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.
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