oversight

K-12 Education: School-Based Physical Education and Sports Programs

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-02-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                United States Government Accountability Office

GAO             Report to Congressional Requesters




February 2012
                K-12 EDUCATION

                School-Based Physical
                Education and Sports
                Programs




GAO-12-350
                                            February 2012

                                            K-12 EDUCATION
                                            School-Based Physical Education and Sports
                                            Programs
Highlights of GAO-12-350, a report to
congressional requesters




Why GAO Did This Study                      What GAO Found
Physical activity is a crucial part of      While the most recent national data show instruction time for PE decreased from
preventing or reducing childhood            2000 to 2006, officials GAO interviewed stated that school sports opportunities
obesity, and may also yield important       have generally increased in recent years. Specifically, the percentage of schools
academic and social benefits.               that offered PE at least 3 days a week decreased from 2000 to 2006, but the
However, many children do not attain        percentage of schools that required students in each grade to take some PE
the level of daily physical activity        increased during the same period. For example, the estimated percentage of
recommended by the Centers for              schools that required PE in ninth grade increased from 13 percent in 2000 to 55
Disease Control and Prevention              percent in 2006. Moreover, states, districts, and schools appear to have
(CDC). Schools are uniquely
                                            increased emphasis on the quality of PE programs, such as helping students
positioned to provide students
                                            develop lifelong fitness skills, according to national data and GAO interviews.
opportunities to increase physical
activity through physical education
                                            Data on high school students show that participation in PE varies by grade level
(PE) classes and involvement in sports      but not by gender or across racial groups. In addition, most state, district, and
teams. In view of the federal               school officials GAO interviewed said opportunities to participate in
government’s role in promoting the          interscholastic sports have increased, particularly for girls, and that many schools
health and welfare of children, the         have responded to increased demand by adding new sports teams over the last
Congress is currently considering a         few years.
number of proposals aimed in part at
                                            Estimated Percentage of Schools Offering PE in All Grades at Least 3 Days a Week
increasing the physical activity of
youth. To assist the Congress as it
considers options for increasing
physical activity among students, GAO
was asked to review (1) the status of
opportunities for elementary and
secondary school students to
participate in school-based physical
education or sports activities; and (2)
what challenges schools face in
providing physical education and
sports opportunities. To conduct this
study, GAO reviewed federal survey
data; interviewed state, district, and
school officials in selected states, as     Schools GAO visited cited several challenges to providing PE and sports
well as federal officials and others with   opportunities but have found ways to alleviate some of the challenges associated
relevant expertise; reviewed relevant       with sports. In particular, school officials said that budget cuts and inadequate
federal laws and regulations; and           facilities have affected their ability to provide PE opportunities. For example,
reviewed studies on the benefits of
                                            officials from one school district GAO visited reported reducing PE instruction
physical education and sports for
                                            time because of limited funding for instructors. Other schools, such as one where
students.
                                            the gym doubled as the cafeteria, lack dedicated space to use for PE. In addition,
                                            school officials reported challenges in providing sports opportunities, as issues
GAO makes no recommendations in             related to transportation, facilities, and staffing have been compounded by
this report. The Departments of             budgetary constraints. For example, officials from some schools said funding to
Education and Health and Human              transport students to outside facilities for practices or games was limited. Other
Services provided technical comments,       school officials cited difficulty in attracting quality coaches because of low pay
which were incorporated as                  and the large amount of time involved. Even so, some schools have mitigated
appropriate.                                some challenges related to sports by relying heavily on outside funding sources
View GAO-12-350. For more information,      such as booster clubs and gate receipts and leveraging community facilities.
contact Linda Calbom at (206) 287-4809 or   Additionally, some schools charge student fees for sports activities, which may
calboml@gao.gov.
                                            be a barrier for lower-income students. However, many schools waive such fees.
                                                                                        United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                 1
              Background                                                               4
              While PE Instruction Time Has Decreased, Officials Said School
                Sports Opportunities Have Generally Increased                          7
              Schools Cited Resource Challenges to Providing PE and Sports
                Opportunities but Have Mitigated Some of Them                        14
              Concluding Observations                                                18
              Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                     18

Appendix I    Estimated Percentage of All Middle and High Schools That Offered
              Interscholastic Sports in 2006, by School Level                        20



Appendix II   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                  21



Figures
              Figure 1: Estimated Percentage of Schools Offering PE Daily or at
                       Least 3 Days per Week, in 2000 and 2006                         8
              Figure 2: Estimated Percentage of Schools That Required Some PE,
                       by Grade and Year                                               9
              Figure 3: Estimated Percentage of High School Students Who
                       Attend PE Daily or at Least Once Per Week, by Grade
                       Level                                                         11




              Page i                                            GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Abbreviations

