Commission opposes proposal to authorize military instructors to teach physical education

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A proposal to give military instructors special authorization to teach physical education was defeated Friday. Credit: Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

Over the opposition of its chair Linda Darling-Hammond and a positive recommendation from it staff, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing narrowly defeated a proposal Friday that would have authorized military instructors to teach physical education as part of their military classes.

After a heated public hearing, commission members voted 6-4 against creating a new category of physical education certification for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and Basic Military Drill instructors. The change would have allowed military instructors, who are typically retired military personnel and who are not required to hold a bachelor’s degree, to earn a “special authorization” to teach physical education by passing a state test in physical education subject content.

JROTC and military drill are high school electives that use Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard curriculum covering fitness, leadership, civics and U.S. history, among other topics. California has 350 JROTC high school programs, each with a minimum of 100 students. The rule change also would have affected instructors in the California Cadet Corps program who hold a credential to teach ROTC or military drill. The Cadet Corps has 6,000 students in the state, according to a statement from the group.

Instead of agreeing to a rule change, several commissioners spoke strongly in favor of having fully certified physical education teachers following a rigorous state-approved curriculum.

Commissioner Richard Zeiger, chief deputy superintendent to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said that salsa dance instructors and marching band leaders also have argued that their classes involve energetic movement and should count toward fulfilling the high school graduation requirement of two years of physical education instruction.

“It’s not that these programs aren’t good,” Zeiger said. “They’re not physical education. We have a set of standards for physical education.”

Particular care should be taken to ensure proper teaching credentials, he noted, because physical education is a mandated area of instruction, similar to mathematics and English.

“We consider physical education a crucial part of a student’s school life and academic preparation,” Zeiger said. “We have resisted the notion that physical education is somehow less important than other required courses.”

Darling-Hammond noted that the legislature had decided years ago to allow school districts, at their discretion, to award physical education credit to students enrolled in JROTC, drill instruction and other classes. Given that, Darling-Hammond argued that JROTC instructors would meet what she described as “a slightly higher standard or significantly higher standard” of expertise if they earned a special authorization to teach physical education.

But commissioner Alicia Williamson, an elementary school teacher in the Cambrian School District in San Jose, took exception to that line of reasoning. “We’re saying that because it’s already happening, we should make it a little better,” Williamson said. “But actually physical education is a serious required subject and we should have a credentialed teacher teaching physical education.”

In making the staff recommendation to approve the regulation change, Tammy Duggan, a consultant to the commission, said that the special authorization would give a military instructor “a little bit of an edge” in persuading an unsure school board to grant physical education credit for military instruction. Offering physical education credit would give students the flexibility in their schedules to enroll in JROTC and would help to avoid potential enrollment declines in military classes, Duggan noted in her report to the commission.

Among the remarks at the hearing was a fervent statement opposing the rule change from Ken Burt, a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association. The state Legislature decided years ago not to mandate physical education credit for JROTC classes, Burt said. The proposed rule change created a perception that the commission was trying to do “an end run” around the Legislature by giving JROTC the means to pressure school boards to grant the physical education credit. “I believe the commission’s credibility is at stake here,” he said.

Lt. Col. Brian Anderson, chief of staff at the California Military Department, spoke in favor of the rule change at the hearing, noting that military fitness programs have inspired some students to lose weight and become dedicated exercisers. “The physical education community is very passionate about physical education and health,” Anderson said. “So is the military.”

Physical education teachers greeted the defeat of the rule change with delight, expressing particular pleasure in Zeiger’s statement that the state superintendent values physical education as much as other mandated subject areas.

Cindy Lederer, a high school physical education teacher in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, said the support was refreshing because physical education classes were often at risk for losing students to school assemblies or other electives.

“We seem to be the target,” Lederer said. “If it’s not ROTC, it’s cheerleading, band or the music teacher who is after us. It makes us feel devalued.”

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health. Contact her or follow her @JaneAdams. Sign up here for EdHealth, EdSource Today’s free newsletter on student health.

Filed under: Credentialing, Student Health, Teaching

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14 Responses to “Commission opposes proposal to authorize military instructors to teach physical education”

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  1. Kevin Holeman on Mar 14, 2014 at 5:08 pm03/14/2014 5:08 pm

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    I have to concur with Ric on this. The JROTC curriculum is varied and offers the instructors and school principals the flexibility to tailor their JROTC program to their needs in addition to the core JROTC lessons. If your school does not offer JROTC as PE credit then they have no reason to implement those lessons and that is likely why they have not. If JROTC was an authorized PE credit class statewide then each respective JROTC would have to sit down with their schools and adjust their course schedule and lesson plans. It is up to the school and district and that is the way it should be.

