I was shocked when I read Kate Irby’s piece on recent study revealing American adolescences are getting about as much exercise as 60-year-olds. But it wasn’t the study’s findings that shocked me.
In her piece, which ran in papers across the country, Ms. Irby claims that the implementation of the Common Core State Standards – which consist of learning goals for in math and English language arts – could be to blame for a reduction in recess time for children. This is a seriously misinformed claim.
Let me be clear: As a parent and a former teacher, reducing recess time is extremely concerning to me. It is a reckless decision being made at district and local levels, and one that unfortunately affects students from poverty and students of color disproportionately. But blaming the Common Core or any other set of high academic standards is rooted in fallacy and fear – not fact.
There is no empirical tie between a reduction in recess time and more rigorous academic standards – it’s pure conjecture. While the authors Ms. Irby cites in her piece hypothesize that this correlation exists, there is no factual proof that the reason schools have decided to reduce recess time is connected to an increase rigor in the classroom.
Irby also perpetuates the myth that recess and academic learning are mutually exclusive, despite research that shows that instruction in math and literacy (the focus of the Common Core State Standards) actually increases the quality of children’s play. This research also points out another false dichotomy – that free play is good for kids and structured learning is not, which fails to understand that structured learning enhances play.
Even in the classroom, play and learning shouldn’t have to compete for time. Many educators across the country have chosen to combine the two, developing lessons that combine elements of play with learning aligned to rigorous academic standards. Take, for example, students at Tahoe Valley Elementary in California, who develop math and vocabulary skills while also pretending to run miniature communities with banks, schools, and grocery stores. These sorts of programs emphasize hands-on, creative, physical learning, and it’s thanks to high standards, not in spite of them.
The fact that some districts and school boards are making these decisions to reduce physical activity during school should, without a doubt, be cause to raise the alarm, but it’s ridiculous to blame high academic standards, which can lead to higher expectations and academic achievement, for the problem.
Yes, it’s easy to select a popular scapegoat to stir up added outrage, but if Ms. Irby actually cared about students who don’t get enough time for recess, she could spend some time looking into the actual source of the problem.
Katrina Boone is an experienced high school English teacher who has also worked with the Kentucky Department of Education on teacher leadership and teacher engagement initiatives. She currently serves as the Director of Teacher Outreach for the Collaborative for Student Success.