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Richard Simmons Keeps P.E. Campaign Going

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Since I last talked to Richard Simmons, his effort to insert physical education into the NCLB debate hasn't made much progress. The House's NCLB draft excluded the FIT Kids Act, which would require states to guarantee students have access to physical education. And the draft's list of potential multiple measures wouldn't include physical education. Both are things Simmons is lobbying for.

But he isn't giving up. The fitness star's Web site has a long entry explaining that he's excited about the progress of his proposal to add physical education requirements to NCLB.

The biggest positive sign, he says, is that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has introduced a version of the FIT Kids Act in the Senate. The bill would require states to work towards giving elementary school students 150 minutes of P.E. every week and 225 minutes a week in the upper grades.

"IT IS STILL POSSIBLE, LOOK HOW FAR WE HAVE COME!!!!!!!!!!!!," the post says near the end. (Yes, that's 12 exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Bonus link: Kevin Carey last week had this stunning post about his own brush with Simmons. I, too, wasted away many days in my 20s, but I never was going to the mall looking for a chance to meet Simmons. I saved that for later ... in the noble pursuit of journalism.

Bonus video: Below is Simmons on the Late Show with David Letterman last week. In it, he says that the NEA is a partner in lobbying for the FIT Kids Act. He stands up on the couch and leads a chant: "P.E. in Schools. That's the Golden Rule." Letterman is speechless. I know the feeling.

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There is a strong movement to add PE testing, and it has already happened in several states, using a system developed by Kenneth Cooper, who is a close personal friend of (you will never guess) President Bush.

Articles in major newspapers in Texas have announced that public schools in Texas must now test all children each year, starting at grade 3, on pushups, sit-ups, and a mile run, and measure flexibility and body fat.

To get high numbers of children to pass, PE will, most likely, focus on sit-ups, pushups, and running. This is a threat to the idea that a major goal of PE is to introduce children to a variety of sports to encourage them to become fit for life in enjoyable ways.

We are told that one reason for the PE test is to see if there is a relationship between fitness and academic performance. The way to do this is with scientifically controlled studies using with small groups, not entire populations.

Not mentioned in any of the articles is that the developer of the tool to be used to measure fitness (the Fitnessgram), Kenneth Cooper, has served as personal physician to President Bush, and is known as “Bush’s exercise guru.” Cooper donated $12,000 to the campaigns of Gov. Perry and State Senator Nelson, the author of the fitness legislation.

According to the Star-Telegram, Fitnessgram cost $230 per school and the total cost will be 2.5 million, but Cooper claims that he will not make any money on the new law: “The Cooper Institute will forgo its $30 royalty per sale, and Cooper has pledged to raise and donate funds to help pay for the program.”

So far, the media has shown no interest in finding out whether this is or is not a case of another Friend of Bush profiting from the presidency.

“Students’ fitness to be evaluated,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 27, 2007.

“Bush’s exercise guru”: Weekly Standard, May 7, 2001.

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