Whether fondly or not, many of us have vivid memories of physical education as part of our school experience. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many children in New York City today.
In fact, many public school students here are not getting the minimum required by New York State law. In a city where nearly one out of every six children is obese, it’s more critical than ever that our children are getting at least the minimum number of hours of physical education that they need.
Currently, the state requires K–sixth-grade students to have a minimum of 120 minutes of weekly physical education, and grade seven through 12 two semesters worth, three times a week in one and two times a week in the other. These classes must be taught or supervised by a certified physical education instructor. Recess doesn’t count.
While recent news has highlighted a drop in obesity rates among young children, these gains in fighting childhood obesity stand to be reversed in New York City school-aged children without adequate physical education. For example, a 2011 audit by the New York City Comptroller found that of the 31 schools audited, none were sufficiently complying with the physical education requirements. Further, a New York Times article found that about one in five New York City high school students report having no gym class in an average week.
Physical education has been proven to help reduce obesity and improve health. Additionally, it helps instill good habits, and the Institute of Medicine has noted the positive association between physical education and improved academic performance. If Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña are really committed to improving students’ outcomes, and addressing the widening inequality gap, making sure our children have adequate physical education should be part of their solution.
Here are three things they can do:
First, the Department of Education should be more transparent and make information on physical education offerings available to students, parents, and the public. The D.O.E. should also document, report, and monitor compliance and undertake efforts to determine which schools are offering a program that meets the state requirements and share that data with the public. C
Currently, information about the city’s physical education program isn’t easily accessible and has even required Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and a court petition to learn more about physical education monitoring, compliance, and complaints. In addition to some principals and teachers being unaware of the requirements, parents are also uninformed about the amount of physical education their children should be getting.
Second, the D.O.E. should provide additional support for schools to meet state requirements. At a time of tight budgets, schools lack the resources to hire certified physical education teachers and to educate principals on how to implement effective programs. To educate schools and the public, the D.O.E. can highlight best practices from schools that are meeting the requirements, and provide technical assistance and additional training for principals.
Third, the D.O.E. should prioritize addressing space and other facilities-related issues for physical education. It can do so by convening key stakeholders to look at ways to address these issues both in existing schools and in the development of new schools.
These are just a few steps city leaders can take to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that the over 1.1 million students in its system—largely students of color and low-income students—have adequate access to physical education. If the de Blasio administration is serious about addressing inequality, then they need to make sure every New York City student has a decent physical education.