Cutting PE in Illinois Is a Really Bad Idea

March 16, 2015 | Written By:

With more than a third of all U.S. children and adolescents overweight or obese, now is not the time for schools to limit access to PE.

The Chicago Sun-Times published an editorial on Friday — which we were happy to have provided input on — throwing the newspaper’s support behind the current Illinois requirement that all students take PE. The editorial was in response to a number of bills in the state legislature aimed at rolling back the state’s K-12 PE requirement, like this one from State Rep. Ron Sandack, who suggests moving from a statewide requirement for daily PE to a system that provides individual districts with more “flexibility” to pick and choose which students should take PE and when.

In response to Sandack’s bill, the Sun-Times wrote, “We couldn’t disagree more. It is the state’s responsibility to set education standards, and physical education is essential to a balanced curriculum.”

The Sun-Times explained that, “Physical education is more than dodgeball. It’s about teaching young people habits of health and fitness that will serve them well the rest of their lives. The alternative can be a future of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

We couldn’t agree more.

With more than a third of all U.S. children and adolescents overweight or obese, now is not the time — nor will it ever be — for schools to limit access to PE. What’s more, Illinois ranks among the top third of all states for childhood obesity rates, which goes to show that the childhood obesity crisis does not pick and choose districts. It should be a statewide — if not a nationwide — priority to ensure that all children are getting daily exercise and building healthy, lifelong habits while at school.

Another proposed bill would allow students to shirk PE if they are taking two or more AP courses. This brings up another important point. PE is not just good for the body, it’s good for the brain. Study after study has shown the positive relationship between exercise and academic success.

According to the Illinois PE Task Force, “PE and physical activity during the school day lead to better learners, better behavior in the classroom, and better student health.” A PE Task Force report attributes the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of disease
  • Less stress
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved cognitive performance
  • Improved concentration
  • Higher academic success
  • Less in-class disruptions
  • Fewer disciplinary incidents

We understand the challenges of tight class schedules, schools that oftentimes lack adequate facilities for PE, and the quest for the highest GPA or the most AP credits, but if we really have the best interest of our children in mind, we can see how PE plays an integral role in helping them get the most out the school day and sets them up for future academic and lifelong success.

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