The truth about recess is out there

Once again perception wins out over reality, even in the Washington Post. In a recent article about the importance of physical education, the reporters made this familiar claim:

Others [schools] have responded to No Child Left Behind’s mandate to raise student test scores by stealing time from P.E.

And this quote is in the article from Stephen Jefferies, president of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education Association:

With No Child Left Behind, one of the things that was left behind was physical education.

It’s a great sound bite, but unfortunately, this all-too-often recited claim is isn’t backed up by data. As a matter of fact, the Center’s report Time out: Is recess in danger? found physical education  and recess are still alive and well in our public schools. The reports found just about all elementary school students are receiving daily exercise at school, whether through recess or physical education.

It is true that 20% of districts decreased recess time and 9% decreased physical education time since NCLB, but students in those schools still received as much daily exercise time as students in most other districts. So it appears districts that decreased their physical education and recess time were districts that had provided more time than most other districts.

While recess isn’t dying, it is true that poor and minority students are less likely to have daily exercise than their white and higher-income peers. And there is a clear link between a child’s health and his or her academic performance.

So schools interested in raising test scores should think twice about cutting recess or physical education time. It may be in schools’ best interest to increase the time or to use the time they have more wisely to ensure their students are in the best shape possible to learn. However, districts should make these decisions based on facts, not on unsubstantiated claims that recess and physical education are dying.  – Jim Hull

For more information about child obesity and schools check out NSBA’s School Health Programs.

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