What About PE? - A Great Series by KUOW

KUOW's Ann Dornfeld has done a three-part series on PE in public schools that is both informative and illuminating.  Some of what she reports is troubling.

Part One - Seattle Area Kids Don't Get Enough P.E., but Who's Keeping Track?

This was the most troubling part as we find that neither SPS nor OSPI is really tracking what is a legal requirement.  In fact, SPS almost has a "all the other kids are doing it" attitude.

But a KUOW investigation found that few elementary schools in the Seattle area provide the required amount of P.E. In fact, not one of the eight Seattle-area school districts contacted by KUOW meets the state P.E. law.

Who is keeping track of how much P.E. students are getting? Not Olympia’s state school officials.
"We do not have a data collection mechanism in place," said Lisa Rakoz, the health and fitness education program supervisor at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"We trust that school districts will comply with all of the rules and regulations," Rakoz said.

I find that last one laughable because if districts tried to not follow other state dictates, they would probably be in a lot of trouble.

Equally troubling from SPS' own director of P.E., Lori Dunn:

In Seattle Public Schools, Lori Dunn, the Physical Education Program manager, said she doesn’t know how many district schools are out of compliance with the state’s P.E. law.

"Because there hadn’t really been an accountability piece throughout our state, it hasn’t been policed," Dunn said.

Uh, could the district not just be accountable on its own?

 Part Two - Recess Shrinks at Seattle Schools; Poor Schools Fare Worst

In Seattle, the length of recess varies dramatically from school to school – from an hour to just 15 minutes.

The investigation also revealed that schools with the shortest recess times have more low-income students and students of color. 

Many principals – especially those at schools with a higher percentage of low-income students – said they limit recess to avoid discipline problems.

Whoa.  Kids don't get needed fresh air, social time and activity because principals can't keep the peace?  Something's not right about that.

Once again, a puzzling statement from P.E. Director, Lori Dunn:

"Actually, I haven’t been aware of the trend in data, but I could realize that it’s true," said Lori Dunn, the physical education program manager for Seattle Public Schools.

 Part Three - Recess, Once Free Time, Gets an Overhaul

Big signs – and supervisors – direct students to organized games on different areas of the playground.
Each game has schoolwide rules, and each is supervised by a 4th or 5th grader wearing a neon yellow safety vest.

Bellevue School District did what a growing number of schools around the country have done, and hired a national organization called Playworks to make-over recesses at the district’s highest-poverty elementary schools.

But, in interviewing a couple of second graders, Dornfeld found they said they would like a mix of structured and free play.

Jia nodded. "So you get a chance to play with your friends, and you get a chance to play Playworks games, and it would be super-fun," she said.

Here's an interesting scenario:

As a Playworks recess began at Ardmore, two young boys hadn’t chosen a game.

Instead, they stood on the sidelines, gazing up at the sky.

Norton tried to hustle them to a game.

"You could play soccer, or they have another game over here, with Patty," Norton said. "What are you going to go play? Make a decision! Recess goes fast!"

One of the boys looked at her and smiled.

“We’re just looking at the clouds," he said.

Good for you, boys.


Just Like Heaven said…
come up with your own stuff
Anonymous said…
I actually very much appreciate the postings of other education stories of local interest here on this blog. I often don't get a chance to search for education stories more broadly and this allows me the opportunity to be better informed.

Thanks, Melissa!

robyn said…
Thanks for posting this Melissa. I would have missed the KUOW report otherwise. The lack of PE at one of my kids' schools coupled with the very short recess and lack of a proper playground has me incredibly annoyed.
RecessRenewal supporter said…
Just Like Heaven - go troll somewhere else - you're already tiresome.

My first thought is, the Dunn person would be fired today, in the corporate America that I know. What are the chances in SPS?

Second thought - I didn't know there was a legal requirement for PE/recess time in WA public schools. Do we know what it is, or where to find this written? I think parents really could rally around to pressure at the school principal level, to ensure the time is structured in and monitored.

Third - definitely going to research Playworks - brilliant idea to help ensure fun actual movement opportunities, encouragement and inclusion at recess!

Anonymous said…
I heard the recess story on KUOW and was conflicted about Playworks and the effort to make recess structured. Monitored sure, but structured?

Recess is an outlet for kids and a fantastic time for imagination and to just have free play. Adults don't need to get involved and manage it (IMHO). And there is some study (from New Zealand maybe? will have to go look it up) that unstructured time actually leads to less conflict in the classroom, and a chance to practice conflict resolution.

When my daughter was in 1st grade or so, she and her classmates would play Kitten and Unicorns and there were no rules at all, you just picked to be a kitten or unicorn and it went from there. Anyone could join, they worked the details out themselves. And they played it at recess for at least half a year.

So glad KUOW is doing this series on recess and PE and the benefits of both !

Anonymous said…
Here's the Auckland school study that I think katydid is referring to:


Eric B said…
As long as the kids in the story are allowed to keep looking at the sky, I'm mostly OK with Playworks.
Playworks is fantastic. The provide opportunities for structured play during recess, but do not force kids to participate if they do not want to. Most kids choose to. I was part of a pilot at Roxhill a few years ago and we say conflicts during recess decrease 20% due to the program. I would love to find funding to provide Playworks training to all schools in the district

In terms of PE, the district manager, Lori Dunn, is responsible for getting a HUGE grant for the district that has put in place a state of the art board adopted PE curriculum, training for PE teachers, equipment, and much more- so that every school in the district has the chance of an excellent PE program.
However, all PE teachers are hired and supervised at the building level by the principal, not Ms. Dunn. The principals choose their staff, keep staff who may not choose to use the curricula or attend training, and set the school schedule (i.e. the amount of minutes or PE provided).
The current revision of the PE policy is bringing light to these problems and attempting to address the systemic issues so that all kids in the district can benefit.
A strong PE policy can set high standards AND brings this issue to the attention of district leadership (the board, the superintendent, etc), allowing for positive change.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools