Bill would extend deadline for implementing physical education standards
Ten years ago, the Oregon Legislature set standards for physical education time and gave schools until 2017-18 to comply. The bill comes due July 1, and schools are no closer to reaching the standards now than they were in 2007.
An amended Senate Bill 4 would give schools more time and flexibility to reach the standards. Districts have struggled to provide staff and facilities for PE while having their budgets cut and being told to meet standards in testing on core subjects.
The law required 150 minutes of physical education per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle school students. Penalties or sanctions could be imposed on schools not in compliance. No other Oregon course has a minutes requirement.
Elementary students averaged about 75 minutes per week and middle school students averaged about 152 minutes last school year, according to figures from the Legislative Policy and Research Office. Roughly 10 percent of schools met the full requirements, according to a 2017 Oregon Department of Education report.
Senate Bill 4 started as a needed technical fix, allowing schools to prorate the minutes during school weeks shortened because of holidays, closures or other losses of school time. So if a middle school is in session for only three days in a week, it would not have to still get in 225 minutes of PE.
Amendments to the bill, the result of nine months of hard-fought negotiations, now offer additional relief valves for schools.
Senate President Peter Courtney, who led the fight for the standards 10 years ago, let his irritation show at the lack of school progress while testifying Tuesday before the Senate Education Committee. He acknowledged the long and cooperative effort to craft the amendments, but he wouldn’t commit to supporting it yet.
“I’m very torn on this issue,” he testified. “On one hand, I feel that 10 years is more than long enough. ... On the other hand, 90 percent of schools losing their standards this July might be a bit extreme.”
He started his testimony by listing the social, emotional, health and academic benefits of physical activity, including increasing students’ ability to focus and avoid acting out.
“We can talk about reading, writing and arithmetic,” he testified, “but if a kid isn’t paying attention or can’t pay attention or can’t focus, then it is just an intellectual exercise that adults like to go through about how important the basic reading, writing and arithmetic is.”
No one argues against the value of physical education. The American Heart Association, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, strongly recommend daily activity. Oregon’s standards are based on American Heart Association recommendations.
There are major obstacles, however, to reaching the goals, starting with budgets. Not long after the law passed, Oregon plunged into a recession that saw repeated budget cuts. To keep class sizes down, schools dedicated staff time to teaching core subjects and reduced staff in other teaching areas.
One amendment would suspend the minutes requirement when the allocation to the State School Fund is below current service level requirements.
Adding space for physical education presents another big hurdle, particularly as schools are facing another cuts budget.
The law requires the Legislature to make a biennial report on progress toward goals. The report in 2009 said districts needed 174 facilities, such as gyms and recreation areas, to provide the required PE minutes for all kids. The 2017 report estimated districts need 226 new facilities to meet the requirements.
The law requires PE instruction to help students develop the knowledge and skills to maintain physical activity throughout their lives. At least 50 percent of PE class time must be physical activity, and there also must be adaptive PE for students with disabilities or chronic health problems.
The amended bill would drop the minutes requirement for the next two years for all schools and then phase it in through 2021 for elementary schools. The amended bill would change elementary teacher licensure requirements so they could instruct students not in their class, making it easier for schools to schedule time.
Recess and intramural sports don’t count toward the requirement currently. The amended bill would also allow elementary schools to count up to 45 minutes per week of recess time and other activities if it is properly supervised and meets academic content standards.
Middle schools would have until 2023 to phase in standards, because middle schools face tough obstacles. Block scheduling by term for middle schools complicates meeting weekly standards, and licensing requirements for teachers are more detailed.
One of the key amendments to SB 4 sets up a process for finding ways to implement PE standards, said Christina Bodamer, American Heart Association government relations director. Bodamer is chair of the Physical Education for All Kids Coalition, a group of educators, parents and health professionals committed to improving PE in schools. PE stakeholders, K-12 education stakeholders and ODE will continue discussions about middle school, and they are required to report to the Legislature by Nov. 15, 2018.
“There are ways to implement this and do it the right way without throwing all 52 cards in the air,” said Bodamer. “We just have to get all the right people at the table.”
The amendments have the support of PE advocates, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Education Association and OSBA.
OSBA values physical education for students’ all-around well-being, said Legislative Specialist Richard Donovan. He said that OSBA supports a process that allows schools to implement physical education classes without sacrificing students’ other educational needs.
A work session is scheduled for Thursday, April 13.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
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