School Physical Education

By Pate, Russell R.; Small, Meg Leavy et al. | Journal of School Health, October 1995 | Go to article overview

School Physical Education


Pate, Russell R., Small, Meg Leavy, Ross, James G., Young, Judith C., Flint, Katherine H., Warren, Charles W., Journal of School Health


In recent years, public health officials increasingly have recognized the role of school physical education in public health initiatives to promote child and adult health.(1,2) This partnership between those responsible for school physical education and public health, however, is not a recent phenomenon. Shattuck's 1850 report of the Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts(3) outlined a plan for improving public health which included physical training in schools. Since then, the emphasis of school physical education has expanded from physical training and calisthenics, to performance-related fitness and the development of competitive sports skills, to health-related fitness and the behavioral competencies and motor skills needed for lifelong engagement in enjoyable physical activity.

Acknowledgment of the contributions of school physical education to public health led to the inclusion of two national health objectives in Healthy People 2000(4) related directly to school physical education:

1.8 Increase to at least 50% the proportion of children and adolescents in grades 1-12 who participate in daily school physical education.

1.9 Increase to at least 50% the proportion of school physical education class time that students spend being physically active, preferably engaged in life-time physical activities.

In addition, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education has published the National Physical Education Standards: A Guide to Content and Assessment.(5) These standards describe what students should know and be able to do as a result of school physical education.

SELECTED FEDERAL SUPPORT AND RELATED RESEARCH

Several federal initiatives support physical education and the development of physical fitness among youth. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports supports physical education by sponsoring activities such as the President's Challenge and the State Demonstration Center Program.(6) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports physical education through the funding of 10 state education agencies to address physical activity as part of school health programs.(7) The CDC also is developing Guidelines for School and Community Health Programs for Promoting Physical Activity Among Youth. These guidelines provide research-based recommendations for promoting physical activity among youth.

Previous studies described the status of physical education nationwide. School Health in America: An Assessment of State Policies to Protect and Improve the Health of Students, fifth edition, conducted most recently in 1989 by the American School Health Association, provided information about state-level support for school physical education.(8) State directors of physical education provided information about state organization, coordination, personnel, and programming for physical education.

At the school level, the National Children and Youth Fitness Studies I and II published in 1985 and 1987 described the characteristics of physical education programs in grades K-12 nationwide.(9,10) Other studies, have examined the proportion of school physical education class time that students spend being physical active.(11,12) The School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) builds on this research and provides additional state-, district-, school-, and classroom-level data.

METHODS AND RESPONSE RATES

SHPPS assessed school physical education at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. At the state, district, and school levels, SHPPS also assessed four other components of the school health program - health education, health services, food service, and health policies prohibiting tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, and violence. At the classroom level, SHPPS also assessed health education. Data were collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a nationally representative sample of public and private districts, a nationally representative sample of public and private middle/junior high and senior high schools, and randomly selected physical education teachers. …

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