How would you characterize Phys Ed in k-12 US schools?
February 19, 2014 1:36 PM   Subscribe

At work, I've just started a project on phys ed, and I need some background info. I've contacted a few PE professionals' organizations, but haven't heard back yet. I'd like to know...

1. What's phys ed currently like in k-12 schools?
- How often does it meet, for how long? (Breakdowns with % of schools having none to various amounts would be ideal, but I'll take what you've got.)

- What does it consist of? How much of what's out there is still traditional PE like decades ago, vs. how much has a more dedicated focus on heartrate-raising activity for developing fitness? Or other big distinctions from traditional PE?

2. (my most urgent question) Among traditional PE programs, are there categories you could draw?
-I'll be visiting about 4 of these, and I'd like to see a range, but I don't know what the dimensions of that range should be. E.g., for the schools themselves, I know to vary primary/secondary, high/low income, public/private, etc. Are there similar, PE-specific splits to plan for?

3. How typical is it for PE programs to need students to meet school, district, state, and/or federal standards? With what consequences if they don't?

First-hand knowledge is welcome, as are links to reports or sites where you know I'll find some of this info. I don't really need links to reports or sites where the info may or may not be -- I've got lots of those to comb through already.
posted by daisyace to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a teacher's college or association in your area, or are you out of the US? If you're local, you should be able to talk to teachers in training and master teachers about many of the questions you have.

IME, PE is something no one has funding for so no one does it, even if that means that the district is fined for a lack of compliance with state and national health standards. (See: California Standards). My elementary students don't have PE anymore because we don't have the teachers, the resources, or the space to do it. We just sort of look for ways to make learning more kinetic by incorporating PE into our academic lessons but it's hard. PE is so vital to academic success and yet we can't fit it in due to testing prep.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:45 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Totally optional at the high school I taught at, and since we were in Florida, if you didn't play a sport on the team, you didn't do it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2014

You might aim to get a geographic range - two reasons. Places where outdoor activity will be curtailed because of winter (or summer) may have to do different things to accommodate that. And different areas probably have different sports emphasized. Eg in a far-north area you might get hockey, in a far-south area you might get something totally different.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:03 PM on February 19, 2014

We -- my fairly well-funded public school district -- definitely had state (Connecticut) fitness standards to meet. No idea if it was done everywhere, or just for schools what had some interest in getting another nice stat.

Requirements were based on age and gender; aspects were running a mile (half mile before a certain age), push-ups, curls, and hamstring stretch, measuring using a box that fit over the extended leg's foot.

I don't think anything happened 'officially' if you didn't pass, though I did get a C in gym for being a bad runner (and probably a very strange kid) in 3rd grade.

After elementary school, we had gym every other day. [I never paid attention to how frequent classes were in elementary school.] You had to change for it. In middle school, we all had these invertible jerseys for convenient team assignment.

Gym alternated with science lab periods, which were two days of the six day cycle. That sixth day was technically a study hall, but if you were a wanker like me, you could use it for nominal participation in school orchestra.

In elementary school, gym was very much "let's play games!" and the only games I liked were floor hockey, badminton, and anything involving scooters (that you sat on).

In high school, we had three gym options: A-gym was vigorous competitive team sports, B-gym was lackadasical team sports, and C-gym (my people) was 'how to use gym equipment' and 'ok, go around the track as many times as you want'. I ended up discovering that yes, I could run for an entire class period.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2014

Wow, just from the first two responses, I particularly wonder what % of elementary, middle, and high schools have any PE at all.
posted by daisyace at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2014

My daughter's school system. Because of the heavy focus on electives at her magnet middle school, I don't know that every kid gets physical activity every day, depending on their elective setup each quarter. She's in Dance this quarter, and had Volleyball last quarter, but I don't think she had an active elective first quarter, for example.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:15 PM on February 19, 2014

My son is in second grade and has PE two times a week. I can't tell you too much about the content because he isn't that communicative about what goes on at school, but I think they do some warm-up exercises at the start of every class and then do different units throughout the year. Things like jump roping, basketball, climbing, and cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
posted by Area Man at 2:24 PM on February 19, 2014

Among traditional PE programs, are there categories you could draw?

The only thing I'd suggest thinking about is whether it's: unavailable/optional/mandatory. When I was in high school (and this may be a MA state thing, I do not know) a certain number of PE credits were necessary for graduation... enough so that you'd have to make them up or have summer school gym if you didn't manage it. There were a lot of people (*ahem*) for whom this was a decently big deal. My other anecdata

- elementary school gym - one period a day, we didn't change for gym or have a locker room, we all did stuff together, we had Presidential Fitness standards to meet as one of the things we aimed for but I don't think there was some penalty if we didn't get it
- junior high (7th & 8th grade) - we had to change for gym, it was one period (every other day maybe?), all the kids did the same thing, some kids were on sports teams but they still had to do gym
- high school - we had to change for gym, it was one period (again I think every other day?), you could pick an activity that you wanted to do for the quarter and you did stuff with those kids, athletes got out of gym, I think

There was a HUGE difference in high school gym options form town to town in MA. We had a pool, tennis courts, lacrosse, I think some kids may have even gone to the bowling alley for gym. It was sort of fancy.
posted by jessamyn at 2:52 PM on February 19, 2014

At my family's district public school (where a child attends if he lives in the boundaries of the district): PE is considered a "special", wherein the kids have it a few times a week (for 40 minutes) but not every day (like they do math, science, etc.). K-10 is mandatory, 11th and 12th graders opt out if and only if they do a team sport at school.

At the private school my kids attend, the kids have PE every day from K-6. 7th, 8th, and 9th graders have it a few times a week. 10th, 11th, and 12th graders opt out if they play a team sport. K-5 are on a "regular" school schedule, so they get 40 minute periods. The rest of the grades are on a block schedule so their periods are anywhere from 60-120 minutes, based on if its a single or double block.

Public schools in Ohio have to meet federal guidelines; not sure about the private schools.

You're going to find varying answers based on the school district (is it well-funded or not is probably going to be the biggest factor).

From my experience attending US schools and having children attend US schools, PE is very, very different for them than it was for me. It's all about participation and simply trying, vs. having to perform at certain levels. They do all kinds of things, from yoga to bowling to archery to fly fishing (at my kids' current school!), whereas I did basketball and four-square and square dancing (!). I find the PE teachers now are so much more concerned with the development of the whole child and making gym a safe place to be. Instead of dreading PE and the embarrassment it could cause, my kids enjoy it.
posted by cooker girl at 2:52 PM on February 19, 2014

Unfortunately, it isn't really possible to summarize physical education "in United States schools." It'd be like talking about physical education "in the world's schools." It's a great question, it's just...impossible to answer in any coherent way, because requirements (or lack thereof) vary state-by-state and district-by-district so significantly (there are about 13,000 school districts in the U.S., to help put things in perspective).

Here are three things that might help you:
-National Association for Sport & Physical Education State Standards Tool - Lets you compare various state standards to the NASPE recommendations.
-NASPE's report on the state of physical education in the U.S.
-Quick list of state standards regarding P.E.
posted by leitmotif at 2:59 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

NY State has specific requirements regarding PE at every grade level. I can speak to HS and tell you that my high performing district does not meet the State standards. Have not for years. There are no consequences for not meeting them as far as the district informed me. It came up when my son was applying to one of the service academies. For some students in some schools, the district will consider participation in a varsity or junior varsity sport towards the PE requirements.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:13 PM on February 19, 2014

Here are the guide lines for New York, California, Vermont. Also, some national info.
posted by oceano at 9:21 PM on February 19, 2014

Illinois is one state that requires daily PE through high school. There maybe waivers and exceptions*, but my kids had gym classes for their entire school lives — the youngest, now a senior, has an "adventure ed” class: climbing walls, rope work and all sorts of excitement rather than suffering through dodge ball, but still physical activity. In fact our local high school district recently added the grade to the GPA calculation for the first time a couple of years ago.

There are fitness standards and at some stages (I forget which grades) and they send home a report on how your kid measures up — the inclusion of BMI on the report by the local k-8 district being a cause of much gnashing of teeth.

*My son used to get a waiver for being in marching band in the fall, but they appear to have no stopped that, and I think that one of their required health classes counted.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:16 PM on February 19, 2014

One thing you might look at is who teaches PE - someone with a single subject credential in PE or the general classroom teacher. If it is the general teacher, does the district provide curriculum or is the teacher having to invent it him/herself?
posted by metahawk at 10:30 PM on February 19, 2014

I best-answered responses with info spanning school districts, but it was interesting to see even the single-school responses -- especially where it conveyed the range of programs and revealed the gap between standards and practical implementation. Thanks very much, everyone!
posted by daisyace at 6:16 AM on February 21, 2014

Northern VA, affluent school district, 90s and early 00s:

1-6 (mandatory) small school, we only had one PE teacher for the whole school. Each class had PE 2-3 times per week (alternating with music class), we had activities like kickball, dodgeball, sometimes some gymnastics equipment (although not often), occasionally running laps, but always some kind of organized activity that you had to participate in. We did the Presidential Fitness stuff but you didn't get points off if you weren't any good at it.

7-8&9-10 (mandatory) enormous combined middle and high school, we had probably 5-10 PE teachers for all grades. Classes were block scheduled, so double length classes every other day unless you got it 5th period which was a normal length class every day. We changed and had PE uniforms (tee-shirt and athletic mesh shorts). Each class would get an activity for each semester (like football or basketball or weight lifting) and would mostly concentrate on that, although running laps was also a regular thing, and would occasionally do something different (for example if the weather was awful, or an occasional special bowling trip), usually there were small quizzes about the rules of whatever the quarter's sport was. One quarter out of four was health, which was all classroom except occasionally running laps. We also did the Presidential Fitness goals but I don't think you got points off for being bad at them (although it was much easier to get points off in general than in elementary school).

11-12 You only needed 2 credits of PE to graduate, but you could sign up for weight-lifting as an elective credit. Usually this was only chosen by people who were competitive athletes.
posted by anaelith at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2014

We've concluded the project that spurred this question, and I can add that in addition to the valuable categorizations above, we found PE to be characterizable by program focus, such as:
-Sports and games, or its early-elementary variation: locomotor skills
-Fitness, including cardio and strength
-Holistic development of attitudes and knowledge around physical activity
-Movement in the service of brain-tuning and classroom learning.

Programs don't necessarily fit neatly into just one of these, and I'm sure there are others -- we visited a handful of schools and only read second-hand about others. But these splits turned out to be useful for our project.
posted by daisyace at 7:47 AM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

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