Ag Ed Model = Education Reform Model

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Our school-based agricultural education model is the model education reform keeps reinventing; inquiry-based classrooms, experiential learning and engagement. Use whatever words are buzzing—rigor, relevance, relationships or content, application and motivation; we recognize all of the ideals in a complete agricultural education program. Several years ago, thought leaders Dr. Jack Elliot and Buddy Deimler wrote an article entitled “The Premier Educational Delivery System,” which still rings true. It stated that “career and technical education is the premier educational delivery system in the world. It addresses all learning styles by employing pedagogical strategies that embrace all of the multiple intelligence areas and incorporates the latest in brain-based research. In fact, CTE educational strategies are utilized in the top 30 academic schools in America.” (Techniques, January 2007).
Let’s dive into a Q & A with Elliot, a professor at Texas A&M University, and Buddy Deimler, with the Utah FFA Association, as they share what has changed and what we should be aware of as we move into the next wave of education reform.

Pulse Q: What would you add to this article to update it for today’s education reform audience?
Deimler A: I’m not sure I would add anything.  The model is timeless.  What changes is the context or how the model addresses the latest education reform strategy.  A classic example of addressing the latest reform strategy is when the National Governor’s Association came out with their “Education Plan,” which was going to revolutionize the world of education.  Their plan was to inject the 3-Rs—rigor, relevance and relationship—into the education system.  Agricultural education already delivers the 3-Rs— rigor through good classroom instruction, relevance through hands-on experiential education in the laboratory and through the supervised agricultural experience program, and relationship, which is connecting every student with a caring adult mentor or coach, through FFA.  We already had the model in place, and it was operating successfully. 

Another group of business and industry leaders identified the top five skills an entry level worker should have upon graduation; academic ability (classroom), skill building (laboratory), hands-on experience (SAE), and character building (FFA).  Whether you use educational psychology terms (cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains) or career and technical education terms (technical instruction, experiential education and personal and leadership development), or you use the agricultural education terms that we are all familiar with (classroom instruction, laboratory and supervised agricultural experience, and FFA) it all means the same thing. 

Elliot A: Rigor, relevance and relationships are more critical today than ever. We now have an entire generation of students who believe that effective education is successful test taking (high stakes testing has created this phenomena), and we are seeing really smart students who are inept at applying their knowledge because they have no desire (it is not a priority). 

Pulse Q: How can educators in the field continue to help get the word out about the rigor and relevance of agricultural education and reduce the frequency of the academic and behavioral “dumping grounds” you speak of in the article?

Deimler A: I have a different perspective on this question.  There are many different types of “smart” or “intelligence.”  My question is how did the “smart” test, which was designed for the 20 percent of the students who need to complete a four-year degree, get to be the “smart” test for 100 percent of the students in the school?  This narrow view on the purpose of education has labeled these students as unsuccessful and “dumped” them into my program.  I had students in my program who were not very successful in the “traditional” high school sense but had intelligence, common sense and hands-on skills that the top 10 percent of the students simply did not have.  Many of the students in the top 10 percent of the class did not have any problem solving or critically thinking while my students had spent their entire school career honing their problem solving and critical thinking skills because they had to use them every day to survive in a system that did not recognize any of the skills or talents they possessed.  Their skills did not fit the very narrow view that a four-year degree was the only measure of success. 

The second point is that rigor doesn’t mean “hard” like calculus is “hard.”  It means having a thorough understanding of a concept so that you are able to apply and transfer that knowledge to other situations.  I like to define rigor as plowing an “inch” wide and a “mile” deep.  Students are not able to transfer information to other situations until their understanding is a “mile” deep.   Most academic subjects are taught in the opposite philosophy; the teacher, in a hurry to cover all the chapters in the textbook, plows an “inch” deep and a “mile” wide, never stopping to make sure the student has a grasp of the material before moving on.  Adding rigor to math in the schools doesn’t mean that all students will be successful in calculus.  All students don’t need calculus.  It means that all students will have such a thorough understanding of arithmetic that they can transfer this knowledge and skill to algebra and geometry.  And that they have such a firm grasp of entry-level algebra that they can transfer that knowledge to higher-level math.  That is rigor.

I do believe that there are students in the schools that are uneducable because of circumstance or because they refuse to participate in life.  However the overwhelming number of students who were “dumped” into my class just needed a teacher who appreciated that they had a different learning style. 

