Schools, Districts Weigh Web PE

Published January 1, 2006

With the percentage of U.S. children and adolescents who are overweight tripling over the past 40 years, and with children spending more and more time in front of the television and on the Internet, some health advocates question the appropriateness of a physical education program predicated on the use of computers.

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), a national nonprofit group that develops and advocates sports and physical education programs in schools, 16 percent of the nation’s youth between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight–setting them up for an obese adulthood and a host of health problems that go with it, including greater risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The group had not established a formal position regarding online physical education at press time.

“The board of directors has placed online physical education programs on their agenda for the December board meeting,” said Paula Kun, director of communications at NASPE. “The board recognizes that online physical education requires their attention and expertise.”

Experts Are Cautious

Kun noted that while certain elements of online physical education are promising, the NASPE board would be certain to examine whether those programs are actually delivering physical education, physical activity, or both. NASPE holds those terms are different but often used interchangeably. The organization contends physical education programs must encompass both learning and activity.

Jan Braaten, curriculum coordinator of physical education and health for Minneapolis Public Schools, which offers online physical education courses to students, understands why some PE professionals are cautious. She emphasized online physical education programs should serve only to complement traditional offerings.

“I think that the online physical education courses we have are not intended to ever replace the traditional course,” Braaten said. “We just want as many students to learn about their own wellness and physical fitness as we can in Minneapolis.”

Skepticism Allayed by Experience

Online classes in a variety of subjects are growing in popularity, according to a study released in March 2005 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). About one-third of public school districts across the United States have students currently enrolled in distance-learning courses, a large portion of which are offered online. The study projected nearly 75 percent of the districts already offering distance education are likely to expand their selections.

“It is great to be able to use technology to give students options in additional coursework and more flexibility in their schedules,” Susan Patrick, director of the Department’s Office of Educational Technology, told School Reform News in April 2005, when the NCES report was released.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer living in New Mexico. She formerly worked with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC.

For more information …

For more information on physical fitness standards and statistics, visit the National Association for Sport and Physical Education’s Web site at