Commission reverses itself, authorizes military instructors to teach physical education

Credit: Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today

Students stretch at Oakland Technical High School.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing reversed itself and voted earlier this month to offer military instructors a limited authorization to teach physical education. In the eyes of physical educators, respect for their field was dealt another blow.

The move would allow military instructors, who are not required to hold a bachelor’s degree, to teach physical education – but only fitness and drill and only in the context of their Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and basic military drill classes. However limited, the proposed teaching authorization is viewed by some as a rebuke to the national push for improved teacher quality.

“You are giving a supplemental authorization to someone who doesn’t have a teacher credential and may not have a bachelor’s degree,” said Alicia Williamson, a commissioner who voted against the proposal, which passed 7-4. “It undermines the teaching profession. There is no other core subject we’d ever do this for.”

Others see it as just the opposite – a way to improve the quality of physical education instruction already being provided in JROTC courses, which, at the discretion of local school boards, can be taken by students to fulfill the physical education requirement needed for high school graduation.

The matter, which has been contentiously debated before the commission since last September, is not yet settled. Before the proposed “special teaching authorization” in physical education is adopted, the commissioners will vote again on the issue at their June meeting.

If approved, the new teaching authorization would likely make it easier for school boards to justify granting physical education credit for military training classes, the commission acknowledged in its proposal. The issue of physical education credit for military training has been a firecracker on several school boards, with some board members in favor of military training on campus, some against, and others in favor of military training but not if it takes away from physical education instruction.

“I am not anti-JROTC,” said Sandra Lee Fewer, president of the San Francisco Board of Education. But childhood obesity is a problem and the state has decided that physical education is an academic priority, she said. “That is why teachers with P.E. credentials should be the only ones allowed to fulfill that requirement,” she said. “In San Francisco, it became a political battle.”

Physical education is the only required high school area of study that school boards routinely allow students to fulfill with courses taught by instructors who don’t hold a bachelor’s degree or a single-subject credential in the content area. Local school boards have said they waive the requirement because students need flexibility in their schedules to take electives or re-take classes in other subject areas.

By passing two tests, one in basic academic skills and another in knowledge of physical education, military instructors could add the physical education teaching authorization to their ROTC or military drill credential. The authorization would apply to grades 12 and below, but military instructors would not be allowed to teach physical education to the general student body.

Formally recognizing military instructors for a higher level of competence will encourage them “to become better prepared and more knowledgeable, safer and more responsible in the work that they already are doing,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the credentialing commission.

JROTC and military drill are high school electives that use Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and other military curriculum covering fitness, leadership, civics and U.S. history, among other topics. California has 360 JROTC high school programs; each program must enroll at least 100 students, according to military specifications. The new teaching authorization also would be available to instructors in the California Cadet Corps program, which is run under the California National Guard and the California Military Department. The Cadet Corps has 6,000 students in the state, according to the group.

To hold a preliminary teaching credential for JROTC or military drill, instructors must have four years of military experience and hold a high school diploma or have passed the General Educational Development (GED) tests. To advance to what’s called a “clear” credential, military instructors must teach at least one course for four semesters and complete 135 hours of preparation in a program approved by the credentialing commission. They also must complete a course in health education and receive training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Leaders of military programs said that their instructors have taken pains to improve their physical education preparation. “We are making a concerted effort to ensure that the lessons delivered are … in line with California content standards,” said Lt. Col. Mark Ryan, assistant executive officer of the California Cadet Corps.

For JROTC instructors, who usually are retired military personnel, the new authorization would be optional – it is not required for their work, the commission said.

That led Jane Robb, an instructional specialist with the California Teachers Association, to question why the new authorization was needed. “It appears to us that this item is basically being used to bolster the efforts to convince local school boards, when that issue comes before them, to allow basic military drill to count toward P.E. credit for high school graduation,” Robb said.

The commission’s report stated that the lack of a physical education credential for military instructors “may explain the reticence of some local governing boards to recognize these courses as meeting the physical education graduation requirements.”

Teri Burns, a senior director of the California School Boards Association, praised the proposed authorization because it would inform school boards as they try to decide whether to grant physical education credit for military instruction. “It allows a fuller discussion at a board meeting of ‘Is this what we want to do? Should the board be giving credit? Should it not?’” Burns said.

Being able to grant physical education credit is extremely helpful in sustaining enrollment in military classes, said Brigadier General James Gabrielli of the California National Guard. “Approving this request will reverse the trend in the California Cadet Corps and Junior ROTC programs that have suffered steady attrition due to local school district policies that have eliminated physical education credit,” he told commissioners when they first considered the proposal last fall.

But Darling-Hammond said that telling school boards whether to grant P.E. credit for JROTC is beyond the purview of the commission. Encouraging instructors to improve their training is not. “It our job to raise competence and not to lower standards,” she said.

“We are fighting this,” said Joanie Verderber, a past president of the Sacramento-based California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, the leading physical education teacher organization in the state. She said she regretted that the issue has pitted JROTC against physical education.

“Both stand individually and have merit of themselves,” she said. But, she said, “When we have courses that are identified in education law as part of the basic requirement for a high school diploma, those courses are taught by someone who holds a single subject credential and must have a baccalaureate degree.”


