High school military instructors could become authorized physical education teachers if a contentious regulation change before the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing is approved Friday.
The rule change would allow Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and Basic Military Drill instructors, who are typically retired military personnel and who are not required to hold a bachelor’s degree, to receive a special authorization to teach physical education as part of their military classes.
The proposed change is the latest salvo in a fractious statewide debate about whether districts should be able to give physical education credit to students enrolled in JROTC and military drill electives, which are high school classes that use curriculum from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Fitness training and marching are part of the classes, according to the Army JROTC, which runs the largest JROTC program in the state, but the curriculum also includes leadership, geography, civics and U.S. history.
The idea of authorizing military instructors to teach physical education has sparked an uproar among credentialed physical education leaders, who say that the move devalues the rigor, alignment to the new Common Core academic standards, and state and national standards of physical education instruction.
The California Teachers Association opposes the regulation change, saying it is unnecessary because school districts already have the option of granting physical education credit for JROTC classes, said spokesman Mike Myslinski.
A public hearing and possible vote on the proposed change is scheduled Friday morning in Sacramento.
“We would never think about doing this in math or English – having a non-credentialed, non baccalaurate-holding instructor teach,” said Mary Jo Sariscsany, professor of kinesiology at California State University, Northridge. “If California believes in standards-based education, they can’t accept any credit for physical education other than physical education itself. It’s an insult to those individuals who teach quality physical education in the schools currently.”
But JROTC supporters say that the move would make it easier for students to enroll in JROTC electives, because cadets would not have to squeeze in additional classes to fulfill the state-mandated two years of physical education.
“It’s a benefit for students because it gives them options,” said Lt. Colonel Christian D. Taddeo, a JROTC instructor at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, where enrollment in JROTC is about 80 to 85 students.
To keep a JROTC program, minimum enrollment must be 100. In its rationale for supporting the regulation change, credentialing commission staff explained that increasing student course options would make it easier for JROTC programs to meet their enrollment numbers. If high school students are not awarded physical education credit for military drill and JROTC classes, they must enroll in physical education classes in order to graduate, “thereby creating the potential for enrollment declines in the BMD (basic military drill) and ROTC programs,” the commission stated.
The commission said the new authorization would strengthen the case made by some school districts that cadets who march, do push-ups and study the history of war in military classes can earn physical education credits for their participation. Under the proposed change, school districts would not be required to grant physical education credit for military drill or JROTC. The special authorization would be awarded to JROTC and drill instructors who “verify” content knowledge in physical education through a process not specifically outlined in the regulation proposal. The authorization would allow the instructors to teach fitness and marching for physical education credit.
But many opponents balked at the idea of changing a teaching credential to ensure enrollment in military-based programs where instructors don’t have the science-based knowledge or training that physical education teachers have.
“That’s what this is all about – increasing JROTC numbers,” said Chad Fenwick, president-elect of the Sacramento-based California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a membership organization. “It’s not about wanting to teach quality physical education or gaining a deeper understanding of physical education content.”
Army JROTC officials say the shift will help bolster participation in their programs. In the last six years, the number of Army JROTC programs in California has dropped from 86 to 82 high schools, said Mark Pratt, chief of JROTC operations for the 8th Brigade Reserve Officer Training Corps based in Washington state.
Most of the Army JROTC programs in California already give students physical education credit, Pratt said, but districts require various adjustments to the JROTC curriculum. The new teaching authorization would make a case that JROTC qualifies for physical education, he said.
Mark Thompson of the 8th Brigade ROTC, who oversees 53 Army JROTC programs in southern California, said JROTC instructors and physical education teachers have long battled for students. “One needs to make numbers, while the other needs to teach,” Thompson said. “The JROTC needs to make numbers because that’s how they’re funded. If you have less kids, you get less money.”
“This is about physical education being respected as a Common Core technical subject,” countered Joanie Verderber, past president of the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. “We are supposed to support the Common Core — and you would have people who don’t even have a college degree teaching physical education.”