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NASBE Analysis Outlines Ways State Leaders Can Improve Access to Physical Education

Alexandria, VA – Physically active students tend to have better grades, school attendance, memory, and focus. Providing access to physical activity and education during the school day also enhances overall student well-being. A new NASBE analysis finds that while most states require student participation in physical education and aim to meet nationally recommended standards, students’ access to quality physical education is uneven.

The analysis draws on a national survey of physical education teachers conducted by researchers David S. Woo, Ben D. Kern, Chad M. Killian, Wesley J. Wilson, and Hans van der Mars. Forty-four states require a physical education credit to graduate. But requirements vary, and several state policies actually hinder access, according to these researchers, who, along with NASBE’s Celina Pierrottet, coauthored the NASBE report.  State leaders can improve access to physical education while promoting physical and mental well-being by asking five questions:

  1. How do physical education and physical activity promote student well-being? When given adequate time during the school day, physical education offers planned, structured settings where students can learn lifelong habits to stay physically active, regulate emotions, and nurture their social development.
  2. What state policies increase or limit access to physical education? Every state has adopted content standards, and most require students to participate in physical education. However, 31 states allow substitutions or exemptions—such as for interscholastic sports or JROTC—that can reduce students’ access to quality physical education, depending on the implementation.
  3. To what extent are schools implementing state policies? Although many states require physical education, only a few specify minutes per week of instruction. The average amount of weekly scheduled physical education in elementary schools was just under 97 minutes per week, with middle schools averaging 151.3 minutes, and high schools 178.9 minutes. These numbers all fall short of national recommendations.
  4. What challenges do school and district leaders face in providing access? School leaders are often under pressure to direct limited class time and resources toward assessed subjects or forgo equipping facilities to support student access to physical education.
  5. How are students with disabilities accessing physical education? The authors found that students with disabilities on average received 152.3 weekly minutes of physical education, which is less than students without disabilities in secondary schools.

“As states reel from learning loss and an ongoing youth mental health crisis, state policymakers can help balance students’ physical, emotional, and cognitive development by ensuring they have access to physical education and other school-based opportunities for physical activity,” the authors write.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at


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