Michigan Students May Be Forced To Be More Physical

Armen Hareyan's picture

The curriculum in the Michigan public school system may be getting a little more physical in the near future.

Attempting to stymie the increasing problem of childhood obesity, Michigan state Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo) has sponsored a piece of legislation that would require students in elementary and middle schools to participate in at least one hour a week of physical education. Citing the Legislature's constitutional power to promote and protect public health, Mr. George's bill would obligate schools to not only provide students in grades K-5 with 30 minutes of phys-ed twice a week and students in grades 6-8 with 45 minutes a day for one semester but would also require 15 hours a year of health education in grades K-5 and 50 hours a year in middle school.

With the current law only requiring schools to provide some level of phys-ed and allowing participation in extracurricular activities or athletics to count toward the requirement, only 70% of Michigan's elementary and middle schools would be in compliance with Mr. George's proposal. "Schools have gotten away from this because they feel a lot of pressure to meet testing standards and they feel more classroom time is helpful for that, but studies show that's not the case," he said in an interview.

While the bill, which moved to the state's Senate Appropriations Committee last week, has received wide-ranging support from many state and non-state organizations, including the endorsement of the Department of Education and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, not everybody agrees with it. Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the recession and many feel that it is not the right time to be focusing on physical education requirements in public schools.

"Our state is in a budget crisis, and it's going to get worse in the next year or two. But our elected officials are dealing with issues like physical education, which most schools are already providing," Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Mike Shibler said in an interview with reporters. "Why are we focusing on this?" Kent Intermediate School District Assistant Superintendent Ron Koehler added that, no matter how admirable the bill's goals are, it comes "at the absolute worst time."

Thusfar, Mr. George remains undeterred by his outspoken critics and continues his efforts to push the bill through Michigan's legislature. "Students who exercise during the day are more alert, their brains are working better and their test results are better. So having less physical education results in lower academic performance," he said.

Peter Washkowitz

Add new comment