Saying they hope to combat obesity and promote better health for young children, members of the Texas state board of education have voted to require elementary schools to offer more than two hours of physical education a week.
By a 13-2 vote, the board decided on March 22 to set 135 minutes each week as the minimum amount of time elementary schools need to allot for physical education.
In 1995, the Texas legislature passed a law that categorized physical education as an elective course, along with classes such as music and art.
The law, designed to put more emphasis on academics, allowed districts to decide how many minutes per week would be set aside for such “enrichment curriculum.”
Schools across the country have trimmed back on nonacademic courses to make more room for mathematics, science, and language arts.
But that could be a dangerous trend, said Judith C. Young, the president of the Reston, Va.-based National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
“We have this ironic situation of having a big push on reading and math scores,” she said, “at the same time we have rampant obesity, an increase in sedentary lifestyles, and earlier evidence of various chronic disease-risk factors,” such as high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol, in young people.
Schools should offer at least 150 minutes of physical education each week, according to guidelines established by the NASPE.
Last year, Texas lawmakers passed a measure requesting that the state board set a time requirement for physical education in elementary schools.
In response, the board members held two hearings in which they heard from doctors, teachers, and school health experts.
During the hearings, pediatricians testified that they have seen an increase in childhood obesity, which can lead to such health problems as the early onset of diabetes.
“It’s just tragic,” said Mary Helen Berlanga, a state board member who attended the hearings.
Ms. Berlanga said that pediatricians also testified that regular exercise increases the amount of oxygen flowing through the brain, which increases children’s capacity to learn.
Many schools in Texas already offer 45-minute gym classes three times a week, which coincide with teacher preparation periods, said Geraldine Miller, another state school board member.
Ms. Miller said that the testimony at the hearings was instrumental in determining what the physical education requirement should be.
“All the evidence tells us that ... if you don’t have a healthy body, you don’t have a healthy mind,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2002 edition of Education Week as Texas Requires Elementary Schools To Offer 2-Plus Hours Of Physical Ed.