Schools Attach ‘Fat Monitors’ to Students [short]

Published February 5, 2012

Missouri’s Parkway School District recently purchased 400 electronic devices to track 2,500 elementary students’ physical activity, first during gym classes this spring and possibly 24/7 after that.

The Polar Active monitors track a person’s heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, and even sleep patterns with a watch-like display. Physical education teachers can access data online collected from the monitors to view, analyze, and evaluate their students’ progress.

“This is another sign of public schools encroaching on the purview of the parents,” said Lisa Snell, Reason Foundation’s education research director. “The sentiments are in the right place, but it seems highly inappropriate as official school policy. It crosses the line.”

Public schools in New Jersey and New York have also put the monitors on students.

Obesity Concerns
Parkway ran a pilot program with the monitors in spring 2011, said Cathy Kelly, communications coordinator for Parkway School District. Kelly said the district decided in December 2011 to purchase more monitors, which run $90 each.

“It can help students set goals for themselves,” she said.

Parents previously reported they had not been consulted about having their children wear the monitors. After an outcry, the district decided it would only implement the rest of the program after getting parent consent.

The district intends to use the monitors in fourth and fifth grade PE classes in all 18 of Parkview’s elementary schools. About 2,500 Parkway students will use them this spring, Kelly said. The school plans to use student activity and sleep pattern information to study how these influence academic achievement.

One-third of Parkway students are considered overweight, Kelly said, so the district recently formed a Wellness Committee.

“Parents said health education was a priority for them,” Kelly said. “We want to teach our kids how to lead healthy, more active lifestyles.”

Fitness vs. Academics
The monitors help students stay responsible for achieving their fitness goals, said Ron Ramspott, Parkway’s health, outdoor, and physical education coordinator. He said fit students tend to score higher on reading and math exams.

Despite such potential benefits, Snell said, schools’ “core mission should not be to reduce obesity in America. It should be to educate.”

The monitors should last about five years, thus costing approximately $14 per student, Kelly said. Initially, students will wear the monitors only during PE, but may start wearing them outside of PE in a few years.

Image by Jason Carter.