By Renee Cadzow
Buffalo School District parents have filed a legal appeal asking the state to require district compliance with New York’s standards for physical education and health education.
District leaders claim to have addressed this long-ignored error by implementing recess in all elementary schools and modestly increasing time in PE through video-directed instruction. They also say they are working toward a new comprehensive health curriculum. These efforts fall short of a full, sustainable commitment.
At the Oct. 9 Board of Education meeting, the superintendent called on parents and the community to help identify solutions. Here is a viable solution: Provide daily physical education and implement a comprehensive health education curriculum that spans all grades. Benefits include: (1) compliance with state standards; (2) increased exercise and health-related knowledge; (3) increased brain function and thinking skills by increasing blood and oxygen flow; (4) improved mental health by triggering the release of mood-enhancing hormones such as endorphins; (5) increased frequency of “on-task” behavior; (6) reduction in emotional and behavioral problems; (7) relief from stress, anxiety and depression; (8) mitigation of ADHD symptoms; (9) improved cognitive development; and (10) significantly higher achievement scores on standardized tests.
One common argument against more PE is that there is a lack of time in the school day. Studies have shown, though, that reducing academic class time by as much as 240 minutes per week to allow for PE led to higher scores on standardized math examinations and that the cognitive benefits of physical activity during the school day adequately compensate for time spent away from other academic areas.
But you cannot just give students a little more time; they need a lot more time. Studies have shown that just short bursts of vigorous activity during the school day are helpful but do not have the same strong effects that longer periods of activity have on academic achievement and cognitive function.
The district has a short day relative to other districts. It also allocates more than the required time for math and ELA. The research shows that this is time poorly spent and will do little to increase proficiency and test scores in the absence of adequate PE and physical activity during the school day. The board and Superintendent Pamela C. Brown should prioritize the exploration of ways to comply (perhaps dare to exceed) the state regulations.
This is an opportunity to make real, tangible changes to students’ lives and address head-on the public health crisis we are experiencing in children’s health.
Renee Cadzow, Ph.D., is co-director of the Center for Research on Physical Activity, Sport & Health at D’Youville College.