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NYC Comptroller: City's 'D.O.E. Is Failing Gym'

Many New York City public schools are falling short of meeting state guidelines for physical education for elementary and middle school students, according to an audit of the New York City education department released yesterday.

Auditors visited 31 elementary schools during the 2010-11 school year and found not a single one in full compliance with the physical education standards established by the state education department.

Only 6 percent of the schools visited during the audit "came anywhere near offering the required amount of PE to their students," according to a statement from city Comptroller John C. Liu.

"The DOE has failed to give students the legally required amount of physical education and failed to follow its own recommendations for fighting high rates of childhood obesity," Comptroller Liu said. "The DOE is failing gym."

New York mandates that students in grades K-6 receive at least 120 minutes of physical education per week, according to the National Association of Sport and Physical Education.

Pupils in K-3 must have daily physical education, and students in grades 4-6 must participate in physical education at least three times per week. Students in grades 7 and 8 must receive at least 90 minutes per week of phys. ed., according to the state standards.

Audit Findings

The audit reveals that two of the 31 schools had no designated space for physical education, and another two schools had no physical education teacher. Only nine of the 31 audited schools were identified as "reportedly partially compliant" with state phys. ed. requirements.

For support of their physical education programs, the 1.1 million-student school system relies primarily on the office of school wellness programs, a joint collaboration between the district and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. There are nearly 1,700 schools in total overseen by the DOE.

But the district doesn't have a written physical education plan (as required by the state ed. dept.'s physical education regulations), according to the audit. In fact, the education department hasn't filed a physical education plan with the state ed. dept. since 1982, the audit found.

Furthermore, the district doesn't monitor schools' compliance with the state regulations. Instead, each school's principal is tasked with ensuring that his/her school remains compliant with state phys. ed. requirements.

That system gives the district "no assurance" that schools are actually following the guidelines set out by the state education department, or whether officials at each school are even aware of the guidelines, the audit says.

Officials at 26 of the 31 audited schools did not know all the physical education requirements for elementary students. At 20 of the 26 schools, officials didn't know any of the phys. ed. requirements; officials at the other six could only name some, but not all, of them.

And yet, in 2009, the New York City education and health departments put out a special report titled, "Childhood Obesity Is a Serious Concern in New York City," in which they pointed out that 21 percent of the city's schoolchildren were considered obese, with another 18 percent considered overweight.

The report recommends that parents and schools encourage students' fitness through daily activity, including in-class fitness breaks.

Recommendations for the DOE

Needless to say, based on the comptroller's audit, it doesn't exactly sound like the DOE's recommendations came to fruition.

The comptroller had a few suggestions of his own for the district in the audit.
Upon his recommendation, the DOE agreed to create a physical education plan, aiming to have a final draft by next summer. District officials also agreed to recommend that schools schedule classroom-based physical activity and consider tracking the minutes spent on it, too.

The DOE did not agree, however, that it should be monitoring schools' compliance with state phys. ed. requirements, saying that "physical education is a subject like any other" and that principals are held accountable for meeting state standards in other subjects.

In response, the audit points out that other subjects, such as math, science, and language arts, have required standardized tests that can help evaluate students' abilities, while phys. ed. does not.

If it's any condolence to New York, it's got company in terms of being noncompliant with state phys. ed. requirements. Nearly 40 percent of California's public middle and high schoolers—more than 1.3 million teens in total—don't participate in any school-based physical education, according to a policy brief released this summer.

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