Elliot A: We must change the way we speak and think. Let me give you an example. If I ask agricultural education teachers the purpose of an extended contract (or is it important), they will reply that it is to support their salary so they can manage the land laboratory, take students to the fair or show, water the greenhouse, etc. That answer is wrong if we want to get the word out about the rigor, relevance, and relationships of our program. The correct or more appropriate response is, "An extended contract is not important, it is essential. It is essential because overall academic ability improves when students are engaged with their learning and experience the relationships among knowledge, application/skills and desire. We do this by involving them in the land laboratories, fairs or shows, greenhouses, etc." We must use the "how" to teach the "why."

Pulse Q: If our agriculture educators are not including SAE in their programs, what would your advice be on how to get started making it an integral part?

Deilmer A: Think small and deliver it to all of the students.  I worked with a teacher one time that solved the problem this way.  At the beginning of the school year, he handed the students a flat and a pair of pruners.  They took a field trip on the school campus and took cuttings off of various plants.  In the greenhouse the cuttings were prepared for rooting.  Each student now had a flat of about 100 cuttings in the process of being rooted.  This became the students SAE and their personal responsibility and property. It was explained that any money made from the sale of the mature plants, minus the expenses incurred during the process, belonged to the student.  Now the teacher had a context to start the discussion on SAE because every student had the same SAE.  When he talked about a budget or expenses and income, all the students worked from the same context and experience.  When he talked about planning and record keeping, all of the students had the same context and experience.  Now let’s take score. One-hundred percent of the students in the class had an SAE—check.  One hundred percent of the students participated in the record-keeping discussions in class and had their own personal record book with real life data—check.  One-hundred percent of the students had an SAE project that had the potential for growth and profit if managed properly—check.  One hundred percent of the students talked about their SAE program every day as they discussed the next steps—check.  One hundred percent of the students knew what an SAE was and had a plan for growing their personal SAE program—check. 

Many of the students (certainly not 100 percent) began to transfer this new-found SAE information to market animals and crop production opportunities that they already had at home.  Some even expanded on the original horticulture SAE by finding extra space in a greenhouse off campus.  Was this a perfect solution to the challenge of engaging every student in an SAE program?  No.  Did it provide SAE opportunities for 100 percent of the students? Yes.  Did it provide the teacher with a context for discussing SAE, which every student understood and had experience with?  Yes.

I believe that we can accomplish similar results through the agriscience fair.   I believe that similar results can be found in using project-based learning (conducted outside the classroom), job-shadow opportunities and internships—all as a place to start the discussion on SAE programs.  None of these will generate any money, but they will generate valuable hours of experience. In time, these exploratory-type SAE opportunities can be redirected into entrepreneurial or placement opportunities as the student gains experience.

Elliot A: Effective SAEs, including home visits, improve overall academic ability. Short-changing our students and our programs are the outcomes if SAEs are not included.

Pulse Q: How do you think the three-component model will endure education reforms in the next 10, 20 or 50 years?

Deimler A: I believe that it will endure just fine.  The model delivers what everyone is asking for.  Business and industry leaders are asking for more soft skills and critical-thinking skills; the model delivers it through SAE and FFA.  Administrators and politicians are asking for more rigor and relevance; the model delivers it through the connection between what is learned in the classroom and the application in the SAE and FFA.

The part we struggle with is the accountability piece.  Many of the skills our students obtain in our programs are hard to measure and certainly are not measured by the latest accountability tests.  When I completed my high school agricultural education program and FFA experience, I know that it had made a difference and my parents knew that it had made a difference.  As a high school agricultural education teacher, I knew that I was making a difference.  Now as a state leader, I can see the difference we are making in students in every program across the state.  I am just now sure how to measure the difference we are making.  Sometimes it doesn’t show until years after graduation, when students recognize that their agriculture teacher is the only teacher they remember and their lessons the only lessons they still use on a daily basis. Probably an exaggeration but still true.

Elliot A: It won't unless we speak in terms that others understand—see figure 2.
Figure 2. Premier Educational Delivery System (Techniques, January 2007, pg. 45)

Delivery Efforts




Career and Technical Education

Technical Instruction (classroom)

Experiential Development (Laboratory and work-based learning, including educational home visits

Personal and leadership development (intra-curricular) (CTE student organization)

Domains of Learning




7-Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey




Center for Occupational Research & Development (CORD)


Skill Building, hands-on

Character building

National Governors’’ Association Educational Plan




Academic Class

Content delivered

Not applicable usually

Not applicable usually