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One in Four Parents Dissatisfied With Schools' Phys. Ed. Offerings

One in four K-12 public school parents believe their child's school isn't placing enough emphasis on physical education, according to a new survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and National Public Radio.

The survey, which drew upon 1,368 parents of public school children in grades K-12 on a range of education-related issues, asked parents to grade their child's school based on its support of physical activity.

Twenty-eight percent of parents gave their child's school a C, D, or F grade on providing enough time for physical exercise, while 44 percent gave a C, D, or F on encouraging students to walk or bike to school (by providing bike racks, crossing guards, or offering incentives to those who walked or biked). A higher percentage of high school students' parents gave their child's school a low grade in both categories compared to parents of K-5 students.

Parents were also asked whether their child's school put too much, too little, or about the right amount of emphasis on a range of curricular subjects. When it came to physical education, 25 percent of those surveyed said their child's school didn't emphasize it enough, 5 percent said P.E. was over-emphasized, and 69 percent fell in the middle. (The remaining 1 percent fell into the "Don't know/Refused" category.)  

"Parents should let their state boards of education and their local school districts know that they want more P.E. for their kids, and encourage state and local policymakers to provide the necessary resources for full implementation," said Dwayne Proctor, director of the childhood obesity team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement.

Just over 80 percent of parents gave their child's school an A or a B when it came to providing quality facilities for physical exercise, such as playgrounds, basketball courts, or ball fields. Roughly two-thirds of parents said those facilities were either "always" or "usually" available for their children to use during non-school hours.

The survey also gauged how often children were participating in physical education on a weekly basis. Seven percent of parents said their child didn't have any P.E. in school; 15 percent said their child participated once a week; 24 percent said twice a week; 20 percent said three days a week; 2 percent said four days per week; and 27 percent said their child had P.E. every day. The remaining five percent either didn't know or refused to answer the question.

Exactly half of the parents surveyed said their child's phys. ed. classes lasted approximately 45 minutes. Of the other half, 19 percent said the P.E. class was either 30 minutes or fewer; 21 percent said about one hour; 6 percent said longer than an hour; and the remaining 4 percent either didn't know or didn't answer the question.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. The department also recommends that elementary school students should have at least 30 minutes of physical education per day, while middle and high school students should participate in at least 45 minutes of daily P.E.

In a separate Q&A, Proctor said "P.E. needs to be a priority in our nation's schools," as quality phys. ed. programs "increase students' levels of physical activity, improve fitness, and help them learn skills that promote lifelong physical activity."  

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