Many Colorado educators say funding constraints and the relentless pressure to focus on academics means physical education gets short shrift in schools.
As a result, few kids get the minimum amount of physical education recommended by experts. The problem is compounded by the fact that Colorado is one of the few states that doesn’t require schools to provide physical education classes.
Colorado collects no detailed statewide data on the quantity or quality of physical education offered, so getting a clear picture is impossible. However, the report’s authors point to multiple pieces of evidence that kids aren’t getting enough P.E., including the coalition’s research, state health survey data and national statistics showing around half of schools cut P.E. after the passage of the No Child Left Behind law in 2001.
The report argues that the dearth of P.E. is particularly detrimental for low-income students, who are more likely to be overweight and obese, and less likely to get adequate exercise throughout the day.
Drawing on interviews with teachers, administrators and school board members, the report found that many respondents believed personally in the importance of physical education, but said that school districts needed more evidence before making it a top priority.
One respondent said, “If you could show that [requiring a minimum number of P.E. hours] will increase academic achievement, then we would be remiss in not looking at it. To just do it ‘because it’s good for kids’, then no…”
The report highlights research that shows a correlation between physical fitness and better performance on standardized tests. It also cites research showing physical activity improves students’ focus and concentration and reduces behavior problems among young children.
A 2011 state law requires schools to provide elementary students an average of 30 minutes a day of physical activity — either physical education, recess, brain breaks or something else.
But the law has no teeth and is not enforced. About 15 percent of school districts didn’t meet the requirements of the law, according to 2014-15 data from the state education department.
Only 13 percent of school districts reported having policies requiring or encouraging a certain amount of P.E. time, according to a 2014 health department study of 41 Colorado districts.
The report includes a number of recommendations. Among them:
- Elementary students should get 30 minutes a day and secondary students should get 45 minutes a day of physical education.
- Recess and physical activity breaks should not be substituted for P.E.
- Students should not be withheld from P.E. as a punishment.
- Students should not be removed from P.E. for academic reasons, such as special education or English language acquisition.
- The state should adequately fund school districts so quality P.E. programs are attainable in all districts.
- Policy-makers should offer incentives to schools that meet or exceed Colorado’s physical education standards.
Clarification: A previous version of this story said that Colorado is one of the few states that doesn’t require physical education in schools. While it’s true that Colorado is one of the few states that doesn’t require schools to provide physical education classes, the state does require districts to adopt standards, curriculum and assessment in all areas where the state has standards, including physical education.