Over 80% of students, particularly students of color and those from low-income families, do not receive the legally mandated physical education minutes in California. The majority of elementary schools do not comply with state law mandating students receive an average of 20 minutes of physical education daily. Time spent in physical education helps (and does not hurt) students academically. According to a UC Berkeley study, access to justice through the courts works to ensure physical education compliance.
The physical education lawsuit positively impacted physical education in elementary schools.
“…because kids are getting more involved in movement and physical activity, I think [the lawsuit] ended up being a good thing.” Coordinator for Elementary Instruction
“I think [the lawsuit is] kind of the kick in the rear that they needed to realize, ‘Hey, P.E. is more important than we thought. Okay, we need to get on the ball… and start treating P.E. more like our math classes.’ So, hopefully now they see it more as an eye-opener requirement.” Physical education teacher
Districts and schools want more physical education teachers.
Tracking and reporting physical education minutes increases accountability.
“I think that the lawsuit … really brought to the forefront [that] this is something that we are accountable to in the same way we talk about accountability to English, Language Arts or Math.” – Director of Teaching and Learning
The fear of being sued increased physical education minutes and deters non-compliance.
Schools sued were afraid of still being non-compliant. In a shocking admission of intimidation with impunity, one official explicitly told researchers, “I’m not letting you speak to anybody else” - Assistant Superintendent
Action steps to promote elementary physical education compliance
- Provide financial support for physical education, specifically for physical education teachers, evidence-based curricula, and professional development for classroom teachers.
- Mandate physical education tracking, reporting, and budgeting in districts’ annual Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs).
- Provide support for districts and schools to track and report physical education minutes, including training and technologies like smart phone apps.
- The California Department of Education should increase accountability for the physical education law by investing in more meaningful physical education audits.
- Increase awareness about physical education’s importance for health and academic outcomes among administrators, teachers, and parents. Physical education on par with traditional academic subjects would improve student outcomes.
See the synopsis by Hannah R. Thompson & Kristine A. Madsen. The 2013 California physical education lawsuit’s impact on physical education in elementary schools: Summary of research study results. April 2017. UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
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The L.A. County Health Department has published a Physical Education Checklist and MAP (Model Action Plan) to help make sure children receive quality physical education.