Yes, even gym teachers are under pressure to teach to the controversial new Common Core standards, which are reshaping teaching and learning (not to mention political alliances) across America. The Common Core calls for cross-disciplinary teaching and the reinforcement of foundational English and math skills in not only core academic subjects, but in art, music, and gym as well. Test-score-conscious school principals, in turn, see any extra math and reading practice as a way of helping children perform better on the all-important standardized tests that increasingly determine the fate of their schools. Who needs exercise when gym class can serve as yet another 45-minute opportunity for teachers to shoehorn in vocabulary and multiplication drills?
The Common Core’s growing influence over courses widely perceived as more elective than academic speaks to a central tension as the controversial standards take effect in 46 states across the country: If done well, the Common Core should inspire instructors to work in a much more collaborative and creative fashion across subject areas. But if done poorly, untrained and frustrated teachers can wind up feeling forced to teach skills and lessons they don’t fully understand, and students suffer. In this sense, the success—or failure—of this unprecedented expansion of academic content into gym class can be seen as a barometer for the health and well-being of the entire Common Core.