Pinellas elementary schools are being pushed to cut daily physical education, compressing the 150 weekly minutes of P.E. required by the state into three days instead of five.
Although most research supports daily P.E. for young children, central office administrators say the move to three days would simplify school schedules and make it easier to calculate data for teacher evaluations.
Currently, most Pinellas elementary students take an art class and a music class each week for about 50 minutes, in addition to 30 minutes a day for P.E. Grouping P.E. into 50-minute blocks, three times a week, would create a consistent time of day for a student to be out of a teacher's classroom for all extracurriculars. Some students attend intensive reading and math classes during these periods.
Bill Lawrence, the associate superintendent for teaching and learning, said the district has been paying close attention to "making sure students are tied to teachers" because of new evaluations that base a large chunk of teachers' performance of student test scores. This calculation is known as the "value-added model," or VAM score.
"It's just part of the new reality that it's important to know who the teacher of record is every minute of the day in this new world of VAM," Lawrence said. "It's just easier to have a clean master schedule."
District officials recently sent a memo to elementary school principals saying they "highly recommend" offering P.E. three times a week: "This scheduling method will attach students to the right teachers for roster verification (VAM scores)."
Lisa Grant, the district's director of professional development, said there may be other benefits to grouping P.E. into fewer but longer blocks. For instance, less time getting classes started and wrapped up could mean more play time for kids.
For teachers, a more streamlined week could make meeting for planning time easier, said Bill Corbett, the area superintendent who oversees elementary schools.
But the recommendation fell flat with many of the district's P.E. teachers, Linda Fairman, a teacher at Cross Bayou Elementary in Pinellas Park, called the proposed switch to non-daily P.E. a "disservice and detriment to children."
"We would never tell those kids we're going to have more breakfast three days a week, rather than have breakfast every day of the week," Fairman said. "It just is not acceptable. It's not what we'd ever do."
Jason Wood, president of the Pinellas County Health, Physical Education and Driver's Education Association, teaches P.E. at Lakeview Fundamental Elementary in St. Petersburg. He said his students look forward to P.E. all day, checking to see what equipment is set up as soon as their parents drop them off in the morning.
"Kids need that break from the day. It helps them to relieve stress, it helps them to feel better about themselves," Wood said.
Susan Fisher, a P.E. teacher at McMullen-Booth Elementary, said daily P.E. has reduced discipline cases at the Clearwater campus by allowing children to blow off steam.
Florida law requires school districts to provide 150 minutes of P.E. to elementary school students each week, but allows each district discretion to slice up that time. Hillsborough County public schools offer daily P.E. at elementary schools, although some sessions are supervised by the classroom teacher instead of a P.E. instructor.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. A February study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine pointed to daily P.E. in schools as the best way to make sure children are meeting that goal.
Physical education in schools has been linked not only to physical development and lower rates of obesity, but also stress reduction, improved self-confidence and increased motor skills.
Pinellas school officials counter that some elementary schools already are offering P.E. three times a week. The change hasn't reduced the number of minutes dedicated to P.E., just shuffled it around. Additionally, while the district has made a strong recommendation, principals have the final say.
"There are competing priorities which need to be met to provide sound curriculum to students," Superintendent Michael Grego said in an emailed statement. "The district provides recommendations based on various factors, but ultimately the scheduling is done by schools in order to best meet student needs."
Steven Fay, who teaches P.E. at Highland Lakes Elementary in Palm Harbor, said that teachers at his school were all against the shift, and it appears that the school won't shuck daily P.E.
"It's not student-driven, it's so teachers will have this 'roster verification,'" Fay said. "If we're talking about this so we can be clerically correct, are we really doing the right thing?"
Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).