Question of the Month: A look at health education standards in the Midwest
Question: What requirements do Midwestern states have for health education in K-12 public schools?
Answer:Over the last few years, the number of Midwestern states including health education as a requirement for high school graduation has increased — a policy move that reflects growing recognition of the link between healthy kids and academic achievement, and between public health and safer, healthier communities.
Health education can include a vast array of subject areas, ranging from instruction on nutrition and personal safety to topics such as human sexuality and disease prevention. In all, six states in the region now require their students to take a health education class in order to graduate.
Minnesota’s new requirement took effect with the class of 2012, which had to complete one-half credit of health education. Similarly, students in South Dakota who entered the ninth grade in the 2010-11 school year will be required to complete one-half year of health education.
Indiana is the only Midwestern state that currently requires one full credit of health instruction.
In Kansas and North Dakota, students are required to complete one credit of physical education, of which one-half credit may be health education.
While both Iowa and Nebraska require health instruction to be offered, Iowa does not require it for graduation, and Nebraska allows local school districts to set the requirement. In Wisconsin, a student can take a health-education class in middle school to satisfy the state’s graduation requirement.
While prescribing among the widest array of topics in its health-education curriculum, Illinois does not list health education as a graduation requirement. Students there, however, must be taught a minimum of 18 weeks (or one semester) of health education.
States also often prescribe the content of what is taught as health education. One way they do so is by incorporating National Health Education Standards, which establish expectations for what students should know and be able to demonstrate by grades two, five, eight and 12 with regard to personal and public health issues. They were developed by the Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards.
With the exception of Ohio, all Midwestern states that require health education use these national standards in setting their curricula.