For many of us, the new school year has already begun and for the remainder it will begin very soon. As we begin this new year, I firmly believe that agricultural education and CTE in general, provide real world relevance to many academic subjects. I often say that I teach applied chemistry and biology through aquaculture and natural resources instruction. The question I need to be asking myself is "Is that enough?" As I participated in professional development this past June on the Common Core Standards, I have to honestly answer, NO!
This issue focuses on improving core academic instruction and using data to show that our programs are contributing to student attainment of these core standards. The Common Core Standards are going to demand far more of us as teachers and of our students. There is a huge focus on technical reading and math skills. My message is that we all need to be math teachers and English/language arts teachers if we want to have an agricultural education program. As I see it, the danger for our programs is that if a student has not achieved proficiency on these standards, they will not be in our agricultural education classroom. They will be in a remedial math, language arts or science class.
So, what are our options? Option 1 is to ignore the Common Core, which I believe is not sustainable for a successful program. Option 2 is to embrace the Common Core Standards and purposefully focus on our strengths. That is, we formalize how we integrate mathematics and reading/language arts into our teaching as often as possible. Again, we have the advantage of being able to make these math and language arts skills meaningful and relevant to our students in the context of agricultural education. We also need to collect data on our student's progress and show that students in Agricultural Education perform better than students who don't take our classes. That is the bottom line as administrators determine the future of our programs. Don't forget that the Common Core Science Standards are just around the corner as well.
As I say all this, I fully realize that I did not get certified as a mathematics teacher or an English teacher. I feel some anxiety about evaluating student work, especially in language arts. However, I have decided to take advantage of professional development to help me be a better agricultural education/math/language arts/science teacher. In my experience, ag teachers are life-long learners who love to share their passion for the agricultural industry with their students.
In summary, I believe that the Common Core Standards are here to stay. Their nearly universal adoption across the country speaks to this momentum. If we are going to have strong agricultural education programs, we need to lead the way in demonstrating our willingness to adapt. We must do everything we can to focus instruction to help students become proficient on the Common Core Standards as well as the technical skills associated with agricultural education. I wish you all a great school year!