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The following is excerted from: Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports, A Report to the President From the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education.

"Characteristics of Quality Physical Education

Appendix 10

Quality Physical Education

  • Emphasizes knowledge and skills for a lifetime of physical activity.
  • Is based on national standards that define what students should know and be able to do.
  • Keeps students active for most of the class time.
  • Provides many different physical activity choices.
  • Meets needs of all students, especially those who are not athletically gifted.
  • Features cooperative, as well as competitive, games.
  • Develops students self-confidence and eliminates practices that humiliate students (e.g., having team captains choose sides, dodgeball and other games of elimination).
  • Assesses students on their progress in reaching goals, not on whether they achieve an absolute standard.
  • Promotes physical activity outside of school.
  • Teaches self-management skills, such as goal-setting and self-monitoring.
  • Focusses, at the high school level, on helping adolescents make the transition to a physically active adult lifestyle.
  • Actively teaches cooperation, fair play, and responsible participation in physical activity.
  • Is an enjoyable experience for students.

Defining Quality Physical Education:

Physical education is at the core of a comprehensive approach to promoting physical activity through schools. All children, from prekindergarten through grade 12, should participate in quality physical education classes every school day. Physical education helps students develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors, and confidence needed to be physically active for life, while providing an opportunity for students to be active during the school day (Appendix 9). Leading professionals in the field of physical education have developed a new kind of physical education that is fundamentally different from the stereotypical “roll out the balls and play” classes of decades past that featured little meaningful instruction and lots of humiliation for students who were not athletically coordinated. Professional associations, academic experts, and many teachers across the country are promoting and implementing quality physical education programs (Appendix 10) that emphasize participation in lifelong physical activity among all students.

Quality physical education is not a specific curriculum or program; it reflects, instead, an instructional philosophy that emphasizes

  • Providing intensive instruction in the motor and self-management skills needed to enjoy a wide variety of physical activity experiences, including competitive and noncompetitive activities.

  • Keeping all students active for most of the class period.

  • Building students’ confidence in their physical abilities.

  • Influencing moral development by providing students with opportunities to assume leadership, cooperate with others, and accept responsibility for their own behavior.

  • Having fun!

The importance of making physical education fun was illustrated by a national survey of students in grades 4–12, which found that enjoyment of physical education class was one of the most powerful factors associated with participation in physical activity outside of school.22

Quality physical education is more than just fun, however; it is also a serious academic discipline. Physical education and health education are recognized as important components of the education curricula.23 The National Standards for Physical Education24 explicitly identifies what students should know and be able to do as a result of a quality physical education program (Appendix 11). These standards provide a framework that can be used to design, implement, and evaluate physical education curricula.

  Graph: Percentage of High School Students Who Attended Physical Education Classes Daily, 1991-99To cover the necessary instructional components (Appendix 12) and to provide opportunities for adequate skill practice and health-enhancing physical activity, quality physical education should be offered every day to all students from prekindergarten through grade 12. Unfortunately, most U.S. students do not participate in daily physical education, and the proportion of students with daily physical education has been declining over time.14 In 1994, only 17% of middle/junior high schools and 2% of high schools required physical education 5 days per week each year.25 The majority of high school students take physical education for only 1 year between 9th and 12th grades.26 Healthy People 20105 includes objectives for increasing the percentage of schools offering, and the percentage of students participating in, daily physical education classes (Appendix 3).

Illinois is the only state that currently requires daily physical education in every grade, K-12, but it allows many schools to be exempted from this requirement (Appendix 13).26 The majority of states allow students to replace physical education courses with other experiences, including varsity athletics, ROTC, and marching band;25 this deprives students of the important learning experiences they can have in quality physical education. As one educator has written, exempting students from physical education because of their extracurricular activities is like exempting students from language arts requirements because they’re on the debate team or from science requirements because they’re in the astronomy club.27 Students should not be exempted from physical education courses because they participate in an extracurricular program.

Strategy 2: Help all children, from prekindergarten through grade 12, to receive quality, daily physical education. Help all schools to have certified physical education specialists; appropriate class sizes; and the facilities, equipment, and supplies needed to deliver quality, daily physical education.

Qualified and appropriately trained physical education teachers are the most essential ingredient of a quality physical education program. Unfortunately, many schools do not have qualified professionals teaching physical education. Only certified physical education teachers should be given the responsibility of teaching the skills and providing the motivation our young people need to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle. However, only seven states require physical education courses to be taught by certified physical education specialists in all grades. All the other states allow classroom teachers, without any required training in physical education, to teach some physical education courses.26 Studies have found that, compared with classroom teachers, physical education specialists teach longer and higher quality classes in which students spend more time being physically active.21,28

It must be noted, however, that some certified physical education teachers have not received the state-of-the-art training, either through undergraduate teacher training programs or at professional staff development sessions, that is needed to teach quality physical education. National standards are helpful in describing what a beginning physical education teacher should know and be able to do (Appendix 14).29 These standards can guide physical education teacher preparation programs and the physical education teacher certification process. Additional resources are needed to effectively disseminate these standards to colleges, universities, and school districts across the nation.

Physical education should have the same class sizes as other subjects.

A 1994 national survey found that only half of the nation’s school districts had offered any staff development opportunities in physical education during the 2 years before the survey.25 Efforts to provide staff development for physical educators should be intensified, and guidelines for offering quality professional staff development sessions should be developed.

To provide quality physical education for all students, schools must be able to provide adapted physical education for students with disabilities. The regulations implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandate that physical education services, specially designed if necessary, must be made available to every child with a disability receiving a free and appropriate public education. Each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to nondisabled children unless the child is enrolled full time in a separate facility or the child needs specially designed physical education, as prescribed in the child’s individualized education program. The Adapted Physical Education National Standards30 (Appendix 15) provide guidance on how physical educators can accommodate the needs of students with disabilities, and a national examination exists to certify adapted physical education teachers.

The large class sizes with which physical educators are often confronted are a key barrier to the implementation of quality physical education. Physical education should have the same class sizes as other subjects. Quality physical education must cover a great deal of content, and physical educators cannot do their jobs effectively or have enough time to work with individual students if classes are overcrowded. As one physical educator has said, “Try teaching English with 72 kids!”27

Even the best physical education teachers in the world will find it difficult to keep their students active during most of a physical education class if they don’t have adequate amounts of equipment and supplies. Many schools don’t have enough equipment or supplies to keep all their students active during physical education class; consequently, many students waste valuable time standing in line and watching others play while they wait for a turn. Support for the purchase of physical education equipment and supplies is an urgent priority for many of the nation’s schools."

Contact Information

Kristy Blower
Phyical Activity Coordinator
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health
Division of Health Promotion
Room 206
350 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301-3715

(304) 558-0644

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This page was last updated 03/2010.
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