CDC               Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
HHS               Department of Health and Human Services
NASPE             National Association for Sports and Physical Education
PE                physical education
SHPPS             School Health Policies and Practices Survey
YRBS              Youth Risk Behavior Survey


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Page ii                                                        GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   February 29, 2012

                                   The Honorable Tom Harkin
                                   Chairman
                                   Committee on Health, Education, Labor,
                                      and Pensions
                                   United States Senate

                                   The Honorable Mike McIntyre
                                   House of Representatives

                                   In the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has increased
                                   considerably, almost tripling for children aged 6 to 11 years. Along with
                                   this increase, the rate of childhood health problems commonly associated
                                   with obesity, such as hypertension and type II diabetes, has also risen,
                                   leading some policy makers to rank childhood obesity as a critical health
                                   threat. In a 2005 report, we highlighted expert views that increasing
                                   physical activity is the most important strategy in any program aimed at
                                   preventing or reducing childhood obesity. 1 In addition to its positive health
                                   benefits, research on physical activity among children also suggests a
                                   strong correlation between children’s fitness and their academic
                                   performance, as measured by grades in core subjects and scores on
                                   standardized tests. Moreover, some experts contend that physical activity
                                   provides both personal and social benefits, including the development of
                                   leadership skills and increased self-esteem. The Department of Health
                                   and Human Services’ (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
                                   state that children aged 6 to 17 years should get at least 60 minutes of
                                   physical activity each day, but the agency acknowledges that most
                                   children do not attain this recommended level.

                                   Schools are uniquely positioned to be an access point for students to
                                   engage in physical activity through physical education classes and sports
                                   teams. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
                                   (CDC), quality physical education can serve as the cornerstone of a
                                   comprehensive school-based physical activity program because it
                                   provides a unique opportunity for students to obtain the knowledge and


                                   1
                                    GAO, Childhood Obesity: Most Experts Identified Physical Activity and the Use of Best
                                   Practices as Key to Successful Programs, GAO-06-127R (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 7,
                                   2005).




                                   Page 1                                                        GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
skills needed to establish and maintain physically active lifestyles
throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. Toward that
end, CDC promotes the National Association for Sports and Physical
Education’s (NASPE) guidelines for physical education, which
recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week of physical
education instruction to elementary school students and 225 minutes per
week to middle and high school students. Other school-based physical
activities, such as interscholastic and intramural sports, should
complement rather than take the place of physical education by providing
opportunities to practice and apply the skills taught during physical
education, according to CDC. 2

In view of the federal government’s role in promoting the health and
welfare of children, the Congress is currently considering a number of
proposals aimed in part at increasing physical activity of youth. 3 To assist
the Congress as it considers options for increasing physical activity for
students, we reviewed: (1) the status of opportunities for elementary and
secondary school students to participate in school-based physical
education or sports activities; and (2) what challenges schools face in
providing physical education and sports opportunities.

In conducting this work, we reviewed data from two CDC national data
sets, the 2000 and 2006 School Health Policies and Practices Survey
(SHPPS) and the 2005 and 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS),
which address opportunities for students to participate in school-based
physical education and sports activities. 4 SHPPS collects survey
information on school health programs and practices from state, district,
and school officials, and YRBS surveys students in grades 9 through 12
on health-risk behaviors. We reviewed existing documentation related to
SHPPS and YRBS data and determined that they are sufficiently reliable
for the purposes of this report. All SHPPS estimates used in this report
have margins of error at the 95 percent confidence level of plus or minus
7 percentage points or less, unless otherwise noted. All percentage


2
 In interscholastic sports, teams from different schools compete against one another. In
intramural sports, students from a single school compete against each other.
3
 See, for example, H.R. 422, H.R. 1057, H.R. 1531, H.R. 2816, S. 174, S. 392, S. 576,
and S. 919.
4
  Because the most recent SHPPS data are from 2006, they do not reflect any changes
that may have occurred as a result of the recession that began in December 2007.




Page 2                                                         GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
estimates from YRBS used in this report have margins of error at the 95
percent confidence level of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points or less,
unless otherwise noted. We also interviewed officials at the Department
of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, state
educational agencies, state high school athletic associations, school
districts, and schools about opportunities for and barriers to participation
in physical education and sports. To obtain a more in-depth
understanding of issues related to school-based sports and physical
education, we conducted site visits to California, Illinois, New York, and
North Carolina. We selected these states based on geographic
dispersion, childhood obesity rate, and variation in state requirements for
physical education programs. Within each state, we selected a
nongeneralizable sample of districts and schools based on location (rural,
urban, and suburban), school level (elementary, middle, and high), and
the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. 5 We
also considered any known innovative practices in selecting schools.
Based on our sample selection, we interviewed officials from four state
educational agencies, four state high school athletic associations, seven
districts, and 13 schools. In addition, we interviewed others with relevant
expertise, including researchers and representatives of professional trade
associations to gain additional perspectives on these issues. We also
reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, as well as studies on the
benefits of sports and physical education for students.

