San Francisco’s elementary school students are not getting enough physical education, according to UC San Francisco researchers who spent several months last year observing gym classes at 28 San Francisco Unified School District campuses.
The researchers, led by Dr. Kristine Madsen, an assistant professor of pediatrics, found fifth-graders at some elementary schools were getting as little as 15 minutes of physical activity each week. Only four of the 20 elementary schools the researchers visited provided children with the 100 weekly minutes of PE that California law requires.
“Lack of physical activity may be a far greater public health problem than obesity,” Madsen said, in a statement announcing the study’s release.
Students at the district’s middle and high schools, which have dedicated PE teachers, got more than the state-mandated 200 minutes a week for secondary students.
Because funding is tight, most elementary schools require classroom teachers to lead physical education classes. A handful of elementary PE specialists are paid with city money, and some parents’ associations raise money to hire consultants to teach PE.
The study found elementary schools with PE teachers offered children more physical activity. Many classroom teachers admitted to the researchers that they did not have enough time in the day to teach children PE as well as academic subjects.
Gentle Blythe, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, said that the findings would help the district improve its program.
“Teachers and principals say that having a dedicated PE teacher would assure that students get more PE,” Blythe said. “While this isn’t possible given the funding climate, the SFUSD is working together with the PE advocates and school principals to identify other approaches that will support increased PE in elementary
Blythe added the district will hire four new elementary PE specialists next year, on top of the 15 it employs already. The district has 73 elementary schools.
California law requires students to spend a minimum amount of time in physical education class. San Francisco’s elementary schools usually fail to meet that goal, while secondary schools exceeded it.
100: Minutes per week required for elementary students
76: Average minutes per week at elementary schools
200: Minutes per week required for middle and high school students
225: Average minutes for middle schools
234: Average minutes for high schools
Source: San Francisco Unified School District PE study