By New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer


One of the great Olympic champions of the modern age—track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee—once said that “playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete, and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.”


Despite the well-established lessons and rewards offered by participation in sports, New York City’s schoolchildren are being left on the bench by the lack of physical education in our public schools.


This past week my office released a first-of-its-kind, school-by-school analysis, Dropping the Ball: Disparities in Physical Education in New York City Schools, which reveals that the Department of Education (DOE) is failing too many of our students when it comes to physical education and violating State law in the process.


At a time when more than 26 percent of students aged 5-14 are obese or severely obese, more than 470,000 City students attend public schools that lack the capacity to provide regular physical education.


My office found that 32 percent of schools examined lack a full-time, certified physical education teacher, despite New York State regulations requiring the DOE to provide students in grades 7-12 with a licensed PE instructor. In addition, 28 percent of schools have no dedicated physical fitness space. Of schools lacking a dedicated physical fitness space, 80 percent are co-located in a DOE building with another district or charter school.


If this weren’t bad enough, these problems are most prevalent in neighborhoods where obesity rates are the highest, including the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn and East Harlem.


In the Bronx, over 28 percent of schools (106 of 373) do not have a full-time, certified PE teacher, while 38 percent (142) lack an indoor physical fitness space. More than 32 percent of all Bronx schools that do not have a fitness space are co-located.


Consistent, high-quality physical education programming has been shown to improve academic performance, boost public health and save taxpayer money. It has also been shown to stave off a range of health and mental health conditions that can last well into adulthood, such as diabetes, cardiovascular and liver disease and feelings of social isolation and stigmatization.


In addition to the immense academic and health consequences of obesity, its economic costs are truly staggering. In New York City alone, obesity is projected to cost the City over $4 billion in health care expenses annually.


It’s time to get our schools back in the game. That’s why I have called on the Department of Education to:


  • Conduct a system-wide assessment of certified physical education teaching positions and fitness space, in order to comply with State law and target PE investments towards neighborhoods of greatest need;


  • Update the DOE’s District Physical Education Plan—an important roadmap for delivering PE which has not been updated since 1982;


  • Develop instruments for tracking and monitoring schools’ provision of PE to all students; and


  • Post PE data for every City school in a single, clear location on the DOE website, so parents can determine if their child’s schools is in compliance with State PE regulations.


The DOE needs to act now to ensure that every City student is receiving mandated school-day physical education. Our children need and deserve no less.


To learn more about steps we can take to move the ball forward, read my full report. To see the physical education staffing and resources at your local school visit my online map.


It’s time to work together so that all New York City students can enjoy the benefits of physical education in their schools.



Scott M. Stringer is the Comptroller of the City of New York


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