We conducted our work from March 2011 to February 2012 in
accordance with all sections of GAO’s Quality Assurance Framework that
are relevant to our objectives. The framework requires that we plan and
perform the engagement to meet our stated objectives and to discuss any
limitations in our work. We believe that the information and data obtained,
and the analysis conducted, provide a reasonable basis for any findings
and conclusions in this product.




5
 Data on the percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch come from the
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of
Data (CCD), "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey", 2009-10.




Page 3                                                       GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Background
Prevalence and                 According to CDC, approximately 12.5 million children aged 2 to 19 years
Consequences of Obesity        are obese. 6 The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents
among U.S. Children            has nearly tripled since 1980. Childhood obesity can cause a number of
                               harmful effects on health, including high blood pressure and cholesterol,
                               breathing problems and asthma, and increased risk of type II diabetes.
                               This rise in obesity-related health conditions also introduces added
                               economic costs. The annual direct costs of childhood obesity in the
                               United States are estimated at about $14.3 billion. 7 Moreover, because
                               studies suggest that obese children are likely to become overweight or
                               obese adults—particularly if they are obese during adolescence—the
                               increase in the number of obese children may also contribute to additional
                               health care expenditures when they become adults. One study estimated
                               the medical costs of obesity to be as high as $147 billion per year in
                               2008. 8 Nearly half of all medical spending related to adult obesity is
                               financed by the public sector, through Medicaid and Medicare.


Benefits of Participating in   Research indicates that increased physical activity in general, and
Physical Education and         physical education (PE) and sports participation in particular, yields a
Sports                         number of important benefits for elementary and secondary students,
                               including:

                               •   Health benefits—Research has shown that regular physical activity for
                                   youth can benefit them in a number of ways, including helping build
                                   and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helping control
                                   weight and reduce fat; and preventing or delaying the development of


                               6
                                National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), CDC, National Center for
                               Health Statistics. For children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years, obesity is defined as a
                                                                          th
                               body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95 percentile for children of the same age and
                               sex.
                               7
                                R. Hammond and R. Levine, “The Economic Impact of Obesity in the United States,”
                               Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy (August 2010): 285-
                               295. According to CDC, direct medical costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment
                               services related to obesity. Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs, such as
                               the value of income lost from decreased productivity or premature death.
                               8
                                E.A. Finkelstein, J.G. Trogdon, J.W. Cohen, and W. Dietz, “Annual Medical Spending
                               Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates.” Health Affairs 2009; 28(5):
                               w822-w831.




                               Page 4                                                          GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                                 high blood pressure. One study concluded that expanding PE
                                 programs in schools may be an effective intervention for combating
                                 obesity in the early years, especially among girls. 9

                            •    Academic benefits—A growing body of evidence indicates a
                                 relationship between PE and sports and academic attainment and
                                 attendance. A 2010 CDC report that examined 50 existing studies
                                 found positive associations between academic performance and both
                                 PE and school-based sports. 10 Specifically, it concluded there is
                                 substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic
                                 achievement, including grades and standardized test scores. Further,
                                 it suggested physical activity can affect cognitive skills, attitudes, and
                                 academic behavior, including enhanced concentration, attention, and
                                 improved classroom behavior, and concluded that increasing or
                                 maintaining time dedicated to physical education might help academic
                                 performance.

                            •    Personal and social benefits—A number of studies provide some
                                 support for the premise that physical activity, and sports in particular,
                                 can positively affect aspects of personal development among young
                                 people, such as self-esteem, goal-setting, and leadership. 11 However,
                                 evidence indicates that the quality of coaching is a key factor in
                                 maximizing positive effects.

Federal, State, and Local   The federal government supports efforts to increase the amount of time
Roles                       children spend being physically active, including within the school context.
                            For example:

                            •    CDC funds 22 states and 1 tribal government to help schools develop
                                 a systematic approach to school health, including physical education,
                                 through its promotion of a coordinated school health strategy. It also


                            9
                             A. Datar, and R. Sturm, “Physical Education in Elementary School and Body Mass Index:
                            Evidence from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study,” American Journal of Public
                            Health, vol. 94, no. 9 (September 2004): 1501-1506.
                            10
                             Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human
                            Services, The Association between School Based Physical Activity, Including Physical
                            Education, and Academic Performance (Atlanta, Ga.: 2010).
                            11
                             For example, see D. Gould and S. Carson, “Personal Development through Sport,” in
                            Hebestreit, H., & Bar-Or, O. (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine - The Young
                            Athlete, (p. 287-301) (Oxford: Blackwell Science, 2008).