    I have been paying attention to this subject for several months and from my perspective as a new teacher it seems the real issue is protecting jobs and not looking outside box for solutions. I hear teachers and administrators complaining about the loss of students to charter schools and yet the remain unwilling to change. As far as physical fitness of our young people…well, increased childhood obesity and diabetes is not laughing matter. I also administer the Presidential Physical Fitness test at our school and I can tell you we have a long way to go.

  2. Ric Buesgen on Feb 20, 2014 at 2:40 pm02/20/2014 2:40 pm

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    Do any of the commentators above have any experience with the curriculum of the JROTC Programs? It is unfortunate that so many people are so quick to make a decision as to whether or not JROTC qualifies as a PE class. Even the people who made the decision apparently did not take the time to scrutinize the Leadership Education I and II books for freshmen and sophomore students provided by the Air Force as part of the JROTC curriculum. Those texts provide instruction in a host of areas; including hygiene and grooming, stress and your health, ways to manage stress, study habits, making decisions and setting goals, understanding your emotions, mental and emotional health care, avoiding and preventing violence, nutrition, benefits of physical activity, weight control, setting fitness goals, medicine, drugs, and alcohol. That was just the first few chapters of the Leadership Education I book. The JROTC Program also has a complete physical fitness program with computerized monitoring of individual student progress. The Army, Navy and Marine Corp have similar texts and programs for their classrooms. Anyone who believes the JROTC units simply march around a field for an entire class period should think about doing their “homework” before passing judgement.


    • Maryjo on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm02/21/2014 5:04 pm

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      No one that fought for a “no” vote is against the methods used in JROTC, the concern is the content and methodology does not meet the national standards for physical education, far better outcomes than even California PE standards. In addition, the instructors for JROTC do not even meet minimal standards for a credential physical educator graduating from a CCTC accredited institution. But as many have stated, physical activity is not physical education! Think of physical education as a continuum of learning based upon the developmental levels of children, one size does not fit all. Physical education addresses the whole child through all three domains of learning, psychomotor, cognitive and affective. Physical education teachers are educators of the physical, this is their profession, it is not just a content taken for credit but for the development of lifetime skills, understanding and enjoyment.

  3. el on Feb 19, 2014 at 10:02 am02/19/2014 10:02 am

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    Having listened to a really good presentation by a PE teacher that explained why kids are grouped together in certain ages, the different skills and expectations at each level, how it is developed with Common Core, and the connections that are developed to the rest of the academic program, I cannot see that ROTC is a substitute for PE any more than it is a substitute for math.

    If you wanted to swap in ROTC for a sport, that would make more sense, as does providing our kids with more opportunities for electives in general.

  4. Gary Ravani on Feb 18, 2014 at 4:45 pm02/18/2014 4:45 pm

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    I support the Commission’s decision re ROTC and PE credit. PE is a legitimate subject area of its own and students deserve to be taught by legitimately credentialed teachers.

    That being said there are also very good reasons why students should have access to a liberal and broad selection of courses as a part of a well balanced education. These could include a number of electives. Unfortunately electives have been squeezed out of the curriculum by budget cuts, but even more so by the narrowing of the curriculum caused by an overzealous concentration on tested content areas causing some students to be double scheduled for math and ELA courses and/or the focus on A thru G approved university prep courses for graduation.

    After all, CA students, like those in mythical Lake Woebegone, are all “above average” should universally be herded to only the most pretentious of universities regardless of what their own interests might be.

  5. Gary Hayakawa on Feb 16, 2014 at 1:54 pm02/16/2014 1:54 pm

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    To Whom It May Concern,

    I am glad that this issue was turned down. I am a Vietnam Vet. who was in an Airborne unit over there. My son who is a physical education instructor asked me to see if I could get involved. I believe in the military and support them but also realize that the students need this type of education and believe the instructors of the JROTC do not qualify to teach this unit. I did contact a political advocate in Sacramento to see what can be done to oppose this issue. This issue may come up again and again needs to be turned down.

    Gary Hayakawa


    • Romeo Obongen on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:30 am02/21/2014 9:30 am

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      “Physical activity does NOT equal Physical Education…” Is sitting in front of a computer to make up PE credits your idea of quality education?

  6. Margaret on Feb 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm02/15/2014 8:52 pm

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    At the end of my career I can only express my deepest of gratitude for those who spoke at the hearing and the commissioners who voted against the exception being requested for JROTC. This ruling protects the rigorous standards that CA has in all curriculum areas.

    Physical activity does NOT equal Physical Education standards and anyone that thinks it does hasn’t read them. Our students deserve the finest, quality education that our state standards provide in all curriculum areas.


