Columbus teachers blow whistle on phys ed cuts, health problems

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The Columbus school board listened to teachers’ concerns for Columbus City School (CCS) students’ health as a result of declining physical education programs in CCS at the Sept. 4 board meeting.

Mary Kennett, a physical education teacher for CCS, and Laura Rodithok, a substitute physical education teacher, said they have seen more students exhibiting serious health problems than they used to.

“It is our hope to convey to you today the importance and value of a physical education program. Physical education not only enhances the health and well-being of our students but it also has a positive impact on our students’ academic achievements,” said Kennett.

Rodithok said health needs are just as important as aiding students in reaching their academic needs. In fact, they propose that engaging students in a physical activity while teaching them core curriculum concepts can actually augment students’ academic achievements through “differentiated learning.”

“Physical education has the unique ability to integrate an academic with a physical education curriculum. This idea is supported by research that proves there is a positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance,” said Rodithok.  

Rodithok said this theory is also supported in several studies commissioned by the California Department of Education.    

“Our goals are to continue to find creative ways to increase physical activity while enhancing academic performance of our students,” said Rodithok.

Superintendent Gene Harris agreed that student health is an important issue, however CCS budgetary issues force the board to prioritize what has to be done first.

“With cutting back on the school day, [the physical education program] was a budgetary issue; it wasn’t anything we wanted to do. We had to limit that in some way.”  

Harris explained that with shortened school days, something in the budget had to give. Harris said if CCS continues with the shortened schools days, she fears CCS may end up in a circumstance where there is not a lot to offer even high school students in the way of physical activity.

“Many teachers can come and I’d say, ‘Yep we need that,’ ‘Yep we need that, too.’ We face some real dilemmas,’” said Harris.

Kennett said physical education teachers in Columbus are hopeful that thanks to legislation recently passed by Governor Ted Strickland, a physical education specialist will soon get appointed through the Ohio Department of Education by the end of October, which will translate into more consideration for the positive contribution physical activity makes towards learning; and with that dollars to finance more physical education classes.

“We are very vested in the academic performance of our children, and we do that through the domain of movement,” said Kennett.

Student assessment

Harris also discussed the “accountability language” that has changed so much from 1991 to the present time within Ohio schools. Harris said the time period from 1991 to 1997 was the “pre-report card years,” when there was little accountability towards the district to ensure students were getting the educational tools they needed.

In 1991, proficiency tests for the 9th grade students only were implemented and learning objectives were emphasized to teachers, but no models of curriculum were given to met those objectives. Eventually more proficiency tests for most grades from middle to high school were employed but the tide of accountability didn’t begin to turn for a long time.

“One thing I do applaud is the No Child Left Behind requirement that requires us to address the needs of all our students and we’re held accountable for that,” said Harris. “I think that’s appropriate; I think that’s very appropriate.”

Harris said the district purchased something called the SIM System, which means Student Information Measurement System.  

“Once that system is up and running, teachers will be able to build their own assessment using items that are aligned with the state assessment so they can build their own test using their own teacher-made test,” said Harris.

Harris said the district has also began a new data procedure, while working in conjunction with the OSU and Nationwide Insurance, so that CCS is able to develop detailed information so principals and teachers can get a better idea of how their students did on the state test for both the Ohio Graduation Test and Ohio Achievement Test.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to make steady progress and make steady improvements is because we continue to refine our data protocols and the information we are providing to our teachers and our principals, so that they can then develop an appropriate intervention for our students,” said Harris.

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