A research paper commissioned by food and ag think tank AGree and released Thursday finds K-12 agricultural education in the U.S. is "disjointed" and in need of reform.
The paper, "Food and Agricultural Education in the United States," outlines five recommendations to strengthen food and ag education to prepare for future challenges.
"Americans are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, yet are also more disconnected from agriculture than ever before," said Deborah Atwood, executive director of AGree.
"Agriculture literacy is critical; agriculture, food, and nutrition topics should be embedded in how we teach science and technology. Our current system is struggling to prepare the next generation for success," she said.
The paper offers five ideas to improve food and ag education:
1. Start a ranking system. Creating a system that assesses and/or ranks the effectiveness of available curricula in food and ag education could be valuable to teachers, who have several resources but now way of knowing what resources are most effective, the paper says.
One investment that would help in this area would be to expand course offerings in curriculum development and training on how to access and evaluate existing resources, the report says, while providing funds for scholarships for more teachers to participate in such instruction. Another tool that might be utilized, the paper notes, is to set up a series of Massive Online Open Courses in the area of food and agricultural education, and make them available to both teachers and students
2. Linking food and ag to STEM education. While applauding renewed interest in attracting young people to careers in science and technology, known as STEM disciplines, the paper also suggests that U.S. competitiveness would be well-served by linking food and ag education to STEM programs.
"The U.S. agricultural sector needs to do a better job of making the case that these two sets of demands are in fact linked, that the U.S. economy will prosper with strong productivity gains in both the agricultural and industrial sectors with better trained professionals, and that work must begin in elementary and secondary schooling and include food-related as well as agriculture-related topics," the paper says.
3. Initiating 'Perkins Plus.' The paper recommends the establishment of a "Perkins Plus" program that would offer additional funds to programs deemed to be top performers. Under the Perkins Act, state departments of education submit data on student performance, but the formula funding offers little incentive for school districts to be identified as top performers.
4. National USDA survey on ag literacy. The paper suggests a national survey be conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service to assess agricultural literacy. "Although agricultural literacy of the general population is a significant focus of food and agricultural education in the United States today, there appears to have been no survey conducted on a national basis that probes this matter as the complex set of issues that it deserves," the paper notes.
5. Committee review of national ag ed. Establishing a committee to review progress in the area of food and ag education, does have precedent, including a committee established in 1985 by the National Academies of Science to assess the contributions of ag education to productivity and competitiveness. Separately, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded a project in the late 1990's to reinvent ag education. Renewing a committee review could take a "fresh look" at how food and ag has changed over the last few decades and how these endeavors might be improved by taking advantage of new digital and telecommunication technologies, the report says.
The full paper is available on the AGree website and is authored by former Chief Economist of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Stephanie Mercier.Continued reading: School districts are desperate for ag education teachers