Content Standards-Positioning Agricultural Education as a Key Component of Education Reform

Article excerpt

When my father signed his first teaching contract as the Agricultural Education Instructor for the Prairie Heights School Corporation in 1963, little did he know how quickly things would change! He was hired to train young boys into a skilled set of farmers to meet the needs of that small northern Indiana community. However, in that same year the Vocational Education Act of 1963 passed requiring all instructional programs be developed and evaluated based on manpower needs (employment opportunities.)

This led to one of the earliest, if not the first, set of National Standards and Competencies for Agricultural Education. The final document was released in 1978 under the title, "National Ag Occupations Competency Study." Its purpose was "to identify the essential agricultural competencies needed for entry employment and advancement in the major agricultural and agribusiness occupations and to validate the importance of the competencies identified for each occupation by workers employed in that occupation." Some of you veteran teachers might remember this as the thick book on your shelf with the yellow paper cover!

Once again, Agricultural Education was ahead of its time! The standards movement in education did not arrive until the late 1980s. Then in the late 90s and early 2000s it was propelled forward by the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. In my opinion, the standards movement is not a fad that, if we wait long enough it will go away. This movement is here to stay and we need to take advantage of our standards-based experience to position Agriculture Education as a key component of any and all High School Reform. I believe we can accomplish this in a couple of ways. First, we pull our content standards off the shelf, dust them off and put them to work to validate the effectiveness of our programs. Then, we take advantage of the substantial crosswalking with academic standards that has been accomplished to position our programs as part of the solution!

Putting Our Content Standards to Work

Since the beginning of the 20th Century, our purpose in Agricultural Education has been simple - prepare a highly skilled and highly motivated agricultural workforce for our industry. To accomplish this we must know the target! For Agricultural Education to remain viable, our target must be a clearly identified set of knowledge and skills that have been validated by the employers who will be consuming our product!

The good news for all of us involved in the Ag Ed Community is that this work has already been done! The National Council for Agricultural Education just released the National Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) Career Cluster Content Standards that were developed to provide state agricultural education leaders and teachers with a forward-thinking guide for what students should know and be able to do through the study of agriculture. (Copies are available for download at https://aged.learn.com)

The National AFNR Career Cluster Content Standards have been through the business and industry validation process and are ready to be put to use in local programs. Their timing is perfect given the new requirements of federal legislation.

The Carl D. Perkins Act of 2006 added a new requirement that is causing many discussions in state Career and Technical Education offices across the country. It is also the primary reason that we, as a community of agricultural educators, need to pull our content standards off the shelf and put them to work. The Act requires states to collect performance data on the technical skill attainment of the students involved in CTE Programs. In short, the federal guidance requests the percentage of students who passed an industry-based certificate or licensure assessment.

While agriculture does have a variety of job specific industry certifications, an appropriate assessment does not exist for a number of the agricultural career paths. …