The New PE: Is It Hogwash?


Honestly, I’ve been asking myself this question since I was an undergraduate over 15 years ago. I recently re-focused on it when I stumbled upon a lengthy Facebook debate concerning what the New PE really is. Well, how can we learn the truth? It’s common to see the term used in titles for conference presentations, on PE equipment marketing materials, and on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The NEW PE will revolutionize the way students, parents, and administrators view physical education. It’s not like the OLD PE, because it’s, well… the NEW PE!

I did a quick database search in our professional journals for the term “NEW PE” used in article titles. It has been used a lot! Among the top 7 results I found a title from 1979, another from 1990, another from 1999, and more recently, 2007. “Enough Already with ‘New PE’ Rhetoric!” I say, “Amen!”

As good as the tagline may have seemed at the time (every 10 years or so since the 1940s), this marketing strategy hasn’t worked. Are students healthier than they were in 1979? Nope. Are they more active than they were in 1990? Nope. Are they more skilled and/or physically literate than they were in 1999? Nope. Do school boards everywhere value PE? Definitely NoPE!

I’ve visited a lot of PE programs during my tenure in this profession and I’d like to give my thoughts based on observations (and maybe even vent some). There is one thing that defines every outstanding PE program that I’ve ever seen. It’s not high-tech heart rate monitors. It’s not magnificent ExerGaming options. It’s not even a 22-pound manual of games and activities. IT IS a passionate educator working tirelessly to improve the lives of her or his students. In short – HOPE.

HOPE that the lesson plans that are implemented will provide a spark for learning, a jolt toward physical activity, and a thunderclap for lifelong wellness. HOPE that the children we teach will go out into the world and live healthy and productive lives. HOPE that young adults will find a joy and satisfaction in routine physical activity. This sort of teaching MIGHT include heart rate monitors and DDR systems. It MIGHT include SPARKfit or cross-country skis. It MIGHT even include old-school playground games—if they were delivered with passion and joy to a new generation.

Is it really that simple? Does successful teaching really rely on things that we as individuals can control? If so, why do we continue to struggle as a profession? Why aren’t our students more active? Why is physical education constantly under attack?

My observations tell me that too many PE programs lack HOPE. There are many great programs that are led by passionate teachers, but there are many being led by teachers that have had the HOPE sucked out of them. Their programs have become HOPEless.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the path we’ve chosen isn’t an easy one. There are demands, there are requirements, and there are unreasonable mandates.

Guess what? That’s the way it’s been for 30 years (maybe 50+). It’s what we all signed up for. Kids aren’t the same as they used to be – I get it. However, we are professional educators. This is the path we’ve chosen. Here’s some old-school wisdom – let’s suck it up and move forward.

Here’s my plea to any and all PE teachers. Teach with HOPE and passion. If you’ve lost your HOPE, get it back. Go to a conference, sit and talk shop with some passionate colleagues. If you can’t find something that works – please change your job. Move aside and make room for the more HOPEful. At a minimum – don’t poison the next generation of PE teachers with your toxic culture of laziness and excuses. If these words offend you, maybe it’s time for a gut-check.

Thank you so much to each and every HOPE-filled teacher out there – there are thousands of us. Let’s unite and carry on with pride and passion. Let there be HOPE – Health Optimizing Physical Education.

What do YOU think about “New PE”? Feel free to leave your comments below:

-Aaron Hart, SPARK Development Team Leader

PS – I’d like to thank Dr. Matthew Cummiskey of West Chester University for his HOPEful work and passion. This Blog article is not intended to discredit or disregard his work or the good work of others who have used the term, “The New PE.” Please check out the good work of Dr. Cummiskey at And another special thanks to Dr. Thom McKenzie who created the HOPE acronym (Health Optimizing Physical Education). If you want to find out more about the concept of HOPE PE, see:

Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Beets, M. W., Beighle, A., H., Erwin, H., & Lee, S. (2012). Physical education’s role in public health: Steps forward and backward over 20 years and HOPE for the Future. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 83(2), 125-135.