The landmark 1996 Surgeon General's report Physical Activity and Health identified the substantial health benefits of regular participation in physical activity including reducing the risks of dying prematurely; dying prematurely from heart disease; and developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer. The report made clear that the health benefits of physical activity are not limited to adults. Regular participation in physical activity during childhood and adolescence helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helps control weight, build lean muscle, and reduce fat; prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure; helps reduce blood pressure in some adolescents with hypertension; and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
Schools can provide many opportunities for young people to engage in physical activity and can play an important role in motivating young people to stay active. In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published research-based Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People. These guidelines outline a comprehensive approach to promoting physical activity through schools with quality, daily physical education; classroom health education that complements physical education by giving students the knowledge and self-management skills needed to maintain a physically active lifestyle; daily recess periods for elementary school students; and extracurricular physical activity programs, including intramural activities, physical activity clubs, and interscholastic sports.
During the past six years, national standards for youth physical activity programs have been developed and widely disseminated. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) published the National Standards for Physical Education, National Standards for Beginning Physical Education Teachers, and National Standards for Athletic Coaches, and the National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPERID) published the Adapted Physical Education National Standards. The standards for physical education describe what students should know and be able to do while the standards for beginning physical education teachers, athletic coaches, and adapted physical education teachers describe the content and skills these individuals should master.
The importance of physical education in promoting the health of young people is supported by three Healthy People 2010 objectives:
22-8 Increase the proportion of the Nation's public and private schools that require daily physical education for all students.
22-9 Increase the proportion of adolescents who participate in daily school physical education.
22-10 Increase the proportion of adolescents who spend at least 50 percent of school physical education class time being physically active.
Two additional school-related physical activity objectives include:
15-31 Increase the proportion of public and private schools that require use of appropriate head, face, eye, and mouth protection for students participating in school-sponsored physical activities.
22-12 Increase the proportion of the Nation's public and private schools that provide access to their physical activity spaces and facilities for all persons outside of normal school hours (that is, before and after the school day, on weekends, and during summer and other vacations).
In fall 2000, public awareness of the importance of physical activity for youth was heightened when the White House released 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. The report identified 10 strategies designed to promote lifelong participation in enjoyable and safe physical activity and sports. Six of these strategies specifically addressed school physical education and physical activity programs.
SELECTED FEDERAL SUPPORT AND RELATED RESEARCH
CDC currently funds education agencies and health departments in 20 states to support school health programs and strengthen school health education to prevent youth from establishing health-risk behaviors, including physical inactivity, associated with chronic diseases. In 2001, Congress authorized the US Department of Education to administer Physical Education for Progress as part of Title X of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This program awards grants to local education agencies to help initiate, expand, and improve physical education programs for students in kindergarten through grade 12 through the purchase of equipment, hiring or training of physical education staff, and other initiatives that enable students to actively participate in physical education activities.
In 1993, 1997, and 2001, NASPE conducted the Shape of the Nation Survey to determine the availability and mandate for physical education programs in each state, provide an overview of who teaches physical education, describe physical education requirements, and, in 2001, describe the existing practices in each state. The first School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS), conducted in 1994, measured physical education and activity policies and programs in kindergarten through grade 12 at the state and district levels and assessed policies and programs in middle/junior and senior high schools at the school and classroom levels. SHPPS 2000 updates and expands the 1994 study to measure policies and programs in elementary, middle/junior high, and senior high schools at the state, district, school, and classroom levels nationwide.
This article describes findings from SHPPS 2000 about state- and district-level requirements and policies, standards and guidelines, student assessment, evaluation, physical education for students with disabilities, collaboration, staffing and professional preparation, elementary school recess, and interscholastic sports coaches. The article also addresses school-level requirements and policies, standards and guidelines, student assessment, physical education for students with disabilities, collaboration, staffing and professional preparation, elementary school recess, intramural activities and physical activity clubs, interscholastic sports, and facilities. It then describes physical education curriculum and instruction, student assessment, physical education for students with disabilities, and professional preparation at the classroom level.
SHPPS 2000 assessed physical education at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. State-level data were collected from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. District-level data were collected from a nationally representative sample of school districts and from dioceses of Catholic schools included in the school sample. School-level data were collected from a nationally representative sample of public and private elementary, middle/junior high, and senior high schools. Classroom-level data were collected from teachers of randomly-selected classes in elementary schools and randomly-selected required physical education courses in middle/junior high and senior high schools.
