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Don’t put all the blame for fitness problem on schools

Submitted by on Tuesday, 9 December 2008 No Comment

You can cram for a quiz. You can cram for finals. You can cram for the SAT.

But I’m skeptical that it’s possible to cram for a physical education test.

Yet, that’s exactly what Big Guy’s school district was attempting this fall when it hired a physical education teacher to rotate among nine grade schools, where she provides an extra two hours’ instruction to fifth-graders twice a month.

Coincidence that California fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders are tested each spring in areas such as cardiovascular exercise, strength, flexibility and endurance? I doubt it.

What’s worse is the district pointed to the new program as the reason a higher percentage of its fifth-graders — 72.3 percent — passed the aerobic fitness test than in the county as a whole, where 58.6 percent were aerobically fit.

What the district is glossing over: Only 26.6 percent of fifth-graders passed all six tests. That’s not so far ahead of the rest of the county, at 24.2 percent. And it trails the state’s still-dismal 28.5 percent, according to 2007-08 results posted on the California Department of Education Web site.

You have to swallow a heap of audacious spin to buy the district’s story anyway. The test results are from the previous school year; the traveling PE teacher was hired this year, according to a newsletter from the superintendent sent home with Big Guy this fall.

At least the state’s reaction was candid: It means we’re still not very healthy,” said Dr. Linda Hooper, consultant for the standards and assessment division of the state Department of Education, told The Los Angeles Times. “There’s definitely room to improve.”

Still, I’m blaming the local district only for its feeble attempt to gloss over a serious problem, not for the problem itself.

California fifth-graders are in school 54,000 minutes a year, 3,600 of which by law are devoted to physical education. Who’s in charge of them the other 471,948 minutes of each year?

We are.

How do we let them spend their minutes? According to a study the nonprofit Common Sense Media released last week, the bulk of it — 140,400 — is with computers, televisions, magazines and electronic games.

The study — actually a study of 173 previous studies conducted since 1980 — found that 93 percent of the research showed “negative health outcomes” associated with heavy media use.

Although less than half the studies examined media use and weight, 86 percent that looked at that issue found a connection between media exposure and childhood obesity. Wii Fit’s not the medium they’re talking about here, and the connection isn’t a good one.

I give the state credit for trying to take care of a serious problem that we, the parents, have failed to address. The test was implemented in 1998 and, although there are no penalties for schools, teens who can’t pass five of six tests now are required to take extra years of physical education.

And I’ll take my share of the discredit, too. Physical feats are not my forte, though we put in our time in the summer and when Big Guy’s in school. He’s been off since Thanksgiving, though, and we’ve been slacking beyond our evening bouts of balloon volleyball.

I’d blame it on the cold, but that’s just me being a wimp. Freezing temperatures and feet of snow never bothered me when I was a kid. Why should chilly fog stop me now?

I think it’s time to squeeze into my tiniest jeans tomorrow for a literal and figurative gut check and march the guys around the neighborhood. I bet they’ll fall for it if I bill it as a tour Christmas lights in the evening.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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