It’s almost too easy to satirize physical education, better known by its eye-roll-inducing abbreviation P.E. From Clueless to Superbad to Spiderman: Homecoming, parodies of gym class are a pop-culture darling. Perhaps that’s because they speak to one of America’s fundamental truths: For many kids, P.E. is terrible.
A recent working paper focused on a massive P.E. initiative in Texas captures this reality. Analyzing data out of the state’s Texas Fitness Now program—a $37 million endeavor to improve middle schoolers’ fitness, academic achievement, and behavior by requiring them to participate in P.E. every day—the researchers concluded that the daily mandate didn’t have any positive impact on kids’ health or educational outcome. On the contrary: They found that the program, which ran from 2007 to 2011, actually had detrimental effects, correlating with an uptick in discipline and absence rates.