According to this article, in a survey of the ten elementary schools in chicago that have the highest rate of children living in poverty most of them did not give any recess and had gym only one day a week. Compare this with the fact that most children who went to schools in the suburbs of chicago usually had at least 20 minutes of recess every day and more than one gym class a week. The low income schools face a number of problems with having children have recess. First most of them do not have any outdoor space or playground equipment. Second, they do not have any recess monitors to watch the children outside. Three, it is not always safe for the children to be outside in these neighborhoods. And finally and the one that I think is probably the biggest reason, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has created an education system where schools struggle to teach children all they need to know for the fucking tests that schools have to pass just to keep getting funding. Research shows (I know I have seen this research, but am not sure where it is right now) that children from low income homes tend to enter school behind their middle class peers. So schools that serve low income families have to make up a lot more time to get their children ready for the same tests that the middle class schools have to take. Because they have to take more time to teach the same material, they have less time to allow children to play outside. We are trying to cram too much information into these children who are not ready to receive the information. There is a lot of research and I would venture common sense that says that children need a break in their day to help them refocus on their academics. They need the time to go outside or play in a gym and burn off the energy that is being accumulated in their bodies as they sit and listen to teachers lecture at them. Children, and not just young children up to at least 8th grade, need time to get up and move around. They need time to socialize with their friends and play games. They need time to just play and turn off their brains or at least engage their brains in a different type of activity than sitting in a classroom. So eliminating recess time is counterproductive. You force kids to sit in a chair for several hours at a time and then you expect them to focus the whole time. Most adults need breaks so why do we expect kids not to need breaks. I have been in a lot of meetings and it seems pretty common for adults to get breaks if they are sitting for a long period of time and if we do not get these breaks, that is the first complaint that most people have. So then why do we expect children to do what we as adults cannot do, sit in a chair for a long period of time. Really good teachers know to change up the activities and keep children engaged in the activities and not make them just sit in one place for long periods of time, but even this is not enough. Children need the time for them to be able to really move around, to run and jump, to laugh and to talk loud. They need that freedom to be a child again. It is horrible that the children who need the safety and security to go outside, those in impoverished areas, are the ones who are denied these opportunities.
And totally off topic, sort of, I hate that we make kids sit down and take tests, not all kids are good test takers so using a standardized test as a sole measure of achievement is asinine. Second, standard tests are written by and for white, suburban, middle-class, male, individuals and hence children who are not exactly this such as Asian or African-American or Latino or female or who live in a lower socioeconomic status or urban or any of the number of non-white upper class males are being tested by tests that they cannot relate to. And finally, what the hell kind of system, NCLB, takes resources away from schools that are struggling and need the resources.
The American education system is fucked up!!