Physical Education On Chopping Block?
By Jim Vail
Special to Mychinews.com
In the state battle over a budget, another casualty could be physical education.
The gym teacher at the school where I teach on the Southwest Side received an alert email that stated “cutting PE (physical education) is still on the negotiating table as legislators work on a budget solution for the state.”
Despite the obesity epidemic in this country, and other health risks children are facing, physical education has been one of those classes that have been cut back despite the desperate need for it.
Illinois mandates that children have gym every day for 30 minutes. However, many school children in the city have only one gym class per week due to physical and financial constraints.
The Chicago Public Schools have gotten at least four PE waivers over the years, but mostly related to high school students, with the last waiver expiring in 2014, according to the Tribune.
The Trib. reported that CPS officials set goals to increase physical education at the high school level.
Chicago News asked CPS for comment on the waivers and PE requirements and is awaiting a response.
When the Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012, one of the rallying cries was to hire more music and art teachers. Budget cuts have always resulted in less music and art classes in the city.
However, the problem is just as acute in regards to offering PE. Schools complain that they don’t have the staff or facilities to follow the law and build up the children’s bodies as well as their minds.
CPS has already cut back dramatically on its sports programs due to budget cuts. The elementary sports program was cut [back] so that coaches are no longer compensated, and certain sports cannot be run because of the lack of funds.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, 60 percent of roughly 3100 schools reporting said they provided PE five days a week.
CPS mandates its teachers to use the Chicago Lives Healthy program that features health coaches while shortchanging its students.
Many health organizations recommend that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day in order to prevent childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
One positive outcome after the last teacher’s strike was mandating recess for all CPS students. Elementary school students get at least 20 minutes of outdoor, weather permitting, free activity every day.
However, when it comes to gym, the students get less as the education reform forces have increased testing at the expense of music and art and gym.
A gym teacher in the city who did not want his name used for fear of reprisal from his administration, said in his 20 years plus of teaching gym, today is the low point.
“They always have an excuse to take it away,” he said.
He said the school where he works always uses the gym for special activities such as graduation, assemblies, book fairs, etc. and the kids are forced to have gym in the classroom. Plus, he had to teach a whole quarter or 10 weeks of health in the classroom, he said.
Then there is the Reach teacher evaluation system that turns gym class into another academic endeavor.
“It’s nuts,” he said. “They try to make it into a classroom. The kids don’t come here for another classroom. They come to run, jump, play, have fun and now they’re making it some kind of academic endeavor. It’s not fair to the kids. It’s frustrating.”