April 17 2012
Is No Child Left Behind Killing Recess?
Over the last couple decades, even despite rising obesity rates and newfound focus on health and wellness, the age-old recess hour, a staple of American education for generations, has been gradually losing its place in the school day. In recent years, some elementary schools have cut back drastically on the recess period, limiting it to only a few minutes daily or to a couple days per week. Other schools have eliminated it altogether.
The reasons for this reduction are multifold. Prime among them is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which forced schools to focus on standardized test results and consequently incentivized them to cut back on classes that didn’t further this goal. Another factor has been the dwindling funds available to many school districts that have left them devoid of the staff needed to monitor children during recess. In the case of Detroit school districts, bankruptcy laws nearly applied as recently as 2009. Also, the introduction of health education, a growing number of electives, and a general diversification of the school day have aggregately pushed the recess period closer and closer to the cutting block.
While most administrators and parents believe that recess remains essential for the development and growth of an elementary school child, many people see no need for recess once a student reaches middle school. Consequently, the cutbacks in recess for this age group have largely gone unopposed.
But there are certainly pros and cons of having recess in middle school that can be considered before any kind of legal or administrative decision is made. Let’s take a quick look:
The aforementioned rise in childhood obesity is a major and highly concerning trend, and for this reason it’s important to encourage exercise and healthy living for students of all age groups– middle schoolers included. Furthermore, at an age when students are starting to break away from their childhood cocoon and seek greater independence, recess allows students to spend some time with friends and away from direct adult authority. This may foster greater interaction among the students and help break down the social cliques that develop at this time.
While on even the coldest of winter days an elementary schooler will likely be eager to don a pair of mittens and run outside, the middle school-aged child is less interested in recess and less inclined to run around. Age, friends, and the greater array of academic offerings at the junior high level all play a role in this. Consequently, even if a time for recess is allocated, there is no guarantee that students will get exercise, interact with new people, or grow and develop in any sort of meaningful way.
School administrators should consider these pros and cons – as well as any others – before automatically cutting back on middle school recess. Furthermore, one may ask whether or not legal authorities should take up this issue as a matter of public safety? Other options may be ultimately preferable, such as an expanded gym period, but the schools and courts need to keep child health at the forefront of such decisions.