New Policy Brings PE to More CPS Students than Ever Before

October 02, 2014

Big steps for healthy, active students

This school year, 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) juniors and seniors are experiencing daily PE for the first time in 15 years thanks to a policy passed last January by the Chicago Board of Education. The policy requires high quality daily PE for all students, giving physical education the importance it deserves and ensuring that students receive the significant benefits of daily exercise. Until recently, most Chicago elementary school students received just one period of PE per week, while the majority of high school students received only two semesters over four years.

Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) was an active partner in advocating for and creating this policy because we know that healthy students are better learners. PE should be an integral part of the school day for all children, because when students have the opportunity to be physically active at school, they’re more likely to be attentive and ready to achieve in the classroom.

Rebuilding the district’s capacity to the point where all schools can deliver high quality daily PE to the district’s 400,000 students is going to be a long-term process. But after checking in with the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness a few weeks into the new school year, it’s clear that progress is being made.

From Zero to 80

Despite Illinois state policy requiring daily PE for all students, from 1997 through last school year, CPS has been exempt from that requirement. In fact, until this year, CPS high school juniors and seniors didn’t even have the option to take PE. A month into the 2014-2015 school year, CPS reports that 80 percent of juniors and seniors are enrolled in daily PE, with the remaining 20 percent using allowable waivers to participate in programs such as JROTC and school sports, or for required academic courses or special education services.

Three-Year Plan

In elementary schools, where PE will roll out over three years, there’s more good news. All schools have submitted plans outlining how they will implement PE, and the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness is working hard to help schools make it happen. This year, schools are required to offer 90 minutes of PE per week, 30 minutes of which can be a health curriculum. Next year, schools will be required to offer 120 minutes of PE per week, 60 minutes of which can be health. In year three, PE bumps up to 150 minutes per week, while time for health education remains at 60 minutes.

For our part, our Fit to Learn professional development program offers training and support for principals and teachers to help them implement the new PE standards. We do this by highlighting effective strategies and tapping principals and teachers who are leading the way to share best practices with others.

High Standards

An important aspect of the PE policy is the focus on high-quality class time, where students engage in the appropriate amount of vigorous physical activity and develop skills that can help keep them healthy and active for life. To this end, CPS has developed and provided principals with new frameworks for PE curriculum and teacher assessments. CPS is also providing technical assistance to principals on how to increase the amount of time spent on PE, and the district is offering professional development to help teachers use the curriculum and meet the assessments.

These new PE requirements represent big steps forward in a variety of ways. Each day of PE means that one more student can discover a love of physical activity, another can focus better in class, and another can learn a new healthy habit. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of students district-wide, and it’s an incredibly powerful formula.