Why Is There a Lack of Physical Education Programs in Schools? (by Scott McDonald)

Carole Smith

Superintendent of PPS

501 North Dixon Street

Portland, OR


Dear Ms. Carole Smith:

My name is Scott McDonald and as a parent I am writing to express my concerns about the lack of physical education programs within Portland Public Schools.  Although I live in Sherwood, and my children do not attend the schools in Portland, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of physical activity for children.

In particular, there is a growing problem with child obesity in America today.   Roughly 24% of American children and adolescents are overweight and another 17% are obese.  This is due in large part to the lack of physical activity that children are engaged in.  In today’s world of video games, computers, and cell phones, the best opportunity for a child to learn about exercise is at school (given the significant portion of time children spend there).

I understand that cutbacks are taking place in your schools to save money.  I also realize that the school board’s primary focus is putting resources into areas that help kids achieve the criteria of meeting standardized scores.  But it makes sense to have kids who are also physically educated.  The chances of them performing better on standardized tests are probably higher.

Research has repeatedly shown that a quality PE program can increase student participation in physical activity as well as improve their performance in school.  I have personally witnessed these benefits with my own children in the Sherwood School District.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue of keeping physical education programs active in Portland Public Schools.  Please contact me to let me know that you have received my letter and to inform me of any ideas you may have.


Scott McDonald



Research Collection Based on the Following Question:  Why is there a lack of physical education programs in schools?


Hotakainan, Rob. “Worries Mount Over Lack of Physical Education in Schools.” McClatchy

 Newspaper.  January 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.

Summary:  Hotakainan refers specifically to my research question of why physical education programs are lacking in schools.  He states the most obvious reasons why cutbacks are happening across the country is to save money.  But it also talks about how childhood obesity is spiking and overall health is declining.  Congress is considering overhauling its federal education law early this year and want to include language that would pressure schools to offer more PE.

Commentary: This research is important in that it explains that schools are cutting physical education programs in order to save money despite that fact that there is an increase in child obesity.  But it also states there are attempts from Congress to change the federal education law to include PE programs.  Congress is offering many different physical education plans in an attempt to get kids exercising more.


Vidoni, Carla. “Promoting Physical Activity During Early Childhood.” Early Child Development

and Care. 181.9 (2011): 1261-69. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.

Summary:  This article focuses more on the facts of obesity in children due to the lack of physical activity.  One point of emphasis of this article was to provide pre-school teachers the basic knowledge of the ABC’s of movement skills in cases where there is not a physical education program. The teachers received information on how to include physical activity in their lesson planning on a daily basis.

Commentary:  This research is interesting in that it reiterates the problem of child obesity but states what some schools are doing to help combat the problem of PE cuts.  Although there are is no substitute for physical education programs, the teachers in the article realize the importance of physical activity and are doing what they can to contribute.


Charles, Katrina. “Most Kids Do Not Get Enough PE.” Children’s Health. (2012). Web. 21 Nov.


Summary:  Katrina talks about how schools may be cutting time for physical education to increase time for other subjects, in the hope of raising standardized test scores. Physical education is not a measurable outcome. . It touches on how physical education policies are still very vague and easily misinterpreted.

Commentary:  The strengths of this resource is that These are factors that  it’s the first time I’ve seen a reason for cutting the PE programs other than to save money.  It talks more about doing what it takes to achieve the criteria of meeting standardized scores  Schools say they’d be better off in devoting time to math and reading instead of physical education.


SLJ. “Physical Education Policies in Schools Sorely Lacking.” School Library Journal. June 2010.Web. Nov 2012.

Summary:  This article talks about how there’s an improvement in the number of states that require physical education in all grade levels, but most don’t mandate a specific amount of instructional time and about half have loopholes that allow waivers and exemptions from PE classes,

Commentary:  The source is strong in giving evidence on how there are ways around from mandating the required physical education hours.  For example, 43 percent of states allow required physical education credits to be earned through online physical education courses. Other substitutions include interscholastic sports, marching band, and cheerleading. Also, 30 states allow schools or districts to grant exemptions or waivers for physical education.


Issacs, Stephen, Swartz, Ava. “On the Front Lines of Childhood Obesity.”  American Journal of Public Health. 181.9 (2010): 2018. Web. 21 Nov 2012.

Summary:  This article states that more than one third of adults in this country are obese, up from about one in ten 50 years ago. The rate for adolescents is even more dramatic, going from one in twenty 30 years ago to a shocking one in six today. Equally alarming, obesity has become a byproduct of social and economic injustice: Obesity is more prevalent in poor communities and strikes minorities most. Obesity-related illnesses strain our health care system and harm whole communities.

Commentary:  Issacs and Swartz provide strong evidence that a big part of the obesity problem with both youth and adults are due to lack of physical activity.  When children aren’t exposed to physical education in school, the statistics provide evidence that it’s more likely that adults will become obese.




  1. Ashley LaBore


    I love your topic and i completly agree with you. This sentance ” In particular, there is a growing problem with child obesity in America today.” Is so true! It is horrible and then they dont provide the healthiest foods at lunch and now taking the physical education away they are just adding to the problem.I remember when i was in school we had a 50 min pe and 2 15 min recesses now they are cutting down on that as well. Ugh whats the next cut they are going to make, after school activities? They are educated peopel dont they know that physical activities help keep people healthy and thus make them do better in school? This statment makes me so mad “In today’s world of video games, computers, and cell phones, the best opportunity for a child to learn about exercise is at school (given the significant portion of time children spend there).” it is sad that this is what kids are doing now a days. Playing on the computer or video games they need to go outside and play. Nice paper very informative with your research.

    Ashley LaBore

  2. Nelle


    Although I do not consider myself an expert at technical or professional writing I do consider your letter to be well written. You get straight to the point and have a clear and concise tone. The statistics you included were very helpful to make your point even stronger. I wish you would have found some sort of information about Portland School System’s recent changes in Physical Education budgets, cutbacks or statistics relating specifically to Portland but I’m not sure how accessible that information is. I also wish you could have given some statistics about how children who are physically active also succeed mentally to back your statement about that in the 4th paragraph, but again, I’m not sure how easy that information is to find. You do a marvelous job of pulling in the reader with ethos by mentioning your own children and that you are a parent. It is likely that the superintendent is also a parent and might be more attracted to your writing because you connected with her about this.

    The research collection you created was so organized and easy to read! I wish I would have done mine that way. The first entry you made was very interesting. From what I gathered from it, the local school districts are the ones deciding to make the cutbacks and congress is creating alternative plans for physical education. The second entry you made was great too although I don’t think the information could help your argument. I know that some children are kinesthetic learners which means they must learn by moving and that a proper lesson plan includes aspects to reach kinesthetic, audio and visual learners equally. It’s great information you found, but you were right not to include it in this formal letter. I wonder if you could have made some strong comparisons with the statistics you gathered from the third and fourth sources. By comparing Portland’s decision to cut down on physical education to other states who have done so, and then compare the obesity numbers of the areas.

    Your writing was clear, to the point, easy to read and interesting. I think you did a wonderful job and the letter will serve it’s intended purpose. I hope you hear back from her! Great word choice; I noticed you rarely repeated words and had a strong, informative voice. Overall excellent job in my opinion.

  3. Krista buck


    I couldn’t agree more with everything you have said. Physical education is very important with the uprising in obese children, and i personally believe that if they are going to take out PE classes that they need to make it part of the teachers responsibility to make sure that children are getting a good hour of fitness a day weather its games or actually running. With cuts being made it is easy to see why cutting things like PE would be easiest, but i do not believe they are looking at the long term when they actually cut the classes. Anyways i really like your letter, it has some really good points and faces the fact that education classes should not be cut.

  4. Cam

    Great post, Scott. Your letter is spot on and delivers a strong message. As an avid health enthusiast I could not agree more with the statements that you made. I find it interesting that of all areas and fields of study, physical education seems to be first in line for cut backs. Like you said, there needs to be funds for other areas in standardized testing etc., but how can someone(especially a child) expect to fulfill academic requirements and continue to live a poor, unhealthy lifestyle? This brings up another piece of info you brought up: facts. With so many children and youth being overweight and obese, it makes complete sense for school districts to take strong initiative in health oriented programs. It would be a win-win. Once again, your letter is written and it makes a great proposal – well done!

  5. This is an extremely important topic! I’m so glad that someone covered it. It seems like we all blame a lack of physical education in school to children’s obesity yet we never back it up. There isn’t a lot in your letter to explain why PE is important, except that research shows. But you did give lots of explanations as to why the Portland school districts may be lacking the physical education in some of their schools. You made some great points that hopefully help to convince the director of the PSD that something needs to change.
    I think the part in this piece that has the most heart melting effect is the percentages at the beginning of the letter.

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