What Makes Quality Physical Education?


Our friends at Kaiser Permanente’s “Thriving Schools” initiative recently interviewed our own Paul Rosengard, Executive Director of SPARK in a three-part series on Quality Physical Education. We’ve combined all three sections and posted them below. The original articles are posted HERE.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What role does physical education play in the fight against childhood obesity?

Paul Rosengard: An important one!  The Centers for Disease Control summarized existing data and research and school-based Physical Education (PE) received a “Strongly Recommended” rating as an intervention. Quality PE programs have been proven effective in increasing physical activity levels of students, and teaching important fitness and motor skills. Terrific PE programs also teach behavioral skills so students learn to be responsible for their own health and wellness in a variety of environments — and for a lifetime. Now is PE THE solution to the overweight and obesity crisis – no. There are so many other important factors that contribute to the problem. However, a lot of young people have some PE during the week giving us a “captive audience” to assess, prescribe, and evaluate.

To learn more about physical education as a solution to childhood obesity, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Do all students have access to physical education?

If we examine PE requirements in different states, counties, cities and rural areas, the short answer is no. Even within the same K-12 school district the frequency and duration of PE classes can vary greatly in elementary, middle and high schools. Many elementary students around the country have PE only once or twice a week. This is insufficient dosage to improve the health of children and adolescents. Oftentimes PE is not taught by a PE Specialist – someone with a degree in the subject that has successfully completed teaching preparation coursework and earned a credential or similar certification.

It’s important that students in grades K-12 have PE every day, instructed by a credentialed physical education specialist. The data show that the PE specialist is the best provider of instructional quantity and quality.

To learn more about access to physical education and what you can do to help, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Aren’t all physical education programs basically the same?

Not by a longshot.  Studies of physical education show that content and instruction can vary greatly from class to class, teacher to teacher. There are many outstanding PE programs across the country taught by dedicated and hardworking subject matter experts. And, like all subjects, there are PE programs that fall far short. As a result, students may not accumulate enough minutes in moderate to vigorous activity. While there are National and often State Standards for PE — what children should know and be able to do at grade level — they are rarely adhered to or reinforced. While we believe physical education is a core subject, it is rarely viewed that way and administrators don’t always hold their PE teachers accountable for effective and efficacious instruction.

To learn more about National Standards and Guidelines for physical education, click here to visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education website.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: What is Quality Physical Education?

If you ask 10 different professionals in our field, you’ll likely receive 10 different answers! Since you asked me, I’ll share our philosophy which was developed by one of our SPARK Principals, Dr. Thom McKenzie. It’s HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education.  This is a positive learning environment where students learn fitness and motor skills via a sequential and progressive path towards becoming physically educated people.  Participation is individualized, yet there are opportunities to accumulate movement experiences with partners and groups. The emphasis is more on cooperation than competition, and developing competencies in lifelong activities rather than traditional team sports.  For example, high school physical education looks more like a health club than an 11 on 11 soccer game with 1 ball being touched more by the most fit and skilled students. HOPE advocates for all students to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 50% of class time and to promote physical activity during and outside of the PE class.

To learn more about HOPE:  Health Optimizing Physical Education, click here to view a short video.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I tell if my school provides quality physical education?

Here are 3 suggested steps:

1. Speak with your school’s PE teacher(s).  Ask her/him to:

  • Tell you how often students have PE – frequency and duration
  • See their Yearly Plan (what they teach and when).
  • Show you how their program aligns with their District, State or National Standards.
  • Explain how they demonstrate student learning to those standards via assessment and evaluation.

2. Speak with your school’s Principal. Let her/him know you support:

  • Quality, daily PE for every student taught by a credentialed specialist.
  • Curriculum that has been proven to work and last – evidence-based.
  • A budget that allows teachers to replenish equipment so students have plenty for PE, recess, after school — activity throughout the day on campus.
  • Ongoing professional development and new resource acquisition for the school’s PE teachers.
  • Grades for physical education that are factored into a student’s grade point average.

3. Attend school-board meetings and express your support for quality, daily physical education taught by credentialed specialists for all students in all grades.

Click here to download the suggested next steps to see if your school provides quality physical education.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: How can I to help improve the physical education program in my school?

Here are 3 things every parent can do:

1. ADVOCATE for daily physical education in all grades — delivered by a credentialed physical educator.

2. ENSURE teachers are aligning content and instruction to achieve a goal of 50% or better MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity) in every class and that they are promoting staying physical activity away from class.

3. INSIST teachers have access to current resources and professional development opportunities so they can learn new, innovative content and teaching strategies.

Let your voice be heard!  Speak to your school’s PE teacher(s) and Principal about your child’s PE program TODAY.  If your school’s program does not meet these standards, encourage leaders to learn more about evidence-based programs that can provide new resources and training for teachers:

Click here to download the 3 things every parent can do to help improve the physical education in your school.

THRIVING SCHOOLS: Are there any resources available to help advocate for Quality physical education?

Yes, there are many, click here to access them.

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