                            Page 5                                                       GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
    publishes the Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool, which is
    designed to help school districts develop or enhance physical
    education curricula.

•   The Department of Education administers the Carol M. White Physical
    Education Program, which awards grants to districts and community-
    based organizations to initiate or enhance physical education
    programs. In fiscal year 2011, the program had a budget of nearly $79
    million, and funded 76 new awards and 152 continuation awards.

•   The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition includes the
    President’s Challenge program, which assists schools in assessing
    student fitness levels, motivating and awarding student physical
    activity participation, and awarding model school PE programs.

•   In 2010, the President launched the White House Task Force on
    Childhood Obesity, in conjunction with the First Lady’s Let’s Move!
    initiative aimed at increasing physical activity.

•   The Department of Agriculture runs the HealthierUS School
    Challenge, an initiative to recognize schools that have created
    healthier school environments through the promotion of nutrition and
    physical activity.

At the state and district levels, various parties may be involved in
providing students with opportunities in PE or sports. For example, many
states have requirements regarding schools’ provision of PE, according to
CDC. However, policies may vary by state or district, such as the required
grades in which PE should be offered, the number of minutes students
should be in class, or the specific content and curriculum areas that
should be taught. For extracurricular athletics, the National Federation of
State High School Associations provides leadership for the administration
of most high school interscholastic sports—the main form of
extracurricular athletic competition in schools, which includes varsity and
junior varsity level teams. In turn, each state has its own state high school
athletic association that is a voluntary member of the federation.




Page 6                                               GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
While PE Instruction
Time Has Decreased,
Officials Said School
Sports Opportunities
Have Generally
Increased

PE Instruction Time Has
Decreased, but Schools
Increasingly Require Some
PE in Each Grade
Opportunities               The amount of PE instruction time that schools offer to students generally
                            decreased from 2000 to 2006, according to SHPPS data, and relatively
                            few schools offered students the opportunity to participate in daily PE or
                            its instructional equivalent, as recommended by NASPE (see fig. 1). 12
                            National data show that a higher percentage of middle schools offered
                            daily PE than did elementary or high schools. Schools we visited differed
                            widely in the amount of PE instruction time offered to their students. For
                            example, only 3 out of 13 schools we visited offered daily PE or its
                            instructional equivalent. These 3 schools had longer school days, which
                            officials said made it easier to fit PE into the daily schedule. Among the 4
                            elementary schools we visited, 1 provided all students a daily 60-minute
                            PE class, while another provided students just one 30-minute PE class
                            per week. 13




                            12
                               Daily physical education was defined as physical education that occurred for 36 weeks
                            (i.e., a typical school year) per school year for 150 minutes per week in elementary
                            schools and for 225 minutes per week in middle and high schools.
                            13
                              According to the 2006 SHPPS, most elementary schools provided regularly scheduled
                            recess as another opportunity to offer physical activity to their students.




                            Page 7                                                        GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                                                                                                              14
Figure 1: Estimated Percentage of Schools Offering PE Daily or at Least 3 Days per Week, in 2000 and 2006




                                         At the same time, the estimated percentage of schools that required
                                         students to take some PE increased at each grade level from 2000 to
                                         2006, particularly for grades at the middle and high school levels,
                                         according to SHPPS data (see fig. 2). For example, the estimated
                                         percentage of schools that required ninth grade students to take PE
                                         increased from 13 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2006.




                                         14
                                           SHPPS estimates used in this report have margins of error at the 95 percent confidence
                                         level of plus or minus 7 percentage points or less, unless otherwise noted.




                                         Page 8                                                       GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Figure 2: Estimated Percentage of Schools That Required Some PE, by Grade and Year




Program Standards and                  Although the amount of PE instruction time has decreased, emphasis on
Content                                the quality of PE programs appears to have increased, according to
                                       SHPPS data and comments from officials we interviewed. The
                                       percentage of states that required or encouraged districts or schools to
                                       follow NASPE-based PE standards—such as competency in motor skills
                                       and promotion of responsible personal and social behavior—increased



                                       Page 9                                             GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                from 59 percent in 2000 to 76 percent in 2006. 15 In 2006, an estimated 65
                percent of schools adopted such standards. 16 District and school officials
                with whom we spoke said PE curricula now focus less on traditional
                sports in favor of helping students develop lifelong skills. For instance,
                three schools we visited offered outdoor adventure-based activities that
                helped students develop problem solving and teamwork skills. At one
                middle school we visited, PE staff members taught students how to
                measure their body mass index and other indicators of fitness. In addition,
                some school and district officials we interviewed said offering students
                options may increase student participation in PE. For example, officials at
                one high school we visited said that each semester students could select
                two to three different sports or fitness activities from a range of options—
                such as flag football, tennis, or soccer—to fulfill their PE requirement.
                School officials noted that students were more engaged in PE because
                the options were designed to motivate students across a range of athletic
                abilities and interests. Moreover, several school officials we interviewed
                said they design their PE curriculum to encourage students to move as
                much as possible during PE class.

