by Arthur L. Caplan & Lee H. Igel
NYU Sports & Society Program
The NBC TODAY show recently reported on 23 elementary schools in Orange County, Florida, that have been reducing recess to minutes per day or canceling it all together, so that more time can be spent in the classroom. Whoa. Let's get a grip, folks. In a nation of increasingly obese kids, getting rid of recess makes no sense.
Orange County schools aren't alone in the drive to keep kids locked in class all day. School administrators across the United States are making similar schedule changes. Why? Apparently, the drive to dismantle the jungle gyms of America is in response to Common Core examinations.
Less than five years ago, the governors of 45 states and the District of Columbia took up the Common Core standards. They began implementing them with the support of the Obama administration, which aimed at common standards and assessments as a means of comparing achievement in math, language arts, and literacy across schools in the states. In short order, teachers and students started orienting themselves towards the Common Core set of mandatory standardized tests. And because a mechanism in the Common Core discussion often ties teachers' pay and job status to the results of student performance on those tests, many schools have taken the block of time regularly carved-out for recess and put it towards classroom time to teach the test.
Increasing numbers of school administrators, teachers unions, and policymakers have taken the position that there simply isn't enough time in the day to accomplish what needs to be done for students. If so, the solution is not to do away with recess. Instead, either lengthen the school year or think about cutting back on the teaching load.
For those committed to keeping kids in the classroom, which keeps them away from the playground, consider the following:
- Rates of childhood obesity have more than doubled in children during the past 30 years and about 18% of children in the U.S. are obese, according to both a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association;
- Countries that are internationally regarded as having the best education systems, such as Finland, schedule time for students to have unstructured breaks throughout the day;
- Activities—physical, emotional, cognitive, and social—that children regularly engage in during recess are essential to development and well-being, in childhood and throughout the lifespan.
- Kids eat better and healthier when they get recess.
"Preparing America's students for success" is one of the slogans often trumpeted by the Common Core initiative. It is a terrific aspiration—and an even better objective. But if you ask most parents, teachers and students, they will tell you that, under current conditions, it is closer to imprisonment than education.
With physical education classes now almost non-existent in our schools, recess needs to be a part of the school day. Students—and teachers—need occasional, repeated breaks from their work. It's how the human body and mind get repaired and recharged.
Cramming more and more into the same number of school days makes no sense. If teaching everything is a necessity, which we doubt is the norm, then keeping kids active and healthy is no place to make a sacrifice. If you think hyperactivity and attention deficit are problems now, let's see what happens in a school day with no recess and no physical activity.