of AAHPERD) recommendation that youths get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, AAHPERD believes schools have plenty of room to expand their physical activity programs.

Only 16 percent of elementary schools, 13 percent of middle schools, and 6 percent of high schools provide all-day physical activity options, which AAHPERD refers to as a comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP), according to the survey.

Ninety percent of elementary schools provided physical education, the survey found, but that number progressively declined through middle and high school. (This isn’t the first time that’s been discovered.)

A similar trend held true for recess. More than 80 percent of elementary schools provided a scheduled recess, while no more than 11 percent of high schools did.

“As shown by the survey findings, the lack of a comprehensive approach by many schools indicates a vast opportunity to add or expand physical activity in the daily school routine,” said Judith C. Young, AAHPERD’s vice president for programs, in a statement. “By taking full advantage of available time and resources, schools will be better positioned for success, and students will benefit from being more physically active.”

The survey was conducted online in this past spring, with physical educators making up 94 percent of the participants. Of the 1,566 people who started taking the survey, 1,225 of them completed it.

If you think about it, these findings aren’t all that surprising.

With schools being pummeled by budget cuts the past few years, the fact is, before- and after-school programs may very well be seen as expendable in tight budgetary situations.

What’s more alarming is the finding that 65 percent of high schools have cut policies in interscholastic sports in recent years.

Considering that interscholastic sports were most prominent in high schools, with 89 percent of those surveyed offering teams, any further cuts could be devastating in terms of ensuring students receive an adequate amount of daily physical activity.

Still, 63 percent of K-12 schools offer intramural sports or physical activity clubs.

AAHPERD says it’s “essential to create environments that support physical activity participation.” They recommend that schools help promote and provide physical activity, considering how many weekday hours children spend there.

After all, “physical activity” doesn’t necessarily translate into “large financial obligation.” Some schools have gotten creative with their physical activity programs, despite budgetary restrictions.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.: Speaking of which, an article published yesterday in Education Next contends that extracurriculars such as sports should be spared even during tough budget times, my colleague Erik Robelen reports over on the Curriculum Matters blog.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.