Participation   National data on high school students show that participation in PE varied
                considerably by grade level but has not varied significantly across gender
                or racial groups. According to 2009 YRBS data, the estimated percentage
                of high school students who reported attending at least one PE class per
                week decreased with each successive grade level, from 72 percent in 9th
                grade to 44 percent in 12th grade (see fig. 3). 17 Officials we interviewed in
                one state said most students do not participate in PE in 11th or 12th
                grade because they usually complete the state’s 2-year high school PE
                requirement in 9th and 10th grades. High school boys and girls reported
                participating in PE at about the same rate, as did students in different
                racial groups, according to YRBS. Officials at all schools we visited said
                they do not generally have difficulty getting students to participate in the
                PE opportunities that are offered. At two middle schools we visited,




                15
                  State educational agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia were included in
                the 2006 SHPPS study.
                16
                  We did not include comparison data because data estimates from 2000 were reported
                differently than data estimates from 2006.
                17
                  These YRBS estimates have a margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level of plus
                or minus 9.6 percentage points or less.




                Page 10                                                         GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                                        officials told us the PE curriculum is designed to engage as many
                                        students as possible.

Figure 3: Estimated Percentage of High School Students Who Attend PE Daily or at Least Once Per Week, by Grade Level




                                        As previously stated, national data show that many schools have PE
                                        requirements. However, some schools allow exemptions for a range of
                                        reasons. According to 2006 SHPPS data, state, district, and school
                                        policies most commonly allowed student exemptions due to long-term
                                        physical or medical disability. Our previous work has shown that students
                                        with disabilities generally attend PE class about the same amount of time
                                        as students without disabilities. 18 In addition, according to 2006 SHPPS
                                        data, most states required schools to implement measures to meet the
                                        PE needs of students with long-term disabilities. 19 Officials from most
                                        schools and districts we interviewed said that exemptions from PE
                                        requirements are rare, and schools generally offer students with long-




                                        18
                                         GAO, Students with Disabilities: More Information and Guidance Could Improve
                                        Opportunities in Physical Education and Athletics, GAO-10-519 (Washington, D.C.: June
                                        23, 2010).
                                        19
                                          Under the implementing regulations for both the Individuals with Disabilities Education
                                        Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, schools are required to provide
                                        students with disabilities equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular activities,
                                        which often include athletics. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.107 and 34 C.F.R. § 104.37,
                                        respectively.




                                        Page 11                                                           GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                             term disabilities the opportunity to participate in adapted PE or general
                             PE classes. 20


Most Officials Reported
Increased Opportunities to
Participate in School
Sports
Opportunities                School sports programs offer another opportunity for students to engage
                             in school-based physical activity. According to 2006 SHPPS data, an
                             estimated 77 percent of middle schools and 91 percent of high schools
                             offered students opportunities to participate in interscholastic sports
                             programs such as basketball, soccer, or softball (see app. I). 21 Most
                             national, state, district, and school officials we interviewed said that
                             opportunities to participate in school sports have generally increased, in
                             part because many schools have added new interscholastic sports teams
                             over the last few years. For example, several schools we visited have
                             added lacrosse and badminton programs as student interest in these
                             sports has increased. Furthermore, officials from each of the four states
                             we visited said they had added new sports programs to their statewide
                             interscholastic competition schedules in response to increased demand.
                             In particular, many officials we interviewed said opportunities for girls to
                             participate in school sports have increased over time, due primarily to the
                             addition of new interscholastic sports teams for girls. For example, one
                             state official we interviewed noted that while only 49 high schools in the
                             state offered girls’ soccer in 1986, about 300 high schools offered it in
                             2010. In addition to interscholastic sports, SHPPS data show that an
                             estimated 50 percent of elementary schools, 49 percent of middle
                             schools, and 45 percent of high schools offered intramural or physical
                             activity clubs in 2006. However, several officials said that such programs,
                             which are relatively small compared to interscholastic programs, have
                             decreased in middle and high schools. Moreover, only a few schools we
                             visited offered intramural programs.



                             20
                               Some schools accommodate students with more severe motor development delays by
                             providing specialized or “adapted” PE instruction, using various approaches.
                             21
                               State and district officials we spoke with said that most elementary schools do not offer
                             interscholastic sports programs. Only one district we interviewed offered interscholastic
                             programs at its elementary schools.




