New Missouri school program de-emphasizes FFA

Dec 1, 2012

It’s not often cattlemen involve themselves in school bureaucracy. But when FFA is involved, you’d better believe they’re interested.

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association (MCA) is taking issue with a new direction the state’s public education has taken. The recently presented draft of the Missouri School Improvement Program 5 (MSIP 5) has removed earlier language which emphasizes programs like Future Farmers of America (FFA) and other career and technical education programs for high schoolers.

MCA is asserting the new wording in the fifth MSIP jeopardizes programs like FFA. It also insists it is important that the wording be clarified to keep such offerings to students strong in Missouri.

“Agriculture education is critical to students across the state. Agriculture education in high schools serves as a starting place for the next generation who are expected to feed a growing population,” said Mike Deering, new executive vice president of MCA.

“It is important to make sure [the Department of Education and Secondary Education] understand that [career and technical education] courses should remain within our children’s curriculum.”

MCA submitted comments to the Missouri Department of Education and Secondary Education (DESE) on behalf of its members last Monday urging a return to the clearer wording seen in the fourth MSIP. The current MSIP 5 is a draft and still has a process to go through before becoming a solid framework.

Compared to MSIP 4, the new version is scantily detailed. Where MSIP 4 listed out minimum and ideal number of units high school students must take in various subjects and what those subjects entailed, MSIP 5 is vague and removes all of the previous details.

Of particular interest is the language regarding agricultural study and related career and technical training between the two MSIP versions. Under MSIP 4, the portion dealing with the high school requirements for career education read as follows:

“Must include a broad range of Department-approved offerings that support or lead to employment or related postsecondary education based on students’ needs and interests in Agricultural Education, Marketing Education, Family and Consumer Sciences Education (wage earning and nonwage earning), Business Education, Industrial and Engineering Technology, and Health Sciences.”

That singular mention of agricultural education and detailing of career education in general was struck— along with many other things—in MSIP 5. All topic details regarding type and minimum and ideal participation was replaced with the relatively short and vague passage which reads:

“Each high school provides all students in grades 9-12 sufficient access to content required to meet the minimum graduation credit requirements. Content areas must include: English language arts, mathematics, science, career education, social studies, world languages, fine arts (art and music), physical education, health, practical arts, and personal finance.”

In a following passage from MSIP 5, which is the only thing that could be construed as mentioning career-oriented education, it makes “access to postsecondary preparation” a requirement. This preparation is defined as offerings such as honors courses, college-credit courses, and courses in the International Baccalaureate program, all of which are distinctly academic in nature.

The only other topic covered in the replaced wordage of MSIP 5 covers the option of school districts to use internet and other technological networks and remote learning opportunities for students.

According to DESE, the MSIP “is the state’s school accountability system used to review and accredit public schools in Missouri.” Its stated goals are to articulate the state expectations, identify and measure the performance of individual schools and districts, “empower stakeholders” and promote continued improvements and innovations.

MCA President Lonny Duckworth said early last week that cattlemen need to make their voices heard. He urged Missouri cattlemen to submit comments to DESE during the end of the comment period on the matter, which closed last Friday.

“We cannot simply set on the sideline,” said Duckworth. “Agriculture education and FFA are paramount to the future of family farms and ranches in Missouri and throughout the country. We must encourage DESE to emphasize the importance of career and technical education courses in Missouri high schools. It is my hope that this was a simple oversight by DESE and not something more. However, cattlemen must let DESE know that this oversight was not overlooked by Missouri’s cattlemen.”

In a sample comment letter provided by MCA, the group reminded DESE that FFA and related agricultural career education are “so much more than cows and plows.” The letter recommends the simple re-inclusion of the phrase “DESE or Department approved career education programs” in several locations dealing with the topic, as well as reinstating the minimum and ideal number of units of career education students should take.

“These changes may seem minor, but they send an important message—career education is an important part of our education system,” read the letter in closing. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor