leveling the playing field

New York City’s racial disparities spill into gym class, according to new report

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Nearly half of New York City’s students are missing out on physical education, according to a report released Wednesday — including the “vast majority” of black students and those with disabilities.

Issued by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the report looked at newly released data about how much physical education students are receiving. It finds that over two-thirds of students in grades K-3 aren’t receiving the 120 minutes of weekly PE required by state law — illustrating just how far the city is from its goal of ensuring that all elementary students meet those requirements by 2019.

City officials have struggled for years to address gaps in access to physical education, which are often attributed to space constraints, lack of personnel, and pressure to curtail PE in favor of other academic subjects. (A 2015 report from the city comptroller’s office found that 28 percent of schools lacked a dedicated “physical fitness space,” and about one-third of schools did not have a full-time certified PE teacher.)

The report, which is based on the first round of data made available under a new city law, reveals wide variations in access to PE at different grade levels and among various racial groups.

Third-graders, for instance, fared worse than students at any other level, with just 20 percent receiving the required amount of physical education. That trend flips dramatically in middle and high school, where most students are getting enough PE.

On average, black students received less PE than any other racial group, with just 19 percent getting the required level of instruction across grades K-5. By contrast, 30 percent of white students and 27 percent of Asian students received enough physical education, while 26 percent of Hispanic students did.

Percentage of students who get enough PE under state requirements

But those numbers can vary widely across different grade levels and districts. In Manhattan, just 8 percent of black students in grades K-5 received enough PE, compared with 21 percent in Brooklyn. And in Queens District 29, just 5 percent of all students in grades K-3 had full access to PE.

The report does not offer an explanation for the racial gaps, saying only that they are “likely tied to broader disparities in resources in the New York City school system.” The report suggests that city “should closely examine the racial disparities revealed by the DOE data and identify factors that are causing them.”

The picture is slightly more complex for students with disabilities, in part because of missing data. Students with disabilities were slightly less likely to receive required levels of PE compared with their peers.

Students who attend District 75 programs, who typically have more profound disabilities, fared consistently worse than other students. But those findings come with a caveat: The city did not report how many students who required “adaptive physical education” — a modified form of PE that would allow disabled students to participate — actually received it. (The education department has regularly failed to accurately report statistics on whether students with disabilities are receiving required services.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to improve access to PE across the board, and earlier this month he announced the city will invest $385 million over the next four years to provide all schools with a designated space for physical education.

The city has also committed to adding 500 PE teachers by 2019, and help schools come up with plans to overcome barriers to PE through a $100 million program launched last year called PE Works.

“The lack of physical education classes in our schools has been a concern of mine for over 20 years,” de Blasio said in a statement earlier this month. “Incorporating physical activity into the day isn’t just the healthy thing for our young people, it is the law and one that was ignored for far too long.”

Correction: Due to an error in the original report, the percentages on racial disparities have been corrected

question and answer

New York City lawmakers press Richard Carranza on paid parental leave, counselors, and school accessibility

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (left) at a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio

Richard Carranza faced his first round of questions from city lawmakers Tuesday since taking the helm of the nation’s largest school system — fielding concerns about the education department’s spending priorities contained within its mammoth $25.5 billion operating budget.

Carranza — who is on the same ideological page as the city council’s education leaders — faced a mostly warm reception and earned praise for jumping into the conversation about school segregation, something his predecessor avoided talking about directly and which councilman Danny Dromm called “a real breath of fresh air.”

But council members also pressed the new schools chief on some of the mayor’s spending priorities during the nearly four-hour hearing, including whether there is funding to make sure all schools have counselors, how to ensure more schools are accessible to students with physical disabilities, and whether the department will guarantee teachers paid parental leave in the upcoming teachers contract. (Carranza also announced a $24 million program to boost the city’s health education offerings, part of an effort to get in compliance with city and state regulations.)

Here are three topics that Carranza was questioned about:

Funding to ensure all schools have counselors

Mark Treyger, chairman of city council’s education committee, repeatedly asked Carranza about increasing funding for social workers and guidance counselors: 41 schools would be left without either in the current budget.

Given that the mayor’s budget boosts education spending by nearly $200 million, Treyger said, “$5.2 million to ensure every school has at least one full-time social worker or guidance counselor seems like an obvious choice to me. Why wasn’t this added to the budget?”

The schools chief did not rule out the possibility that funding would be added, but he seemed to push back against the idea that all schools must have either a guidance counselor or social worker. Decisions about whether to add staff are context-specific, Carranza said, adding that “there is local control” and school-level administrators can make hiring decisions.

Paid parental leave

After two Brooklyn high school teachers started a petition calling on the city’s teachers union to negotiate a parental leave policy, the issue has gained traction among local lawmakers — and even the union’s top brass. (Educators who want paid time off to care for their children must currently use sick days.)

Asked about creating a new policy, Carranza signaled the city would adopt one through the negotiating process with the union, whose contract expires this fall — though officials could not say how much it would cost or how the policy would work.

“Obviously we’re not going to negotiate in public,” Carranza said. But, he added, “I will be very supportive of anything that helps [teachers].”

School Access

Multiple city council members pressed Carranza on two very different access problems: Whether the city is spending enough money to update school buildings, most of which are not fully accessible to students with physical disabilities — and whether the city’s elite specialized high schools are too closed off from students of color.

On building accessibility, multiple advocacy groups argue the $100 million set aside in the city’s five-year capital plan to make buildings more accessible should be increased by $125 million. “I have no fully accessible schools in my district,” Treyger said. “This is part of the segregation conversation as well.”

Carranza also faced questions about specialized high schools, which have made virtually no progress enrolling a more representative share of black and Hispanic students in recent years. Carranza suggested that he has seen competitive schools elsewhere use multiple measures to make admissions officers at competitive public schools and “it never diluted the talent pool.”

That would mark a sharp departure from the current system, which awards admission on the basis of a single test. (Some experts say the city has the legal authority to change that requirement at five of the eight specialized high schools, though Mayor de Blasio has disagreed.)

“I want to make sure we’re providing opportunities for the widest number of students,” Carranza said. “All schools should be accessible to all students of the City of New York.”

School safety

Charter schools advocates’ next push: Funding for school security

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams speaks at a press conference related to charter school security funding.

New York City politicians and charter school advocates gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday to demand school security funding for certain charter schools.

Advocates are asking the City Council to revise a city law that funds security at non-public schools with more than 300 students. This minimum enrollment cap and the exclusion of charter schools, they charge, means many charter schools housed in private spaces have to pull funding for school security guards from their budgets that could otherwise be used in the classroom.

“Our tax dollars should protect all our children,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who spoke alongside members of the City Council and charter school advocates.

The push represents a new line of advocacy for the charter sector and touches on a national conversation about school safety. After devastating school shootings this year in Texas and Florida, New York’s lawmakers have been debating the best way to keep children safe in schools.

Now, the charter sector is adding its voice to the mix arguing that school security funding is a critical tool schools use to keep children safe. However, in the absence of security funds, charter schools remain committed to dipping into instructional budgets to hire school safety officers, said James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

“I don’t want anyone to think that right now charter schools aren’t safe,” Merriman said.

Charter school advocates have long argued that the publicly funded, privately managed schools, which educate more than 42,000 students citywide in private spaces, do not receive public funding equivalent to that of their district school counterparts. They have suggested a range of solutions to this problem, including altering the state’s funding formula and receiving more money to pay for private space.

If the City Council is not receptive to changes, charter school supporters said they may look to the state for help.

“We think this can pass at the City Council level,” Adams said. “If not…we’ll go to the state.”