                             Page 12                                                         GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                No-cut policies—in which schools do not limit the number of students who
                can participate on a sports team—have also contributed to increased
                opportunities for students to participate in school sports programs,
                according to many officials we interviewed. For example, in one district
                we visited, the middle school interscholastic teams adopted no-cut
                policies, which officials said provided interested students ample
                opportunities to participate in sports programs and gain exposure to new
                sports. Similarly, an official at another high school we visited said the
                school offers at least one no-cut interscholastic team per season so that
                students who want to participate in school sports always have at least
                one option.

Participation   National data show that high school students’ participation in at least one
                school or community sports team remained about the same from 2005 to
                2009. 22 Over one-half of high school students reported participating in at
                least one school or community sports team in 2009, according to YRBS
                data. 23 Several middle school and high school officials we interviewed
                reported similar student participation rates. 24 The overall number of
                students who participate in school sports programs has generally
                increased over the years, according to most officials we interviewed. High
                school boys reported a higher rate of participation in school or community
                sports teams than high school girls in both 2005 and 2009, according to
                YRBS data. However, according to the officials we interviewed, the
                number of female athletes has increased over the years, in part due to
                the addition of new sports programs for girls. While participation did not
                vary significantly overall by race for white, black, and Hispanic high
                school students, white high school girls were more likely to report that
                they participate in at least one sports team than their black or Hispanic
                counterparts. 25



                22
                  The YRBS survey instructed students to include any teams run by their school or
                community groups in their response about participation on a sports team.
                23
                  Percentage estimates from YRBS used in this report have margins of error at the 95
                percent confidence level of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points or less, unless otherwise
                noted.
                24
                  Elementary school students do not generally participate in school sports programs
                because most schools at that level do not offer such programs, according to state and
                district officials we interviewed.
                25
                  Race/ethnicity data reporting by YRBS include estimates for white, black, and Hispanic
                students.




                Page 13                                                        GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Schools Cited
Resource Challenges
to Providing PE and
Sports Opportunities
but Have Mitigated
Some of Them

Officials Said PE           Most officials we spoke with cited budget cuts and inadequate facilities as
Opportunities Have Been     major challenges for schools to provide physical education opportunities
Affected by Budget Cuts     for students. Specifically, officials from several of the districts and schools
                            we visited said budget cuts have affected their ability to hire PE teachers,
and Inadequate Facilities   maintain appropriate class sizes, and purchase sufficient equipment. In
                            one district we visited, officials told us that many PE teachers have been
                            laid off, and some schools in the district have been forced to share a part-
                            time PE instructor. As a result, elementary school PE instruction in the
                            district has been reduced to as little as 30 minutes every 2-3 weeks, and
                            a district official told us most elementary and middle schools in the district
                            are not meeting state requirements for PE instruction. At two elementary
                            schools we visited, PE instructors expressed a desire to conduct PE
                            instruction on a daily basis, but cited limited funding as a barrier. Some
                            schools have also seen increased class sizes as a result of budget cuts.
                            In some cases, budget cuts have affected the availability and quality of
                            equipment as well. A PE teacher at one school has stopped including
                            several sports, such as golf, in her PE classes because the supply of
                            equipment no longer matches the class size. In the context of limited
                            funding, some state, district, and school officials expressed the belief that
                            the greater emphasis on assessments for reading and math, as required
                            under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 26 has shifted priorities away
                            from PE. In one district we visited, an official said this focus on academic
                            assessments had led his district to reduce the amount of PE it offers
                            students.




                            26
                              The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child
                            Left Behind Act of 2001. Pub. L. No. 107-110 (2002).




                            Page 14                                                   GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                           Officials at 9 of the 13 schools we visited told us that a lack of adequate
                           facilities is also a major challenge in providing physical education. For
                           example, because some schools do not have adequate indoor space,
                           they may conduct several PE classes in the gymnasium simultaneously,
                           or use alternative space for their activities. According to SHPPS data, an
                           estimated 54.9 percent of elementary schools, 37.8 percent of middle
                           schools, and 25.3 percent of high schools used a cafeteria, auditorium, or
                           other multipurpose room for indoor physical education in 2006. During our
                           site visits, we observed several PE classes sharing space and saw
                           multipurpose facilities being used as gymnasiums. For example, at one
                           school we visited, the gymnasium also served as the cafeteria. The time it
                           takes to prepare for, serve, and clean up from lunch limits the school’s
                           ability to schedule PE classes.

                           Several school officials told us they have worked hard to stretch the
                           limited funding they receive for PE instruction. Some schools partially rely
                           on federal grant money to help maintain and augment PE opportunities.
                           For example, two school districts we visited were able to purchase
                           equipment, such as fitness center equipment and kick balls, for their PE
                           programs as a result of Carol M. White grants from the Department of
                           Education.


