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  • What is physical education (PE)?

PE teaches students how their bodies move and how to perform a variety of physical activities. Students learn the health-related benefits of regular physical activity and the skills to adopt a physically active, healthy lifestyle. The discipline provides learning experiences that meet the developmental needs of students. A standards-based PE program also provides an excellent opportunity to ensure that students develop positive social skills, cooperate with others, and accept responsibility for their own actions.

  • Why is physical education (PE) taught in California public schools?

PE contributes significantly to every student’s health and well-being, and it is an instructional priority for California schools. Every student, regardless of disability, ethnicity, gender, native language, race, religion, or sexual orientation, is entitled to a high-quality PE program. PE is an integral part of the overall education program for every student and provides one of the few opportunities students have to develop the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to lead a physically active lifestyle. A high-quality PE program promotes an active lifestyle, improved health, motor skill development, and better cognitive performance.

Daily PE for all students is recommended by numerous national associations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the National Association for State Boards of Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association, and is noted in the Healthy People 2020 document.

Students who become skilled and knowledgeable in PE are more likely to become healthy adults who are motivated to remain healthy and physically active throughout their lives.

PE is a part of the coordinated school health system program. It is the component that addresses each student’s fundamental need for planned, sequential instruction that promotes lifelong physical activity and attitudes and behaviors that reduce health risks.

  • What is the difference between physical education (PE) and physical activity?

The terms physical education and physical activity are often used interchangeably, but they differ in important ways. Understanding the differences between the two is critical to understanding why both contribute to the development of healthy and active youths. Every student needs both a quality PE program and physical activity program.

Physical education instructional programs provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to establish and sustain physical activity as a key component of their lifestyle, as children, adolescents, and adults. The PE model content standards adopted by the State Board of Education involve five overarching standards in kindergarten through grade eight and three overarching standards in grades 9 through 12, including eight required content areas that provide a developmentally appropriate, standards-based sequence of instruction. PE instruction provides students with essential skills and knowledge through a broadly-based curriculum that is age-appropriate and links learning experiences in a sequential and articulated manner.


Physical activity is any bodily movement that is produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle and that substantially increases energy expenditure, including exercise, sport, dance, and other movement forms. PE programs, recess periods, intramural sports programs, and athletic programs involve physical activity, but each serves a different purpose. Intramural sports and athletic programs provide opportunities for student learning but are not likely to constitute high-quality, standards-based PE instruction.


Recess periods provide students with opportunities for unstructured physical activity time during the school day. These breaks from classroom activities may enhance participation and learning in the classroom, aside from the benefits gained from additional physical activity.


Intramural sports programs provide opportunities for students to be physically active and apply PE learning outside of the curricular program. In addition, intramural programs give students opportunities to implement the skills and knowledge gained in PE.


Athletic programs are essentially designed for youths who have special skills and would like to specialize in one or more sports. They provide students with opportunities to refine their skills and compete with others of similar interests and abilities.


    Physical activity may include recreational, fitness, and sport activities such as jumping rope, playing soccer, lifting weights, or participating in organized sports. National recommendations (such as the National Association of Sport and Physical Education and The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, United States Department of Health and Human Services) urge school-age children to accumulate at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of physical activity per day while avoiding prolonged periods of inactivity. Physical activity programs that students participate in outside of school are not the same as PE instructional programs. Such physical activity programs typically provide opportunities for students to develop skills in a single area and are not intended to provide instruction in the essential content areas and standards of PE.

    The California Department of Education (CDE) provides both the Physical Education Model Content Standards for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve and the Physical Education Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve that it recommends local governing boards use to guide their choice of courses of study for PE programs. Both documents are available on the CDE Curriculum and Instruction Web page.

  • What is the course of study for grades seven through twelve?                                                                                                                                 


EC Section 51220 states that, "The adopted course of study for grades 7 to 12, inclusive, shall offer courses in the following areas of study: (d) Physical education, with emphasis given to physical activities that are conducive to health and to vigor of body and mind, as required by Section 51222."

  • How many minutes of physical education instruction must students in grades seven through twelve receive?

Notwithstanding EC Section 51223(a), “All pupils, except pupils excused or exempted pursuant to Section 51241, shall be required to attend upon the courses of physical education for a total period of time of not less than 400 minutes each 10 schooldays” (EC Section 51222[a]).

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