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Student journalists report more proof of P.E. crediting problems

Searching for an explanation behind their school’s mid-year physical education scheduling shakeup, two Staten Island student journalists arrived at a conclusion familiar to Department of Education insiders: It’s hard to know just how many P.E. courses students must take, and for how long.

Travis Dove and Juliana Zaloom, students at CSI High School for International Studies, launched their investigation in their journalism class after CSI seniors were thrust into extra P.E. classes last semester. Today, they share their report in the GothamSchools Community section.

Dove and Zaloom write:

The physical education scheduling conflicts could be due to mistakes by school administration and faculty. …

But the city Department of Education can also be blamed for its unclear handling of physical education. As it does not monitor schools’ physical education programs, some have not even been aware that there are requirements at all.

CSI High is not the only school to have reshuffled its physical education offerings in the middle of this year. An internal Department of Education audit released in February found that some principals had been unaware of crediting rules, particularly around P.E.

We reported that month that students at Manhattan’s Pace High School were thrust into extra P.E. classes after they found out their school had not required them to take the correct number of gym courses. The oversight might well have had implications on Pace’s city accountability statistics, we reported at the time:

Pace did especially well when it came to how many credits in academic courses students picked up each year, beating not only the citywide average but also a smaller group of schools with similar demographics. Schedules with fewer physical education classes allow for more time in academic courses that carry more credits, making Pace students more likely to meet the credit accumulation standard.

CSI High School posted similar credit accumulation statistics on its most recent Department of Education progress report. Like Pace, CSI High School is high-performing and also does not screen students for admission.

And like Pace, CSI High opened in the first term of the Bloomberg administration, when the Department of Education was ramping up new school creation with funding from the Gates Foundation. New principals were often young and had not served in administrative positions before, meaning that they had little exposure to the ad hoc and word-of-mouth communications that had long informed school leaders about graduation requirements.

The Department of Education’s February audit report concluded that many principals misunderstood physical education requirements. It reads:

Several principals believed they had the authority to waive the PE requirement for individual students, e.g., in cases of documented injury or medical conditions. Other principals believed that any student (rather than just those graduating early) who met all other requirements could graduate, hence, a student should not have to stay in school merely to complete PE credits. One principal believed that because the school did not have a gymnasium, the school could not provide PE. Many principals were also confused about the number of credits that should be attached to their PE courses.

The department has moved to clarify requirements in all subjects by uniting disparate state and city requirements in a single, 40-page guide for the first time, an advance that principals applauded when it was announced.

“[The] promise to tighten DOE procedures will be appreciated by school leaders throughout the system,” said Ernest Logan, head of the city’s principals union at the time.

The department is not penalizing schools or their leaders for mistakes made in the past as part of the crackdown on crediting issues. That’s good for CSI High School’s leaders: Its founding principal, Aimee Horowitz, is now a high school superintendent.

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