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16 Responses to “Commission reverses itself, authorizes military instructors to teach physical education”

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  1. Lt Col (ret) Mark Heredia on May 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm05/2/2014 12:19 pm

    • 000

    Missing from this discussion is the fact that schools give PE credit for Marching Band. Marching in Band is pretty much the same thing as the kind of marching we do in AFJROTC. Consequently, this issue is broader than just PE Credit for ROTC. In fact, one could argue that PE credit makes more sense with an ROTC course due to the physical training portion, in addition to drilling/marching. Band doesn’t have the PT portion, but still gets PE credit. Be fair with this criticism towards ROTC and ROTC Instructors.
    Also, the article is inaccurate with regards to the requirements of AFJROTC Instructors. AF instructors are required to have Bachelors and are required to be retired from the Air Force which means they’ve had at least 20 years of AF Experience. Most retired AF Officers will have advanced degrees now since the AF is making an advanced degree mandatory for promotion to Lt Col.


    • Jane Meredith Adams on May 5, 2014 at 10:25 am05/5/2014 10:25 am

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      Hi Lt. Col. Heredia.
      Thanks for the information about what the Air Force requires of its JROTC instructors. The article refers to what the state requires to receive an ROTC credential — and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing does not require a bachelor’s degree.

    • Rick Jahnkow on May 21, 2014 at 11:45 am05/21/2014 11:45 am

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      Regarding academic credentials: The Dept. of Defense only requires the senior military science instructor (i.e., retired commissioned officers) to have a BA (See DOD Instruction 1205.13,section E2.1.2). All of the regulations I have reviewed require the retired non-commissioned officers (approx. 1/2 the JROTC personnel) to have only an AA degree. If you know of a specific authority that requires all Air Force JROTC instructors to have BAs, please share it.

      Re. the fitness value of JROTC: San Diego Unified did a fitness study in 2009 that compared pupils who were in regular P.E., marching band and JROTC. The same group of students were tested with the Fitnessgram when they were in 7th grade and then 9th. According to the performance test results, students who entered JROTC in the 9th fell behind those who went into regular P.E. classes. Marching band outscored both! If you look at the curriculum content of JROTC, you’ll understand the reason for these results: there is not enough time for physical activity (or education) when the course is primarily devoted to teaching subjects that have nothing to do with physical education. This is not the case in regular P.E. and marching band classes.

  2. Ray Fullard on May 2, 2014 at 6:45 am05/2/2014 6:45 am

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    1. Marine Corps JROTC Military Science instructors must have at least an Associates Degree, many have thier Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree (in my case).

    2. We are taught through our military training large degree of information, over a twenty plus year career everything related to physical fitness, hygience, healthy living.

    3. I fully respect as I am sure my peers do, our Physical education teachers as they are duty experts in thier particular area. However, there seems some level of disrespect for our military science intructors who bring a tremendous amount of tangible skills to the high school campus that you cannot get from a regular three R teacher. Leadership skills, people skills, communications skills, and mentorship that impact all students. With our world travel and extensive diversity, we can and have provided PE education and more.


    • Juan on May 5, 2014 at 10:01 am05/5/2014 10:01 am

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      I agree totally with Ray Fullard. The degree of physical education I received in 1 year in MCJROTC during high school was way more, “Physical Education” I received in 3 years from a P.E. Teacher.
      This is not to mention the communication skills, physical fitness, hygiene, healthy living and nutrition classes.

  3. Juan on May 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm05/1/2014 2:07 pm

    • 000

    “I am not anti-JROTC,” said Sandra Lee Fewer, president of the San Francisco Board of Education. But childhood obesity is a problem and the state has decided that physical education is an academic priority, she said.

    Ok, I think we are all missing the message here. We need to help fight childhood obesity. Whether it is being fought by teaching students in a classroom, gym or track settings by a single-subject physical education teacher or a JROTC instructor should not be an issue. They both have their merits. By limiting the students’ classes in regards to P.E. credits and JROTC credits we are not “Fighting Childhood Obesity” we are fighting ourselves.

  4. William Lauper on May 1, 2014 at 8:09 am05/1/2014 8:09 am

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    A few more comments on the misinformation being sold by the PE group:

    A. NJROTC teaches a nationally approved and accredited curriculum that is approved for various undergraduate credits through Adams State University. This approved curriculum includes physical fitness (not just activity such as walking around the track), first aid, health and wellness, diet, hygiene, stress, drug awareness, etc. Each school district with a program signs a contract with the JROTC to implement the curriculum.

    B. Many JROTC instructors not only have at least a Bachelor’s degree (Many have Masters degrees as well), but also a minimum of 20 years experience in leading groups (platoons, divisions) in attaining fitness standards and in maintaining the health and hygiene of their workforce.

    C. Some JROTC instructors have years of experience teaching ROTC at some of the top universities in this country. The courses taught include Naval History, Principles of Engineering, Principles of Naval Weapons Systems, Leadership, and Ethics.

    This isn’t about politics. This is about finding alternative methods to meet the learning objectives and providing students with options that help them stay in school and hopefully become better citizens.

