As a result of continuous advocacy by health promotion and disease prevention groups like the Illinois Public Health Institute, Healthy Schools Campaign and others, and following a recommendation of the Enhanced Physical Education Task Force (EPETF), all Illinois public schools are now required to report the average number of days of physical education (P.E.) they provide per week per student. The Illinois Report Card provides the public with summary information about public schools, including student demographics, average class size and now the amount of P.E. children are receiving. The EPETF made this recommendation to enable parents and the public to determine if children are getting the recommended weekly amount of P.E.
Although Illinois has long required daily P.E. for students in grades K-12, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, newly released data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows that only about 40% of schools are complying with the law by offering P.E. five days a week. Many of the non-compliant schools are ignoring the law or sidestepping it through P.E. waivers. The National Association of Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week of P.E. for elementary school children and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students for the entire school year (not including recess).
Illinois has long been a leader on valuing children’s health and the critical role of P.E. in optimizing student health outcomes. Studies show that regular moderate-to-vigorous (MVPA) physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. With one in three Illinois children overweight or obese and at increased risk for developing chronic diseases, that commitment is more important than ever. What’s more, there is also a significant body of research showing that children who are more physically active perform better on standardized tests and have improved on-task behavior in class.
Publicly reporting P.E. data is one element in a larger plan to ensure that all Illinois children have access high-quality daily P.E. Other recent P.E. developments include revising the state learning standards to reflect the neuroscience demonstrating a connection between increased physical activity and improved student outcomes, extending “highly qualified” status to physical educators – recognizing that P.E. is as important as other core subjects like math and reading – and, starting next school year, requiring that all students (grades 3-12) be given scientifically-based, health-related fitness assessments to help them achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness based upon continual self-assessment.
While Illinois has made important strides to improve the quality of P.E., each year there are efforts to weaken the daily P.E. requirement and roll back progress. Advocacy organizations like the Illinois Public Health Institute and coalitions like the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity work tirelessly to protect and advance our progress because there is no substitute for a high-quality enhanced P.E. program that teaches students the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to develop life-long skills for enhancing fitness and health.