    • Romeo Obongen on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:30 am02/21/2014 9:30 am

      • 000

      “Physical activity does NOT equal Physical Education…” Is sitting in front of a computer to make up PE credits your idea of quality education?

  7. Paul on Feb 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm02/14/2014 11:05 pm

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    I am of two minds here.

    First, the physical education teachers I had as colleagues were eminent professionals. The had specialized knowledge in their subject area and specialized skills for working with young people. It is less certain that a military officer would have thorough knowledge of exercise physiology — or that he [typical gender] would have the range of interpersonal skills necessary to serve mixed groups of JROTC and non-JROTC students. The latter might not have the same motivation in a physical education program, and also could not be disciplined or directed in the same way as the military cadets.

    Second, try as they might, researchers have never found the magic link between formal teacher preparation programs and teacher effectiveness. There is an argument for opening the ranks a little bit, as long as this is not a cost-saving measure or an attempt to “de-professionalize” the workforce (read: to reduce wages and increase supervisory control).

    This issue is bigger than any one subject area. California’s charter school law, for example, allows non-credentialed school principals, and non-credentialed instructors in non-core, non-college-preparatory courses. Returning to P.E., some people will remember the old regulatory distinction between “academic” and “non-academic” subjects.


    • Gary Ravani on Feb 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm02/18/2014 4:23 pm

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      I am going to suggest you refer to linda Darling-Hammond’s book “The Flat World and Education” for numerous references to peer reviewed studies that do indicate a strong connection between
      “formal teacher preparation programs and teacher effectiveness.” And then there are the numerous other studies available as well as the experience of “high performing” nations on the importance of teacher preparation. On the other hand, aside from using the performance of other “high performing nations” as a bludgeon to pound on US public education we pay little attention to what those nations do to achieve “high performing status;” for example, doing something to reduce the rate of childhood poverty so, perhaps, it’s a waste of time and effort.

      • Paul on Feb 18, 2014 at 8:20 pm02/18/2014 8:20 pm

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        Gary, I will enjoy looking up Linda’s book, but I must point out off-hand that some studies have found nearly equivalent levels of performance from fully-credentialed beginning teachers and internship credential holders (who, for the benefit of other readers, complete a portion of their education coursework while serving as paid teachers of record, as opposed to completing all coursework and an unpaid, limited-time, limited-responsibility student teaching placement beforehand).

        By a “‘magic link’ between formal teacher preparation programs and teacher effectiveness”, I meant a causal link. No research has established such a link. Correlation, where it occurs, is not causation.

        I think we agree on the importance of a professional public school teacher workforce. I was simply saying that I am open to limited efforts to broaden the talent pool.

    • Eric Premack on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:38 pm02/20/2014 1:38 pm

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      In addition to the credentialing flexibility, charter schools also enjoy more flexibility in terms of what to emphasize relative to state standards.

      This is especially important in the area of PE where the state standards arguably miss the mark–especially in a state where a high proportion of students are obese and at grave risk for long-term health issues.

      To wit: Is it a vital state interest that every eighth grader meet the following standards?

      “1.1 Identify and demonstrate square dance steps, positions, and patterns set to music.” and, 1.2 Create and perform a square dance.”

      We might be a lot better off if the standards were re-written to ensure that all students meet key guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control such as documenting 60 minutes of aerobic activity each day. This might include:

      1) Re-writing the state PE standards to drop the current heavy emphasis on seemingly-trival matters and instead focus them tightly on implementing and developing lifelong fitness practices.

      2)Dropping the state-mandated physical fitness test and instead gauge whether kids are getting the exercise they need–we might even buy a heart rate monitor for each kid.

      3) Allowing schools to determine how best to get their kids to engage in these lifelong fitness practices, ideally learning to do so outside of the formal school structure as in “real life,” without Sacramento telling them how many minutes to teach the class, what credentials are needed for the instructors, or what pointless standards to pursue.

      • MJ on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm02/21/2014 5:22 pm

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        I agree that the California content standards for physical education are in dire need of refinement and refocus to align with the 2013 Physical Education National standards. The current standards are written toward a very out-dated law that dictates the content in physical education. Regarding the fitness test, is should be viewed not as a test but an assessment, similar to an evaluation a physician might perform reflecting an individual’s health. California’s fitness assessment is the FitnessGram, and focuses on those areas of health related fitness that correlate with improved health. The results of the FitnessGram should be used to inform children and parents as to the current level of fitness and the results are to be used to establish goals and practices for continued development of health-related fitness. Results should always be private and never used to grade students. Until California and the CCTC stops granting credentials to people who have never completed an accredited single-subject program in Physical Education, and allowing classroom teachers to be the elementary PE teachers, there will continue to be a gap in quality and effectiveness of physical education programs.

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