Physical education for all city kids: Right now, thousands aren’t getting what the law requires — and their health demands.

by Erin Leigh George and Amy Richards

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

(Original Article)

Not enough gyms

Rafaela Vivaldo’s son attends PS 19 in Corona, Queens, one of the most crowded schools in the city. Students there only have physical education for half-an-hour each week and are constrained to a large classroom while the school undergoes expansion.

Unfortunately, the situation at PS 19 is not an exception. Left and right, New York City’s public schools are failing to meet the state’s minimum requirements for physical education for K-12 students. Many elementary school students have only one class each week, violating the state requirement that all students receive PE daily through third grade and three times a week thereafter.

A physical education teacher in the Bronx reported that she must compete with three other schools in the same building for gymnasium time. While her students technically have access to a gym and a full-time PE teacher, they only get one overcrowded physical education class each week.

According to a 2013 report from the American Heart Association, nearly 60% of schools across the five boroughs reported only offering physical education one to two days per week.

Our children have a right to healthy, active lives — and that starts with healthy, active schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that physical education and activity improve children’s health and academic achievement. PE can improve students’ concentration, cognitive skills and behavior, and is critical to tackling childhood obesity, a problem that disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color.

In order to remedy the situation, parents, community members and advocates need to know more about the quality and quantity of physical education that children are receiving. Yet for years, the New York City Department of Education hasn’t even been required to share data about how and whether they are meeting state requirements. And data that has become available through various audits and reports is frequently incomplete.

Fortunately, the City Council is addressing this problem. Last week, the Council passed legislation introduced by Council Member Elizabeth Crowley of Queens, and championed by the PhysEd4All Coalition, requiring a school-by-school breakdown of physical education offerings. The new law will finally shed light on the current state of PE in New York City schools, make it easier to direct resources and hold the DOE accountable. And today, Mayor de Blasio signed the bill into law.

Improving transparency is a critical first step. As the full scope of the problem comes to light — assuming de Blasio and his Education Department implement the law effectively — it will be time to talk far more about solutions.

New York City Controller Scott Stringer’s 2015 report demonstrated the widespread lack of resources available for physical education in our schools.That analysis found that nearly a third of the city’s public schools lack a full-time, certified PE teacher. There is a critical need to hire more certified physical education teachers to address this problem.

The controller also found that over one-quarter of public schools lack a dedicated physical fitness space. New York City needs to invest in substantial new school construction.

Every child in New York has a right to quality physical education. It’s time to improve transparency at the DOE and to invest more in our teachers and schools so that we can broadly improve access to physical education in New York City public schools. Our children deserve it.

Erin George is a community organizer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Amy Richards is a program coordinator with Make the Road New York. Both organizations are members of PhysEd4All, a coalition.