The Death of Physical Education by 2029

Currently, approximately 50 million students are enrolled in America’s elementary and secondary schools. SHAPE America is leading the effort to ensure that by the time today’s youngest students graduate from high school in 2029, all of America’s young people will be “empowered to lead healthy and active lives through effective health and physical education programs.” SHAPE America proposes doing this through its “50 Million Strong by 2029” commitment.

I am a pragmatic person working in the field of education. I grew up with both of my parents working in public education and I followed in their footsteps hoping to make an impact in the classroom. I have both blue collar and white collar friends from my childhood. For most of my adult life, while I’ve been teaching I’ve also worked in the outdoor industry. I’m knowledgeable about bikes, boards, and hiking gear and I love being outside especially on the water.  I also have two children who will be in school through 2029 and unfortunately, I don’t believe that on its current course 50 Million Strong will succeed.

Over the past two months I have watched two outdoor industry businesses close their doors due lack of sales and poor profits. The first business to close was the bike shop that I worked at in a small town. They had a great business model and great brands that supported the shop through the good years but as e-commerce grew they couldn’t compete with cheaper prices on the internet and now the lack of people’s interest in bicycling.

I worked at the bike shop during the Lance Armstrong era and continue to follow trends in the industry today. The bike industry is having a similar image issue as is SHAPE America. SHAPE America wants to be the voice of physical education and advocacy in the United States but is struggling to function with their current business model from the 90’s. Despite seeing membership numbers decline for the past decade SHAPE America continues not to meet the needs of the today’s progressive educator.

SHAPE America’s primary challenge is coming from the vast array of competing information and support sources available online and the explosive growth of social media. It was the same for my small bike shop. In the past, SHAPE America (and its national associations) was the major source of expertise and leadership in our field. But now, physical educators are more like shoppers on Amazon who are used to reading reviews of products and making decisions based on what colleagues are recommending.

This change in the availability of information has led to the popular growth of the PhysEd Twitter and Voxer communities that put educators in the driver seat for setting professional trends and guiding curricular choices. For SHAPE America to succeed in this changing 21st century it must adapt. And for 50 Million Strong to succeed, SHAPE America must find ways to increase membership and focus on getting America’s physical and health educators the goods and services they need to achieve the goals of 50 Million Strong.

Like many teachers, I question each year why I should spend the money for membership to both SHAPE America and MAHPERD (my state association). In the past, when my funds were tight, having a SHAPE membership didn’t make sense financially.  I believe this same dilemma remains in the minds of many educators around the country today. Paying professional dues should feel like paying for yearly maintenance on your amazing bike not a questionable experience at Rob’s rip off bike shop! So with that in mind, here’s a partial list of things that I believe should come with a SHAPE America membership:

  • All members are given the National Grade and Outcomes Book (Free)
  • All members are given the Criteria of Competence for GLO’s (Free)
  • A focused model of standards-based instruction in PhysEd (Free)
  • Toolkits for Advocacy, Report Progress, and Justification (Free)
  • Webinars (Free)
  • Journals sent electronically to members by e-mail. Please email us when they are published too!
  • JRFH rates adjusted so that local schools keep more of their profits too. ($500 for $10,000 of fundraising is unfair. 10% of net profits should go back to the school to support our programs)
  • Monthly newsletter of best practices from state organizations, social media, and corporate sponsors.
  • Discount program with equipment companies for goods and services. REI has done this with a CO-OP model. Where can members get discounts on SHAPE America books?
  • A combined national and state membership rate for SHAPE organizations.

A second company that is in the process of closing its doors is Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS). I grew up getting supplies for my camping trips and kayaking adventures from them since the late 90’s. These regional outdoor companies helped many of us grow our love for physical activity and exercise in our local parks and waterways. They supported the conservation groups and could help you find the right piece of technical gear for your trip. Over the past few years EMS was purchased by different venture capital groups that didn’t have a clear vision for the brand. The brand had established itself by making quality products and developing amazing designs. But in recent years it has faced financial problems because of poor decision-making by their parent company.  By the end of this school year most Eastern Mountain Sports locations will be closed.

Could this be the same fate for SHAPE America by 2029? SHAPE America as a national professional association is at a point where it must change and adapt or risk becoming extinct within the next decade or so.  If that happens who will be there to protect our profession? Will physical education still exist as a subject matter in schools by 2050? The next CEO of SHAPE America urgently needs to be prepared to make difficult decisions that will transform the organization and our field or he or she will lay the groundwork for our professional demise.

Here are just some of the key topics that I believe need to be addressed for SHAPE America to advance (I’m sure there are more):

  • What are the goals and milestones for the organization in the next ten years?
  • Revising the national standards by 2019 to clean up missing concepts and modify language between standards.
  • SHAPE America at Reston, VA should be sold and moved to a lower cost area in MD or VA.
  • Outsource jobs that reduce overall workforce and reallocate money into programs that support our members.
  • Work new partnerships and revise agreements with current partners.
  • Projects should work on yearly time lines instead of decade-long time lines.
  • Finish PE Metrics by Nashville, TN (If not, the online community will likely crowdsource this document by Fall of 2018.)
  • Focus on physical educators in the elementary and secondary classroom and not just college professionals. We need to work collaboratively and equally together for the future.
  • Work with progressive educators and administrators to develop quality local PD and regional PD at no cost to members.
  • Develop models to make sure money goes towards physical education programs and not middle/high school athletic programs in the United States.
  • Align SHAPE America standards with 21st Century Learning Standards.

SHAPE America’s “50 Million Strong by 2029” commitment will not affect change unless it adapts to the needs of today’s educators. I believe that we can change the future of our profession, but only if we get our act together before 2019.  This gives us 10 more years to move towards our goal with the proper tools and developmental milestones needed to reach 50 million students. Candid conversations engaging SHAPE board members, district and state association leaders, and all stakeholders about future directions are urgently needed. I encourage you to engage in and to share the urgency for this type of discussion with your colleagues so that together we can find ways to support each other and move forward.  We mustn’t let 2029 be remembered as a signal of the decline and perhaps ultimately death of Physical Education in America. ​

(Author’s Note:  An earlier version of this essay was published on my website PhysEd Resource on April 23rd 2017. It was revised for PHE America ~ Rich Wiles)

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Join PHE America in Supporting SHAPE America’s 50 Million Strong by 2029 Commitment

What are you doing to support 50 Million Strong? PHE America has published many essays illustrating what 50MS is and what some teachers are doing to support it. Just type "50 Million Strong" in the Search box to get a listing. But how about YOU? What are you doing? PHE America will continue to share insights and opinions about 50MS but we can't succeed alone. As others have said, "It depends on US" to advance this vision of transforming the physical activity and health habits of the nation's 50 million students by 2029. Join the team and let us know what you are doing so we can share ideas with colleagues around the country. Success will only happen if each one of us takes responsibility for changing the activity and health habits of the students we teach. Added together that's how to reach 50 million lives!
1 Comment
  1. As a current Physical Education major (Junior), how alarmed should I be by this article? I am thousands of dollars in debt for a future that you say will be dead in the next 12 years? As someone who sounds to be extremely knowledgable on the subject, do I keep pursuing this career and dream of guiding youth in the world of Health? In your eyes, what does job security in the field of Physical Education look like by 2030?

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