Schools Also Face Budget   Although sports opportunities have generally increased, most officials we
and Other Challenges in    spoke with cited budget constraints as a key challenge to providing
Providing Sports           opportunities. In particular, budget cuts have affected transportation and
                           facilities. Some schools have also struggled to find coaches for their
Opportunities but Have     school sports teams.
Partially Mitigated Them
Transportation             Because interscholastic sports games may involve travel and some
                           teams practice off-site, schools often need to provide transportation for
                           athletes. Many school and district officials we spoke with stated that,
                           because of budget constraints, they had a difficult time providing
                           transportation to facilitate student participation in after-school sports
                           activities. According to SHPPS data, an estimated 29 percent of the
                           schools that offered interscholastic sports in 2006 also provided
                           transportation home for participating students, up from 21 percent in
                           2000. For schools that offered intramural activities, an estimated 31
                           percent of middle schools and 28 percent of high schools provided
                           transportation home for students. Some school officials told us that
                           transportation costs, including costs associated with maintenance and
                           fuel, are a large part of their school’s athletic budget. To help reduce



                           Page 15                                              GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                                transportation costs, some schools charge students a fee for
                                transportation, enlisting parents to provide carpools, or sharing buses with
                                other athletic teams to transport students to and from athletic events.

Facilities and Equipment        Several school officials we spoke with stated that budget cuts and space
                                constraints have affected their ability to provide adequate facilities and
                                equipment for sports opportunities. Some smaller schools do not have
                                access to baseball or football fields or other facilities for team sports. In
                                addition, some schools use off-site locations for practices and events due
                                to the lack of space or adequate facilities. Furthermore, some schools,
                                particularly schools in densely populated communities, lack the necessary
                                space to expand their facilities. Moreover, officials at one school we
                                visited said they were prohibited from building new athletic fields or
                                expanding because of land use restrictions. To mitigate some of these
                                challenges, several schools we visited have developed partnerships with
                                local businesses, colleges, nonprofits, or community recreational centers
                                to use their facilities for various sports programs. For example, several
                                schools have agreements to use community athletic fields and other
                                facilities for baseball, football, soccer, and swimming programs. In
                                addition to space constraints, some school officials cited aging or
                                insufficient equipment as a challenge to providing sports opportunities.
                                For example, an official from one school told us the school had to
                                implement a selection policy for the football program, in which some
                                students were cut from the team, because demand exceeded the number
                                of uniforms and helmets available for players. School officials also cited
                                the upkeep and maintenance of fields as a challenge given budget
                                constraints.

Coaches                         Some state, district, and other officials cited finding quality coaches as a
                                challenge to providing sports opportunities. Specifically, some officials
                                told us that fewer faculty members have been coaching sports teams in
                                recent years. Officials attribute this decline to the low pay and increased
                                time commitments that are often required to coach a sport. In one state
                                we visited, an official said over 60 percent of the coaches in the state
                                were considered “walk-on coaches” who were not otherwise a part of the
                                school community. Some officials said that non-faculty coaches may be
                                less accessible to students. In addition, some schools may have a difficult
                                time finding coaches for specific sports. For example, one school official
                                reported difficulty finding cheerleading coaches given the specialized
                                training needed to coach a cheerleading squad.

Mitigating Funding Challenges   Schools have mitigated some of the budgetary challenges related to
                                providing sports opportunities by relying heavily on outside funding


                                Page 16                                              GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
sources or charging fees for certain sports activities. Some school
officials we interviewed said their athletics funding depended primarily on
community support or the tax base of their district, both of which fluctuate
with the economy. For example, one district we visited had strong
community support and a high economic tax base. During our site visit,
we observed that schools in this district had numerous and high-quality
facilities and one official mentioned that even the district’s middle schools
had swimming pools. The official added that the tax base has remained
steady, and the district has not experienced some of the challenges that
other school districts face in providing PE and sports opportunities for its
students. However, other schools we visited reported relying heavily on
booster clubs, gate receipts, private donations, and fundraising to fund
their local sports programs. For example, one school official told us that
the school relies heavily on ticket sales from sporting events that may
total as much as $60,000 a year to maintain and fund its sports programs.
Also, some schools with very strong community support benefit from
community fundraising efforts.

In addition, some school districts have implemented “pay-to-play”
arrangements, in which students are charged a fee to participate in
school sports activities. Specifically, according to SHPPS data, the
percentage of schools that require students to pay an activity fee to
participate in interscholastic sports was an estimated 33 percent in 2006,
which did not differ significantly from the 2000 estimate of 29 percent. 27 In
addition, the percentage of schools with intramural activities or physical
activity clubs that required students to pay a fee for these activities
increased from an estimated 23 percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2006.
However, in two states we visited, officials told us that pay-to-play
arrangements are prohibited in their states. Some officials expressed
concern that pay-to-play arrangements may negatively impact student
participation by serving as a barrier to lower-income students. However,
according to 2006 SHPPS data, an estimated 86 percent of schools that
charge a fee to participate in sports activities waived the fee for students
who could not afford to pay.




