For more than a decade, Texas said it has been trying to find the right balance of academics and fitness for its school children. In 1995, Texas phased out physical education requirements in the state’s public elementary schools to allow students more time for academic subjects during a time the push for academics reached its zenith. The problem, the state then found, was kids started getting an “A” in fatness and an “F” in fitness. Research shows that more than a third of school kids in Texas suffer from weight problems and, as a result, those children are pre-disposed to adult onset diabetes.
In an attempt to breathe new life into physical education (PE) classes, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 530 into law requiring testing of more than 4 million Texas students. In addition, kindergarten through fifth graders will be required to exert for 30 minutes during PE or structured recess, which students will begin this fall, and that level of activity must be moderate to vigorous. Starting the next school year of fall 2008, sixth through eighth graders will be added to the program and must participate in moderate to vigorous activity four out of six school semesters either for 30 minutes daily, 125 minutes during a school week or 225 minutes over two school weeks, allowing schools some flexibility in scheduling.
The law is expected to trim growing numbers of overweight and obese children. Kenneth Cooper, known as the “father of aerobics” for his “aerobics points” program in the ’70s, created and initiated the bill’s concept, which was authored and introduced by Sen. Jane Nelson. Corresponding House Bill 1257 was introduced by Rep. Rob Eissler.
“This legislation is critically needed to improve the health of our student population, far too many of whom are overweight and at risk of chronic diseases. We have a responsibility to ensure basic health and exercise for our young people so that they can live long, healthy lives,” said Nelson in a statement.
As part of the bill, more than 4 million third through 12th grade students in 8,000 public and private schools will undergo yearly tests — the first acting as a baseline to guide the development of the program. The tests will measure physical performance and its affect on student academic achievement levels, attendance levels, obesity, disciplinary problems and meal programs, specifically if students eat breakfast at home or what they bring for lunch verses eating at the school cafeteria.
The Texas Education Agency will select the assessment tool and oversee the testing of the program. Results are expected to be shared with the legislature in the fall of 2008. Parents can request their child’s physical fitness assessment results at the end of the school year.