Physical Education (P.E) has been receiving increased support from politicians over ne past five years. This is due to an increased need to reduce health care costs, combined with the overwhelming research in support of physical activity for both adults and children. This strong research base has demonstrated that moderate forms of activity can have a significant positive effect on chronic heart disease (CHD), colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, stress, and depression (Blair el al., 1996; Center for Disease Control, 2000; Raitaitakari et al., 1994; Sallis & McKenzie, 1991; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1991, 1996) to name but a few. There has also been additional research to support the connection between physical activity and increased cognitive and academic function (Sallis, Mckenzie et al., 1999; Shepard, 1997; Shepard & Lavelle. 1994).
Unfortunately, even with the increased public knowledge of the research results, and the call to support physical activity for children by the Center for Disease Control (2000), there remains a significant problem with respect to obesity in the United States. In light of the above benefits of physical activity, it is amazing that there remains political pressure from State Education Departments (SED) to reduce time allotted for P.E. instruction in schools. However the public does not necessarily recognize that the P.E. class is the place where physical activity may occur to the benefit of one's health. Instead the public continues to think of P.E. as a course which focuses on the development of sport skills for the most talented. The most talented in athletics are usually not the children who are obese or inactive.
Currently there is a need to enhance educational practices and policies. This includes implementation of new performance standards to meet accountability needs. The past decade has seen the development of new Performance Standards from State Education Departments and national organizations for all subject areas across k-12 programs. Meeting these imposed State Performance Standards as a measure of educational accountability has introduced a new stress on teachers and children. Teachers now feel obligated to teach to the test, and students only feel obligated to learn items that will be on the test. Creativity and reflective projects designed to assess students' ability to apply knowledge are far less important. Instead, more easily measured recall test items that may appear on standardized tests seem to be the priority. In early reports, a cadre of teachers in good school districts feels that this new focus on standardized testing, as a way for the educational system to become more accountable, is destroying both its foundation and teachers creative initiative. In addition, increased pressure for standardized testing and accountability is coming from the Bush Administration. The federal government recently passed a new educational initiative, entitled No Child Left Behind. Its intention is that no student should be left behind in an academic subject. The Bush Administration's directive places additional time constraints on future school P.E. programs, since it calls for even greater accountability and standardized testing each year within academic content areas.
Changing philosophies to Solve problems
P.E. programs in the United States are in a transition period. They are moving from a primary focus on Spun skill development and fitness to the more contemporary focus on the development of Life Skills (personal activity plan, plus personal living skills- cooperation, cultural awareness, respect for all people, fair play, leadership skills, and caring, etc.). For years, the sentiment in the United States countered that children would acquire these Life Skills while engaged in game play. Professional leaders argue that the game does not teach these important skills, but rather it is the teacher who imparts them. Teachers and coaches are now held accountable tor teaching the game, the skills and/or the sport, and more importantly, the process of learning to play the game as a contributor to Life Skill development.
This change in philosophy or direction moves away from the traditional P.E. program, where one focuses on the product, to a new direction that focuses on the process. It has caused many rifts between colleagues and among professional associations. A classic example can be seen in the continuous debates between the President's Council on Fitness and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD).
The President's Council wants to promote best performances and to give awards and patches for the best performers. AAHPERD's leadership supports positive acknowledgement of all students as a means to build intrinsic motivation. For AAHPERD, the goal is to have children want to be active for the rest of their lives because they enjoy the nature of physical activity- not because of awards. The introduction of the new direction has brought additional conflict, as there is now a need for changes in pedagogical strategies and motivation techniques.
Most parents and local school administrators support the importance of children learning about their bodies and value physical activity. They also would support the development of social skills, and would be happy to include instructional time tor this. However, these same proponents do not think that learning a game or sport skill is important enough to allocate time and money for inclusion within the traditional school day. Therefore, the challenge becomes not only convincing the general public as to the importance of P.E., but also convincing P.E. teachers that P.E. is more than playing games, more than focusing on the product of fitness and sport skills. To focus on the Process of participation within the activity requires sensitivity to the cues required to develop positive attitudes about physical activity for all, not just the talented. It also requires sensitivity to the cues for social interaction between and among all children, regardless of skill, gender, or ethnicity. Sensitivity to the process of the activity, and redirection from the traditional program, require a philosophical change, along with a cadre of pedagogical applications and techniques, all of which need to come from higher education and the development of future teachers.
The pressure to reduce the time allotted for P.E. instruction comes from the misunderstanding of P.E. as previously noted, and from the public's dissatisfaction with all of education. In response to that dissatisfaction, the State Education Departments have committed to improving student performance in all subjects by making the schools more accountable. The "educational accountability mandate" has manifested itself through the development and implementation of standardized testing in all academic subjects. In some states, these test scores (math, science, language arts, social studies, etc.) for each school are published in local newspapers. As a result of this public display of student performance, a near-hysteria has forced some school districts lo prioritize time spent on academic subjects in order to raise scores, and in so doing take time away from other, so-called "less important" subjects, such as P.E. and the arts. For the most part, time- allocation within each school district is under the control of local administrators. Unless the P.E. program is highly regarded in that particular school, it may well lose time allocation.