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Should Schools Make Physical Education Mandatory?

As we touched upon yesterday, after-school sports are on the chopping block for many schools and districts facing budget cuts. But after-school sports aren't the only endangered physical activity—physical education classes have also been trimmed due to budgetary concerns and an increased focus on test-based accountability.

The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week for elementary students, and 225 minutes per week for middle school students.

Yet, according to the "2010 Shape of the Nation Report" by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, only five U.S. states require physical education in every grade K-12 (Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Vermont). Only Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana require the recommended 150+ minutes of physical activity per week for elementary students, and only Alabama, Montana, and Utah require the recommended 225+ minutes per week for junior high and high school students.

Virginia is the latest state to consider making physical education mandatory. The state Senate voted 37-2 yesterday to pass a bill which would require schools to offer at least 150 minutes of physical education weekly for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. (The bill doesn't mandate high-school PE.)

Currently, according to the "2010 Shape of the Nation", Virginia mandates physical education in grades K-7 and requires daily recess in elementary school. Elementary students are required to receive 150 minutes per week of physical activity; however, this may be any combination of phys. ed. classes, extra-curricular athletics, or "other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board."

While the health benefits of phys. ed. classes are unquestionable, the budgetary strains and liability concerns are often enough to make states stop short of the AHA's recommended requirements. This essay from the Journal of Law and Education, titled "School Liability: The Danger of Mandatory Physical Education Classes," speaks largely to the uncertainty that states face when considering mandatory physical education programs. (The author explains that a school's liability varies state to state, "depending on which standard of liability the state has adopted.")

UPDATE, 1/27: The Virginia House Education Committee advanced the mandatory phys. ed. bill yesterday, with a 13-4 vote to send the measure to the House floor.

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