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Physical Education Standards

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Physical education standards exist to promote uniformity and a minimum level of competency among students across local district and state boundaries in both primary and secondary grades. Generally, physical education standards seek to ensure that students attain a reasonable level of physical fitness. Not every student is expected to be a star athlete. However, all students are given the opportunity to engage in physical activities, such as dance and sports. While engaging in these activities, students gain an appreciation for the benefits of physical exercise and how physical exertion contributes to a healthy life.

National Physical Education Standards

The most widely used physical education standards were designed by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), a professional non-profit organization. The NASPE promotes standards for students in grades kindergarten through high school. The standards promote the concept of health literacy. Students are expected to gain a basic understanding of physical health and the skills necessary to further explore health-related issues.

The adoption of these physical education standards is a voluntary process. States and local districts are not required to adopt the recommendations of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Some states prefer to develop their own physical education standards. For example, California's physical education standards were developed by the state's board of education.

Impact on Physical Education Departments

It would be strange indeed if physical education in elementary and secondary school were to die out at a time when the nation’s consumers annually spend billions on fitness. It need not happen.  Physical fitness programs should change their image in the public mind. One extreme example could be instead of being associated with the “gym” and the “stadium”, they should be associated with the “spa” and the “classroom”.  The old gymnasium, in fact, should gradually disappear and should be replaced with a spa.

Physical education departments have an enormous opportunity to gain prestige, political clout, and the funding that go with them, if they will make changes, both in terms of substance and image, that link them not with “play” but with “health”.  That opportunity is a function of the fact that exercise is now gaining enormous attention in the popular press in terms of its healthful effects.  It is now generally understood that, in the words of Page, “The connection between regular exercise and good health grows stronger with every study that investigates this crucial component of a healthy life style.” 

A New Look at "Physical Education"

It should also be noted that the term “exercise” is no longer viewed simplistically by the public.  People are now aware, as never before, that it is a subject about which there is a great deal to know.  Physical education instructors should, individually and collectively, attain a high level of expertise in this field.  Heyward speaks of exercise plans as “prescriptions”. Physical educators should be knowledgeable enough to “prescribe” in this field.  The curriculum that trains them should make them competent to do so.  And the public, viewed not only as parents but also as school administrators and politicians, should be made to understand that physical education professionals can play an important role in maintaining the physical health of students.  Instructors should strive to be the “personal fitness trainers” for their students.  If they do so, and if parents understand that that is what their role now is, then programs now in danger of elimination will be quite, quite safe.

Physical education professionals must recast their role in several ways. 

  1. Identify themselves more closely with health education. 
  2. Recognize the influence of exercise on mind.
  3. Push for Physical Education Standards at the State and Federal Level
  4. Rethink the approach to physical education and focus on holistic health

At a time when there is a thrust within the educational establishment to produce higher achievement in academic test scores, and at a time when school budgets are being stressed by a spiraling set of demands made upon them, physical education programs are under attack.  Many academicians and legislators, labeling these programs as recreational in nature, as being expensive frills that contribute little or nothing to a “real” (i.e. “academic”) education, would shut them down.  I believe that if physical educators are willing to change their programs somewhat, and willing to show some flexibility with respect to new public moods and new educational fashions, then they can easily defend physical education’s place in the modern curriculum.