Questionnaires. The state- and district-level physical education and activity questionnaires assessed school physical education policies for kindergarten through grade 12. Both questionnaires contained items assessing school physical education standards and guidelines; required physical education instruction for students in elementary, middle/junior high, and senior high school; requirements for recess in elementary schools; requirements for adapted physical education for students with disabilities; student assessment; required use of protective gear; the use of physical activity for discipline; credentials required for physical education teachers and interscholastic sports coaches; provision of staff development for physical education teachers and interscholastic sports coaches; coordination and evaluation of physical education; and collaboration on physical education projects. The district-level questionnaire also assessed the promotion of the physical education program among families of students and in the community.
The school-level physical education and activity questionnaire assessed physical education practices in elementary, middle/junior high, and senior high schools. Specifically, the questionnaire assessed school physical education standards, guidelines, and objectives; required physical education instruction; instructional content; student assessment; use of protective gear; use of physical activity for discipline; adaptations for students with disabilities; facilities for physical activities; credentials of physical education teachers; the promotion of the physical education program among families of students and in the community; collaboration between physical education teachers and other school and community personnel; and intramural activities. Middle/junior and senior high schools with interscholastic sports programs also were asked about these programs.
The classroom-level questionnaire assessed general physical education course characteristics, specific content taught, time spent teaching specific physical activities, teaching and evaluation techniques used in physical education courses, and credentials and staff development of physical education teachers.
Data Collection and Respondents. State- and district-level data were collected by self-administered mail questionnaires completed by designated respondents for each of seven school health program components. These respondents had primary responsibility for or were the most knowledgeable about the policies or programs addressing the particular component being studied. All seven state- or district-level questionnaires (each addressing one school health program component) were mailed to the contact person in each state and district, who distributed the appropriate questionnaire to each designated respondent. Multiple attempts to gather missing data were made through mail and telephone follow-up as needed.
School-level data were collected by computer-assisted personal interviews. During recruitment, the principal or other school-level contact designated a faculty or staff respondent for each component, who had primary responsibility for or was the most knowledgeable about the particular component. For the physical education interview, the most common respondents were physical education teachers, other teachers, and athletic directors. For the interscholastic sports module of the physical education interview, the most common respondents were athletic directors and physical education teachers.
At the classroom level, respondents to the computer-assisted personal interviews were those physical education teachers whose elementary school class or middle/junior or senior high school course had been selected during the sampling process. All interviews were completed between January and June 2000.
Response Rates. All 51 (100%) state education agencies completed the state-level physical education questionnaire. At the district level, 740 districts were eligible for the physical education component; 491 (66%) of these districts completed the physical education questionnaire. At the school level, 1,327 schools were eligible for the physical education interview; 921 (69%) of these schools completed the interview. At the classroom level, 1,729 courses or classes were eligible for the classroom-level interview; 1,564 (90%) of these had a teacher complete the interview.
Data Analysis. Data from state-level questionnaires are based on a census and are not weighted. District-, school-, and classroom-level data are based on representative samples and are weighted to produce national estimates. Two weights were constructed for analysis of classroom data. The first weight is appropriate for making inferences to schools nationwide based on the aggregation of classroom interview data within each school. The second weight is appropriate for making inferences to required elementary school classes or middle/junior and senior high school courses nationwide based on the data about the individual classes or courses.
Because of missing data for individual questionnaire and interview items, the denominators for each reported percentage vary slightly across items. Figures 2, 9, and 16 in Appendix 1 show the estimated standard error associated with an observed percentage for the district-, school-, and classroom-level physical education and activity questionnaires.
Physical Education at the State and District Levels
Requirements and Policies. Most states require elementary schools (78.4% of states), middle/junior high schools (85.7% of states), and senior high schools (82.4% of states) to teach physical education. Among the states requiring physical education, 40.5% allow elementary school students to be exempted from physical education requirements for one grading period or longer for at least one of the reasons listed in Table 1, 52.5% allow exemptions for middle/junior high school students, and 60.0% allow exemptions for senior high school students. States are most likely to allow exemptions for permanent physical disability and religious reasons.
Table 1 Percentage of States, Districts, and Schools that Allow Students at Each School Level to be Exempted From Physical Education Requirements for One Grading Period or Longer, By Reason for Exemption, School Health Policies and Programs Study, 2000 % of States Middle/ Junior Senior Elementary High High Reason for Exemption …