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Report: States' Loopholes Detracting From Effectiveness of Phys. Ed.

Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 38 states require schools to provide students with physical education in elementary, middle/junior high, and high school, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association.

However, a majority of those states allow exemptions, waivers, and/or substitutions that allow students to satisfy the physical education requirement in alternative ways, which "reduce[s] the effectiveness of the mandate," according to the report.

The 2012 Shape of the Nation report aims to examine the current state of physical education, as an update to the 2006 and 2010 versions of the report.

Since the 2006 report, the number of states requiring schools to provide physical education has risen across the board. Back in 2006, 36 states mandated phys. ed. at the elementary level, 33 states did at the junior/middle school level, and 42 did at the high school level.

Now? Forty-three states require phys. ed. at the elementary level, 41 at the junior/middle school level, and 44 at the high school level, according to the new report.

However, the number of states allowing exemptions or waivers from phys. ed. has also increased, going from 18 in the 2006 report to 28 in the 2012 report. A total of 33 states permit schools to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education, the report says.

The only state that doesn't have its own standards for physical education is Iowa, but at least 10 states with their own standards don't require local districts to comply or align with said standards.

"The Shape of the Nation Report has been disclosing the inadequacies of physical education policies in this country since 1987," said NASPE President Mary Jo Sariscsany in a statement. "It is time to eliminate the 'loopholes.' "

There is currently no federal law requiring states to provide phys. ed. to students.

Other Findings

While state loopholes may be of concern, the time devoted to physical education in schools could also set off alarms.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for children and adolescents (ages 6-17) to engage in at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. NASPE recommends that schools provide 150 minutes per week of instructional physical education for elementary school children and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students throughout the school year.

Currently, there isn't a single state that requires students to participate in the recommended amount of physical education from kindergarten through 12th grade, NASPE found.

"The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood-obesity epidemic," said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, in a statement. "Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other serious problems."

Only 16 states specify a minimum number of minutes per day or per week of physical activity for their students (three meet the recommended 150+ minutes/week), and only nine states require elementary schools to provide daily recess, the report found.

At the middle/junior high school, 18 of 51 states specify how much time is to be devoted to phys. ed. (either on a daily or weekly basis), while only 10 of the 51 states specify the amount of phys. ed. time for high schools. Only three states mandate the recommended 225+ minutes per week at the middle/junior high and high school levels (Montana, West Virginia, and Utah).

In a nod to the tech-savvy crowd, nearly 60 percent of states (30 of 51) now allow students to earn required physical education credits through online phys. ed. courses.

Eleven of the 51 states prohibit schools withholding physical activity (including recess) as a punishment for students, according to the report, and 11 states also prohibit the use of physical activity as a punishment.

NASPE Recommendations

NASPE and the American Heart Association offered 10 recommendations at the end of the report's executive summary, including:

• Providing quality physical education to all K-12 students;

• Requiring physical education teachers to be licensed or certified (the majority of states do this already);

• Providing the recommended 150+ minutes per week of physical education to elementary school students or the recommended 225+ minutes per week of physical education to junior high/middle and high school students; and

• Requiring students to meet minimum standards in phys. ed. in order to graduate high school.

The Institute of Medicine published a report earlier this year suggesting that schools should be a focal point in helping combat the spread of childhood obesity. The American Medical Association also voted in June to support "meaningful yearly instruction" about nutrition and the causes of childhood obesity for K-12 students.

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