Making the CASE for Education Reform

The federal budget.  The Farm Bill.  The Middle East…  There are so many major topics weighing on Americans right now, but in today’s blog, I’m going to focus on education and topics discussed at last week’s county Farm Bureau board meeting.

You might think that all that farming and ranching is all that gets discussed at a Farm Bureau meeting, but that’s not true.  Board members help develop the organization’s policy.  Actually, any Farm Bureau member can provide policy input at the grassroots level.  Our policy covers things like the legal system, emergency service fees, energy facilities, as well as items directly tied to farming like conservation.  Education is also very high on this list.

Most Farm Bureau members have kids or grandkids.  (If you have been following me, you know I have lots of grandkids!)  That’s why once a year we invite the superintendents of our county schools to meeting for a chat.  The supers talk about their concerns for the year:  budgets, building projects and enrollment numbers.  New programs and ideas also are shared.

SuperintendentsOne new program discussed at last week’s meeting was CASE, Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education.  Mr. Brett Spurgin, ag instructor for West Fork Schools, explained how CASE teaches science and math concepts through activity-, project- and problem-based instruction.  Students need a background in science, math and language, but CASE goes beyond textbook learning and teaches them how to work together to actually solve problems.

I really like the idea of the CASE program.  Not only do students have an opportunity to apply what they’re learning in the classroom, but it provides them with an understanding of production agriculture outside a typical ag class.  I’ve always thought all school kids should be taught the basics of food production, and now I wonder how we can get a program like this into the big city schools.  A curriculum like this is needed so kids grow up knowing that milk comes from a cow, not the grocery store!

Education basics (the old 3 R’s) are extremely important.  To be successful in school – and life – a person needs to be able to read and write, understand math and know a little something about the world (history).  But, sadly many young people lack needed skills when they enter the workforce.

Workers don’t have the required skills, says Bob Funk, president and founder of Express Employment Services, America’s fifth-largest employment agency with annual sales of $2.5 billion and more than 600 franchises across the country.  Express has as many as 20,000 jobs across the U.S. that it can’t fill now because workers don’t have the skills required.

Funk is mystified why Express has so much trouble filling thousands of information-technology jobs when so many young, working-age adults are computer literate.  He blames public schools and universities for the skills mismatch.  In an article entitled Where the Jobs Are—and How to Get One, published Sept. 20 by the Wall Street Journal, Funk encourages young people looking for a solid career is to get training in accounting, information technology, manufacturing-robotics programming, welding and engineering.

All of these “top jobs” relate somehow to science and math.  There is truly a need for America’s education system to strengthen its core curriculum, but I don’t believe in taking a cookie cutter approach to education.  Every child is different, with different ideas, wants and needs.  If we were all the same, the world would never progress!  However, I was reading about some of laws the Iowa Legislature passed last session and am concerned about their impact on our state’s educational system.

One law passed last session addresses home schooling.  Wording of laws is critical, and it appears that Iowa kids can be home schooled without any supervision or testing.  I’m on the fence here.  On one hand, I believe parents should determine how they educate their children.  On the other hand, I’ve known some parents whom shouldn’t even had kids!

Like farming, I believe the educational sector can be overregulated.  And I haven’t even mentioned school lunches yet!  However, I believe there are some standards worth meeting.  What are your thoughts?