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Comptroller: Most schools not meeting P.E. time requirements

City students aren’t getting the physical education they’re supposed to, according to the latest Department of Education audit out of Comptroller John Liu’s office.

The audit — which follows others in recent weeks about the DOE’s space planning and handling of the Absent Teacher Reserve — concludes that the DOE is doing too little to monitor physical education compliance at individual schools.

According to state law, students in kindergarten through sixth grade must have at least two hours total of physical education each week, with daily instruction until third grade and at least three times weekly after that. But of the 31 elementary schools that auditors surveyed, only two appeared to be meeting the requirements for all students.

Some principals told Liu’s office that they didn’t know the state’s physical education requirements. Others said they lacked the space or personnel to offer as much physical education instruction as they would like, especially after budget cuts. And still others said they had felt pressure to curtail physical education in favor of academic subjects.

In their response to the audit, DOE officials said they would do more to make principals aware of the state’s physical education requirements and would create a formal plan for delivering physical education within the next year. But they emphasized that they do not monitor the amount of time that schools spend on any single subject.

Counting the minutes is less important for subjects where students are assessed through standardized tests, Liu’s office countered, asserting not quite correctly that all academic subjects culminate in that kind of test. Because there is no across-the-board way to measure students’ fitness achievements, the audit argues, the city should check for compliance.

Liu’s office is not the first to suggest that city students should be getting more exercise. Indeed, city health officials in 2009 recommended that schools increase physical education instruction to cut down on childhood obesity and disease and boost academic achievement.

The city has started sending home fitness reports, called Fitnessgrams, to parents, and the head of the DOE’s Office of School Wellness Programs, Lori Rose Benson, told Insideschools in February that more elementary schools than ever had at least one physical education teacher: 92 percent, up from 75 percent in 2003.

Calls for an increased focus on fitness are likely to resonate with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, an avid runner who eschews sweets and wears a pedometer to count how many steps he takes each day.