APPR, Rigors of Common Core and Testing Jeopardize Recess in New York Schools


Remember back in the day when, after sitting in the confines of a classroom for several hours, you were then able to go outside, run around and play at recess?  Many of us have fond memories of recess because it provided us an opportunity to simply relax, decompress from classroom learning and just …  Such a welcome break!

Indeed, recess is supposed to be the time of day set aside for elementary school students to take a break from their class work, engage in play with their peers, and take part in independent, unstructured activities.

It should be noted, when I speak of recess, I am not referring to physical education. Phys Ed is wholly separate and falls under the class of subjects that comprise of the school curriculum:

Physical education by definition in Section 135.4(1)(k) Instructional physical education means the required physical education program which has as its foundation planned sequential learning experiences for all students. The regulation is very specific on who may teach physical education: physical education must be taught by a certified physical education teacher or an elementary classroom teacher under the direction and supervision of a certified physical education teacher.

On the other hand, under NYS Ed Laws, unstructured play at recess or structured play under the supervision of a lunchroom monitor does not constitute physical education and may not be counted toward that requirement, instead it is known as free time or recess.

The objectives are wholly different.

Physical education is NYS is regulated under Sec. 803 of the NYS Ed Laws. Whereas, recess is not required nor is it regulated in NYS.

Many schools who had begun eliminating recess as a result of No Child Left Behind,  backed down and restored it within school hours due to heavy opposition from parents and medical/child development professionals.

Recently, however, New York schools have begun to limit or eliminate recess in light of the new teacher evaluation requirements tied to both RTT and Common Core. In fact, Syracuse Elementary schools chose to eliminate it altogether this past year:

recess will no longer be part of the daily agenda, as the district’s master schedule for the new year mandates every minute of their day be spent on instruction, save for a 30-minute lunch break

Daily Recess  is not mandated under NY law. Recess falls within the purview of the State’s “Wellness Policy”  which defers to a districts “Local Wellness Policy” and that serves as a guideline.  In addition to physical education classroom time:

DOE encourages principals to provide elementary school students with at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors, during which time staff encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity and provide appropriate space and equipment. DOE policy states that outdoor play is permitted regardless of temperature so long as weather conditions are appropriate.

What has not been said, is that while NYSED may encourage school districts to offer students 20 minutes of recess per day, it does not require schools to do so and there is no penalty if a school chooses to eliminate recess altogether.

According to the National Parent Teacher Association, at least 40 percent of elementary schools in the United States currently do not have recess or have reduced the amount of recess time. With the implementation of APPR and the rigors of Common Core, more are considering following suit.

Lets face it, schools must  meet certain academic standards. In order to conform to these standards, many school districts choose to eliminate recess, in the belief that having more classroom time would help their students score better on tests. Common Core has compounded this problem considerably and its only going to get worse.

Once a strong advocate for at least 1 hour of recess, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) also posits that all elementary school children should be provided with at least one daily period of recess of at least 20 minutes in length. While this is a rule of best practice, it is not mandated so school districts do not have to follow it.

Lets face it, we can all agree that Common Core is “rigorous.” But, iIf you’re spending two hours a day on “literacy” and forty-five minutes a day on STEM  content In order to be college and career ready, then you are likely to consider art, music, physical education, recess or foreign language to be an “elective” rather than crucial content. In that case, electives won’t help students because the student will be wasting 20 minutes by not getting enough exposure to the material that is needed to meet the Common Core’s supposed intent. Core modules are designed to be evaluated  via aligned assessments developed by PARCC. There is no wiggle room under Core. The assessments do not permit a student to think outside the box nor do they encourage individuality or free will. It stands to reason that since recess is not going to be on a Common Core test, it is a waste of precious test preparation time and should not be offered.

In other words, as a result of Common Core,  20 minute “play time” is nothing more than a waste of valuable teaching time which time is essential to a teacher so that she/he can follow and meet the curriculum module and instruction script. In case you are not aware, in those modules literally every word spoken and minute is accounted for. They left no time for recess.

Indeed, some schools out of state have also been forced to cut out recess to meet limited learning opportunities. In one DC elementary school  the parents didn’t notice that recess had been cut down to fifteen minutes because they were never told of the change in policy. Luckily, they successfully advocated it up to twenty minutes.

Which begs the question, Is 20 minutes recess really sufficient?

In an era where more than half of the nation’s children are obese or at risk for cardiovascular and disease related illness due to being overweight, and at a time where children are exhibiting more behavioral problems than ever such that Ritalin is handed out in schools across the country like Halloween candy, are we really trying to justify limiting recess and downtime for our kids?

Are we really having this conversation? What about a child’s right to have  a childhood? School should augment childhood not replace it.

It is well settled that children who have recess time during the day behave better in class.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons. –

On February 1, 2013,   the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child announced the adoption of an official document, or “General Comment” (GC), that clarifies for governments worldwide (including the US) the meaning and importance of article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Article 31 ensures that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities…and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Advocates for the wellbeing of all children need to be concerned about the number of children deprived of recess. Given the strong evidence suggesting recess meets so many physical, social, emotional, and academic needs, recess for all is a goal worth pursuing.

So, as NYSED marches on with Common Core despite the negative effects it is having on our children, let is just assume NYSED must believe that in order to be college and career ready,  children do not  need time to play, in fact clearly children don’t even need a childhood. There is NO doubt in my mind, that NYSED will have you believe that children should skip right over childhood and head straight to college.

If you agree with that statement, than by all means feel free to advocate for and support Common Core. But if you, like me, strongly  believe that children deserve to have a childhood, then I would ask that you please make an effort to speak up and do something about it.


One thought on “APPR, Rigors of Common Core and Testing Jeopardize Recess in New York Schools

  1. The typo in the first line where it should say, ”then” instead of “them” is difficult for me to get past. I am a teacher and want to make sure that the meaning of rigor is correctly understood. It is NOT more work or more instruction. It is teaching children to think about their thinking. In other words, more in depth thinking. If done correctly, it should not interfere with recess at all. It can all be done in the confines of the regular instructional day. Also, RTI has nothing to do with recess. If the school systems in NY are taking away recess for those reasons, then they are doing something wrong. I am a teacher in GA. We are also incorporating rigor and do RTI.

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