Opportunities in ESSA to Promote Health and Physical Education

“Addressing the health and well-being of America’s students is paramount to comprehensive education reform and a proven strategy for school turnaround.” American School Health Association

Anyone who believes that healthier students are better learners wants to pay attention now to the
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the opportunities it provides.

smilingkids-smESSA is the education reauthorization act signed into law in December 2015 and reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. This law replaces the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 which, for over a decade, contributed to the erosion of health and physical education, as well as arts and humanities, because they were not included as “core” academic subjects. The new law no longer references “core” academic subjects.

ESSA disallows the federal government from requiring states to adopt national standards such as the Common Core but requires assurance that states adopt challenging academic content standards in reading, math, and science aligned with entrance requirements for coursework in the states’ higher education system. It allows states to adopt standards in other subject areas but does not require them to do so.

NOW IS THE TIME for educators, health and community service professionals to tell your state and local education officials that students need instruction in health education and physical education in order to learn how to be and stay healthy, and fend off the major health problems that threaten their school success. The National Health Education and Physical Education Standards provide states with a solid foundation to address state and local needs to accomplish this.

Here’s some other important information about opportunities in ESSA to promote school health:

  • Title 1 funds can be used to develop school-wide health programs, such as hiring a school nurse, implementing nutrition programs, positive behavior and social-emotional support strategies, bullying prevention programs, physical education programs and comprehensive family engagement strategies.
  • Title II expands provisions to reach teachers of all subjects with professional development, including school health professionals such as health and physical educators, and counselors, as well as the inclusion of school health objectives in School Improvement Plans.
  • Title II Part B, funds school-community partnerships within 21st Century Community Learning Centers including afterschool programs with nutrition education and physical activity
  • Faced with continuing accountability measures and financial limitations, schools must plan to provide K-12 students with health education and physical education programs. There are many tools that provide guidance, technical assistance and support for implementing programs that benefit students and the entire school community. States and local school districts who need guidance on how best to maximize their efforts to provide a well-rounded program that includes health in education are invited to contact me at 802-251-0488 or joellen@healthandlearning.org

JoEllen Tarallo, ED.D., MCHES, FASHA
Executive Director , Center for Health and Learning
802.251.0488 direct line  /  802.254-6590 general

Dr. JoEllen Tarallo is a nationally credentialed and state licensed health educator and educational administrator who serves on the Advocacy Council of the American School Health Association. The mission of the American School Health Association is to transform all schools into places where every student learns and thrives. ASHA is a unique multidisciplinary organization that provides a means for those employed by local, state and national education and health organizations to work collaboratively and synergistically with concerned parents and community members and with colleagues in higher education to meet ASHA’s mission. For more information about ASHA Advocacy visit: www.ashaweb.org

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The following information is adapted from ASHA Position Statement: The ESSA: Implications for K-12 Health Education and Physical Education (2/2/16):

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Health and Academic Achievement Overview” provides compelling evidence for the direct correlation between health and learning that is essential to academic success, school completion, and the development of healthy, resilient, and productive citizens. Students whose health and well-being are addressed are more likely to attend school regularly, behave well, graduate from high school, and grow into healthy, resilient and productive citizens. Addressing the comprehensive needs of all students is an essential element of meaningful education reform and a proven strategy for school turnaround and improvement.

Focusing on the whole child is of paramount importance today when the majority of our nation’s students are low-income. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that 51 percent of the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013. As a result, they are far more likely to face a plethora of health and economic barriers to learning. All students deserve access to the supports that enable them to succeed in school and in life. Students need a wide range of supports to address physical, mental, emotional, social and environmental needs that impact their learning. Evidence shows that students who are provided with instruction in personal and social skills have improved decision-making, reducing health risk behaviors. Programs linking instruction with health, education, social services and health services in schools reduce absenteeism. Well targeted interventions and supports can improve high school graduation rates.

In addition, the recent “Health in Mind” report showed that health and fitness are linked to improved academic performance, cognitive ability, and behavior as well as reduce truancy.

Today, one-third of our nation’s children are designated as overweight or obese. The lack of physically fit and health-literate graduates has become a national security issue. Being overweight or obese has become the leading medical reason that applicants fail to qualify for military service. Providing access to instruction in physical competence, health-related fitness and healthful behaviors is, therefore, crucial to young people’s development and long-term success as healthy and productive citizens. Health education is essential to support the formation of health-literate and health-conscious adults who understand how to prevent health problems and who can navigate the healthcare system when necessary. The development of lifelong healthful habits can help reduce the enormous burden of health care costs in this nation. Quality health education has been proven to be effective in reducing health-risk behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use. Quality health education also improves health-enhancing behaviors such as increasing physical activity, improving dietary behaviors and decreasing health illiteracy, which costs our nation $100–200 billion annually. Schools are uniquely positioned to help children and youth acquire life-long, health-promoting knowledge, skills attitudes and behaviors through comprehensive health education, physical education, nutrition, mental health screenings and services, counseling, and integration among all education and health programs.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Population Health. “Health and Academic Achievement Overview,” May 2014: Read More
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Center of Society and Health. “Why Education Matters to Health: Exploring the Causes,”: Read More
  • Health in Mind: Improving Education Through Wellness: Read More
  • Southern Education Foundation Research Bulletin: A New Majority: Read More
  • ASCD: Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Comparison of the No Child Left Behind Act to the Every Student Succeeds Act; Read More The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act enacted in 2002. Health education and physical education were not included in the NCLB definition of a “core” academic subject, and as a result, many schools and school districts reduced or eliminated instructional programs.
Scroll to Top