  5. Jay on May 1, 2014 at 4:00 am05/1/2014 4:00 am

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    Perhaps a solution would be to evaluate the quality of any PE teacher in terms of standards-based assessments. The PE teacher that does the best job of helping students learn, as measured by objective and meaningful assessments, should be hired and retained.

    [BTW I do no mean tests such as FITNESSGRAM]

  6. Cindy Lederer on Apr 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm04/30/2014 2:09 pm

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    It is unfortunate that the commission reversed their position due the political pressure of the Governor’s office. Their first vote of 6 to 4 in February, to not to let ROTC and Base Military Drill (BMD) educators give PE credit was correct, Physical Activity is “NOT” Physical Education. Hopefully, Superintendent Torlakson will get more actively involved to get this matter back for a re-vote at the June meeting.

    Can I assume that it’s okay to give science credit to my PE students, if I had a science credential. I teach student how to move correctly in a variety of activities using Physics and Bio Mechanics.

    Let’s stop playing politics and do what is right. A student taking an ROTC or a BMD classes should not be given PE credit for it.

  7. BC on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:03 am04/30/2014 11:03 am

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    Curiously, the chair of the commission, Linda Darling-Hammond is one who opposes Teach for America, but has no problem putting uncredentialed instructors in the role of certified physical educators…

    Interesting indeed and a complete crock.

  8. Allen Stubblefield on Apr 30, 2014 at 10:47 am04/30/2014 10:47 am

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    “You are giving a supplemental authorization to someone who doesn’t have a teacher credential and may not have a bachelor’s degree,”

    I have 2 objections to the quote:
    1. All JROTC teachers, with emphasis on TEACHER, are required to be credentialed by the CCTC. They are not teaching aides or in classified teaching positions.
    1. Navy JROTC requires ALL of their teachers to hold at least an associates degree. Officers in the program hold at least a bachelors degree. Many of the senior enlisted and officers also hold masters degrees, with some having earned educational doctorates.


    • Rick Jahnkow on Apr 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm04/30/2014 3:58 pm

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      If the Pentagon wants its instructors to be considered “teachers,” then it should at least make a BA the basic requirement for all JROTC personnel, including the retired noncomissioned officers who make up about half of the JROTC instructors.

      Another thing: The retired officers who do have degrees normally have them in areas that are not germane to subjects they are attempting to teach in JROTC classes (i.e., subjects like history, civics, writing, health, etc.). San Diego City Schools once released a list of its JROTC staff’s academic degrees and almost all of them were in subjects like marketing, business and math.

      This proposal is not about increasing the quality of PE education–if it were, the proposal would be to require an actual PE credential. Instead, it doesn’t even require a BA. In reality, it’s all about promoting JROTC so that units will not be removed when they fall below the minimum enrollment required by federal statute. Just read the testimony and letters sent to the CTC by JROTC advocates and see how the enrollment issue keeps coming up.

      • Lt Col (ret) Mark Heredia on May 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm05/2/2014 12:24 pm

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        Fact Check–first para, ALL AFJROTC Instructors need a minimum of a Bachelors’ degree. Second para, 20 years of working in an area (work experience) has to count for something, IMO. Third para. If a unit falls below the minimum, the school or the Air Force HQ can close the unit down. Simple as that.

        • Rick Jahnkow on Jul 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm07/10/2014 5:00 pm

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          Perhaps you can provide a citation that establishes AFJROTC requires all of its instructors to have at least a BA–a branch directive or regulation? So far I haven’t found one.

          20 years of experience may count for something, but does it count toward a person’s qualifications to teach subjects outside her or his career experience? If so, then why not let someone teach science or math or JROTC based solely on a 20-year career in journalism, or in some other field unrelated to those subjects?

          Re. enrollment numbers: if a JROTC unit falls below the statutory minimum enrollment level and does not go back up to that level by the beginning of the following year, the US Code REQUIRES it to be disbanded. It’s not optional, and that’s why the JROTC program wants the PE credit for cadets. For example, when San Francisco Unified temporarily suspended PE credit, JROTC enrollment dropped by more than half, threatening the existence of the entire JROTC program in SFUSD. Restoring PE credit is the only thing that saved it.

    • Gary Ravani on Apr 30, 2014 at 4:18 pm04/30/2014 4:18 pm

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      You are misinterpreting the quote. It is JROTC “instructors,” not teachers, who will be given a “limited authorization” for the PE classes. As you suggest some of these instructors may have BAs and they may not. An actual “teacher” does have a BA and a year of post graduate work to receive an actual teaching credential.

      • Floyd Thursby on May 1, 2014 at 2:37 am05/1/2014 2:37 am

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        I agree Gary every social studies, science, English or Math teacher should have a credential and a 4-year degree, but I always thought you could find good foreign language, P.E. and elective teachers without a degree. Our foreign language teaching is pretty bad as is. In Europe most people are bi or trilingual. In the U.S. it is a rarity! Most non-immigrants never master a second language. Basing it on teaching quality might be better, some can teach it and some can’t, they should test the kids after a year to see how much of the language they speak.

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