Monday, September 26, 2011

PE Redux: Further Comments

As a result of a piece in the Boston Globe on the testimony I published in my last post about mandatory PE, it might help to offer some clarifications.

First, and foremost, my testimony was offered as that of a single member of the School Committee, in point of fact the Vice Chair, and I took great pains to make sure that was clear- that it did not reflect the School Committee as a whole, and did not reflect the opinions of any one else on the SC. The Globe did not make that clear, much as I appreciate their coverage. If you'd like to know if our School Committee, or any for that matter, feel the idea I proposed has merit, ask them. Ask Superintendents, as well.

I have.

However, there are other important things to clarify.

I am not opposed to PE, and certainly not opposed to wellness classes. In fact, I've long been an advocate for an expanded wellness curriculum, and have long publicly lamented the gradual erosion of curriculum/options in the PE classes themselves- so much of what we offered when I went to school is no longer a part of the PE curriculum- wrestling and gymnastics, for example. When given the one opportunity to support the addition of a new sport to be offered at the High School, Lacrosse, I voted to support it. Enthusiastically.

In encouraging the legislature to block mandatory PE in grades K-12, I offered an alternative that is a win-win for everyone- students, parents faculty. It is simply this. Allowing school systems to develop sharply proscribed high school level waivers that allow students participating in school sports at the high school to waive out of the PE requirement (not the wellness requirement), we would potentially open up a "hole" in the schedule of eligible students. Again, my proposal was that the waiver be limited to students who participate in school sports- which currently at Newburyport High School adds up to about 60% of the student body. Although a number of students participate vigorously and successfully in organized physical activity outside of school that exceeds the proposed statutory requirement within the school day - martial arts, swimming, and dance come to mind- I would need to see some way to measure the rigor and supervision of those activities before I would agree to make them criteria for waivers.

I see two critical values in doing this. First and foremost, it would allow schools to offer more sections of classes, and in fact, more electives for students at no additional cost. Increasingly, I am hearing from parents whose children are unable to take an academic elective like AP Physics or Honors Chemistry because neither the staff, the schedule, or the current PE requirements allow that to happen; in effect, we substitute 30 minutes of volleyball for those classes.

The second value intentionally reflected in my testimony was that the waiver, and potential reduction in traditional PE classes would free up the PE teachers to offer more health and wellness courses as electives. They could explore ideas like conditioning, or Yoga, meditation or Tai Chi. Better yet, it might be a way to offer as electives those sports that have all but disappeared from schools- fencing, dance, wrestling, gymnastics. A waiver system, limited but allowing those kids who are already getting their 30 minutes of physical activity a day through school sports, would potentially offer a broader array of academic, health and wellness, and physical education courses to choose from during the school day.

That seems to me to closer to a 21st century approach to education, than an arbitrary locking in of mandatory PE, without refining the options available for teachers and students.

This isn't about cutting teacher jobs, it's about expanding options in curriculum, health, wellness and physical education; it is about doing it in a way that doesn't cost school systems any more money.

No comments: