12 Reasons to Include Conceptual Physical Education in Your Secondary PE Program

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In the last 20 years, required physical education in high schools has decreased dramatically. Statistics from 2018 indicate that only 52% of high school students take PE one day a week and only 30% have daily PE.

So why are we losing programs? There are a number of factors including high stakes testing in other academic areas, budgetary concerns, and negative stereotypes of PE requirements.

What can health and physical educators do about it? We can provide evidence that our programs work! One type of program that works is Conceptual Physical Education (CPE). CPE is a type of fitness education that uses a textbook and classroom sessions in addition to physical activity sessions.

Fitness Education Infographic

Here are 12 reasons to include Conceptual Physical Education in your secondary program:

  1. CPE helps students stay physically active.
    Being physically active is an overarching goal of PE and physical literacy — and CPE programs have been shown to promote physical activity after the school years. Lifelong physical activity has proven health benefits, as detailed in Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services).
  2. CPE helps students meet national content standards and benchmarks.
    Students who meet SHAPE America’s National Standards and Fitness Education Benchmarks are considered to be physically literate. CPE contributes to physical literacy by helping students to meet those standards and benchmarks.
  3. CPE programs adhere to an effective philosophy that provides for individualized student learning.
    The HELP philosophy (Health for Everyone for a Lifetime in a Personal way) was developed for use in the Fitness for Life CPE program, but has also provided guidance for fitness education programs such as Physical Best and FitnessGram®.
  4. CPE helps students achieve higher-order objectives.
    Educators in all academic areas have long advocated for higher-order learning. The goal is to push beyond memorizing facts. Learning to understand and apply helps students become good consumers, problem solvers and decision makers. CPE emphasizes higher-order learning and uses a self-management approach.
  5. CPE is based on sound learning theories that helps students become motivated and confident in their ability to be active throughout life.
    Well-designed CPE programs use sound educational and psychological theory (e.g., self-determination theory, stages of change model). As a result, CPE helps students meet goals consistent with becoming physically literate.

    student in wheelchair with basketball
  6. CPE complements comprehensive school physical activity programs (CSPAP).
    Infusing physical activity in all aspects of life is the primary goal of CSPAP programs. Promoting physical activity in PE, as well as in all aspects of school and community life, are goals consistent with CPE. CPE and CSPAP complement each other.
  7. CPE programs complement other PE programs and provide a strong foundation for quality physical education.
    As described earlier, CPE is just one part of a quality PE program. However, CPE helps prepare students for other PE classes by providing them with self-management, problem-solving and decision-making skills (see reason 4).
  8. CPE provides academic connections with other content areas and provides opportunities for social and emotional learning.
    The focus of PE programs is first on helping students to become physically literate by meeting standards and benchmarks. However, there are also opportunities to make academic connections to other subject matter areas. CPE gives students opportunities to write across the curriculum, to learn math and science concepts, and to meet standards related to nutrition and health education. CPE programs also address social and emotional learning (SEL) goals (e.g., self-awareness, relationship skills, social awareness, responsible decision-making) using a self-management skill approach.
  9. CPE programs provide opportunities for assessment and accountability.
    CPE programs use formative (identify areas for improvement) and summative (evaluate cumulative learning) assessments that provide a basis for program accountability and student learning. CPE portfolios are used to show parents evidence of student achievement.
  10. CPE programs work!
    Three published studies from Project Active Teen show that teens who took CPE in ninth grade were less likely to be inactive later in high school and one to two years after graduation than teens who took traditional PE. Twenty years after graduation, the CPE students were much less likely to be inactive and more likely to be active than those in a national sample. Long after graduation, 56% indicated that they remembered content from the CPE class, 50% still used it, and 47% found the class useful after graduation. 92% consider themselves well informed about physical fitness and physical activity. Research at the middle school level showed that CPE produced knowledge, motivation, and physical activity benefits. These benefits are known as the “PE Effect.”

    Female student lifting weights
  11. CPE programs can enhance teacher self-esteem and the reputation of your PE program.
    CPE teachers, such as those in Project Active Teen, indicate that teaching important concepts, using a textbook and classroom sessions enhances their status with other teachers, administrators, and parents. It also enhanced the perceptions of the PE program. Teachers of CPE are seen as content experts in topics related to physical fitness and physical activity. Some CPE teachers indicated that they were invited to give presentations on fitness to civic groups.
  12. Conceptual Physical Education has the support of medical and public health experts.
    The prestigious National Academy of Kinesiology supports the inclusion of CPE programs in the quality PE curriculum. In addition, experts have called for a “public health” approach to PE — and CPE is consistent with this approach. Dr. Jeff Boone from the Boone Heart Institute in Colorado suggests that if CPE is added to the curriculum, “students who are becoming young adults will be able to engage appropriately in a program of health exercise.”
JOPERD March 2020

In the March issue of JOPERD, my co-authors (Pam Kulinna and Ben Shipley) and I go into more detail about the 12 reasons listed above. The article also includes suggestions for implementing a CPE program. Some of these suggestions are briefly listed below. Consult the article for more details.

  • Begin with a plan.
  • Commit to an inclusive philosophy.
  • Commit to national and state content standards and benchmarks.
  • Use CPE evidence to gain support of stakeholders.
  • Maintain program fidelity.
  • Seek student “buy in.”
  • Provide professional development for CPE teachers.
  • Consider a pilot CPE program.
  • Consider an elective CPE program.

Additional Resources


Chuck Corbin
Chuck Corbin

Chuck Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He started his career as an elementary physical educator and has taught physical education at the college level for 50+ years. He is the senior author of Fitness for Life, a fitness education program for K-12. He is a SHAPE America Scholar and Gulick Award recipient. He can be reached at chuck.corbin@asu.edu.