27
  SHPPS asked schools whether students must pay an activity fee to participate in sports
but did not define what such a fee might include.




Page 17                                                       GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
                     The federal government has an interest in seeing that school-aged
Concluding           children benefit from the positive effects regular physical activity can have
Observations         on health and overall well-being. As the primary social institution where
                     children learn and spend their time, schools can play a pivotal role in
                     increasing students’ physical activity, in part through offering PE classes
                     and opportunities to participate in sports programs. Although it appears
                     schools increasingly acknowledge the benefits of PE by requiring
                     students to take classes, they have reduced the amount of time spent on
                     PE instruction. Opportunities to play school sports, however, appear to be
                     on the rise. While such a trend is encouraging, school-based sports
                     should augment, rather than replace, the experiences and skills acquired
                     in PE, which reaches beyond student athletes to the general student
                     population. A number of challenges inhibit further expansion of school-
                     based PE and sports. At a time when states and districts are operating
                     under severe fiscal constraints, acquiring resources to provide additional
                     opportunities is difficult. Although some districts and schools have
                     developed approaches to partially offset the challenges associated with
                     providing sports opportunities, challenges associated with providing PE
                     remain unresolved. Identifying practical ways to increase students’
                     physical activity may be difficult, but the need to address childhood
                     obesity—and the opportunity to shore up such efforts in the school
                     context—serves as a compelling starting point for addressing obesity-
                     related health issues and their associated costs.


                     We provided a draft of the report to the Departments of Education and
Agency Comments      Health and Human Services for review and comment. Both agencies
and Our Evaluation   provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.


                     As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
                     earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from its
                     issue date. At that time, we will send copies of this report to relevant
                     congressional committees, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of
                     Health and Human Services, and other interested parties. In addition, the
                     report is available at no charge on the GAO website at
                     http://www.gao.gov.




                     Page 18                                                GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (206) 287-4809 or calboml@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices
of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last
page of this report. GAO staff who made key contributions to this report
are listed in appendix II.



Linda Calbom
Director, Education, Workforce, and
   Income Security Issues




Page 19                                            GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Appendix I: Estimated Percentage of All Middle
               Appendix I: Estimated Percentage of All Middle
               and High Schools That Offered Interscholastic
               Sports in 2006, by School Level


and High Schools That Offered Interscholastic
Sports in 2006, by School Level

                                                                  % of All Middle                 % of All High
                Interscholastic Sport                                   Schools                        Schools
                Badminton                                                        4.2                          7.2
                Baseball                                                       35.7                         79.6
                Basketball                                                     76.4                         90.9
                Bowling                                                          3.0                        17.2
                Cheerleading or competitive spirits                            50.9                         77.3
                Cross-country                                                  38.9                         68.4
                Downhill or cross-country skiing                                 3.2                          5.9
                Fast pitch or slow pitch softball                              45.2                         77.9
                Field hockey                                                     7.1                        10.2
                Football                                                       53.0                         71.0
                Golf                                                           22.1                         68.4
                Gymnastics                                                       5.2                        10.1
                Ice hockey                                                       2.4                        14.3
                Lacrosse                                                         3.7                        12.8
                Riflery                                                          2.1                          3.8
                Soccer                                                         32.3                         60.3
                Swimming or diving                                               6.9                        37.8
                Tennis                                                         12.6                         53.0
                Track and field                                                52.1                         73.2
                Volleyball                                                     57.3                         71.4
                Water polo                                                       0.5                          2.6
                Weight lifting                                                   9.9                        23.8
                Wrestling                                                      28.7                         49.6
               Source: SHPPS, 2006.

               Note: All SHPPS estimates used in this report have margins of error at the 95 percent confidence
               level of plus or minus 7 percentage points or less, unless otherwise noted.




               Page 20                                                                 GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix II: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Linda Calbom (206) 287-4809 or calboml@gao.gov
GAO contact
                  Debra Prescott (Assistant Director) and Rebecca Woiwode (Analyst-in-
Staff             Charge) managed this assignment. Vernette Shaw and Michelle Wong
Acknowledgments   made significant contributions in all facets of the work. In addition, Dana
                  Hopings helped with site visits; Jean McSween and Dae Park provided
                  methodological support; Alex Galuten provided legal assistance; David
                  Chrisinger provided writing assistance; and James Bennett provided
                  graphics for the report.




(131072)
                  Page 21                                               GAO-12-350 K-12 Education
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