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Searching for Equality in NYC’s PE Quality


New York City schools are gearing up for a new initiative designed to measure progress in physical education. As school districts across the country work to increase academic achievement, NYC is being asked to prioritize physical education as much other classes.

A new local law requires schools to assess criteria that we – taxpayers – often take for granted related the quality of a PE program. For years, it has been assumed that schools were meeting current laws related to time requirements and class size.  Unfortunately, lack of transparency permitted schools to focus their energy on other priorities, while PE was pushed to the back burner and in some cases ignored altogether. 

“Until recently, as a system, we have had inconsistent data to be able to provide targeted support [to schools],” shared Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose to the NYC Council on Education Committee in June. “Across the DOE, we are committed to developing solutions for any challenges that may stand in the way of schools providing quality physical education to every one of our 1.1 million students.”

The data collection that is now required in the new city law should assist the DOE in their stated goal.  Here’s some questions that NYC schools will be able to answer with new reporting requirements across the district that will be in effect starting this school year:

  1. How many students are taking PE?
  2. How often are students in PE – by days per week and minutes per week?
  3. How many PE teachers are certified to teach physical education?
  4. What space(s) are being used for teaching PE, both on school campuses and away from school?
  5. How often are PE substitutions, such as sports, used?
  6. How is PE being adapted for students with special needs?
  7. How often is the NYC supplemental PE program Move to Improve being used?

While the answers to these questions will provide a tremendous opportunity for parents and advocates assist the DOE in building solutions, there are obstacles to a quality PE program that remain in the dark.   How many schools are complying with the state law that requires PE credits for high school graduation?  While the DOE promotes using Physical Best, a quality curriculum that encourages students to get fit based on their own abilities, how many are using this curriculum and is its implementation reviewed and updated as necessary?  How is the professional development of teachers fostered – are we encouraging them to seek advanced certification?  Are schools complying with state law that restricts the use of PE waivers (allowing students to be exempted from the PE requirements altogether?) And how can the DOE make sure that the information from this report is easily accessible to parents, outside of simply posting on a page somewhere on their website?   

In testimony shared by the American Heart Association, Yuki Courtland recounted surveying approximately 270 schools in 2012 and found that “the majority did not comply with state law, shortchanging students on time spent in PE and exceeding quality guidelines for class size.”

However, the new policy will serve administrators, parents, researchers and, most importantly, the students, as the city will work toward identifying obstacles for those schools that are struggling to offer quality PE to every student.

“This reporting mechanism is a necessary strategy to make sure NYC schools move toward equal accessibility to quality PE,” adds Courtland in her testimony.

While this is great step forward, additional assessment measures would provide parents and administrators information that could drive better decision-making in the future. When it comes to PE in the Big Apple – every student deserves quality PE!