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California can learn from Chicago's agriculture students ... yes, 'agriculture'

Posted by Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications on Oct. 27, 2008

Don't miss this NPR piece on the impressive success of an urban agricultural science high school in Chicago's south side.

It shows how a high school can, at the same time, provide a hands-on agricultural science program along with a traditional college-preparatory education.  600 students apply to participate and travel up to an hour to attend.   The school features a 72-acre working farm where they learn husbandry, farm fish, grow corn, poinsettias, apples and more, milk cows, and sell their commodities based on an ever-changing market, shedding light on an entire modern agricultural spectrum, from Illinois' bean fields to the Chicago Board of Trade.  The school records only a six percent dropout rate.  Sixty-one percent of the students are African American, 27% are Caucasian and 12% are Hispanic.

Whether it's agriculture, bioscience, raw manufacturing, or otherwise, California's high school students continue to suffer the losses of valuable career education courses like the ones featured in this piece -- curriculums that use innovation, experimentation and enterprise to teach skills and expose students to the success and opportunity they need most.   California has allowed the disintegration of these types of programs for a long time but the state's budget problems now threaten a close-to-extinct statewide vocational system.  Already more than 30 percent of California's high school students drop out and only two of ten students go on to get a four-year college degree.   Cutting more career technical education will only make California's economic problems worse, leaving more dropouts and high school graduates with little or no skills to take advantage of tremendous opportunities in our increasingly technical and hands-on workforce.

The major hurdle, among many, is California's unwillingness to require, fund and measure these courses in public education.  Try integrating a program like Chicago's ag science curriculum in a California public high school and you'll run up against funding issues, "time-in-school-day" problems, A-G University of California enrollment requirement road blocks, and others.  Simply put, it wouldn't happen ... even in a state with 400,000 agricultural jobs.   Last year, CMTA and the Get REAL coalition were defeated on all major career technical education reform bills.  One of those bills -- SB 672 by Sen. Tom Torlakson -- specifically would have allowed high schools to take existing funds (after all prop 98 allocations) and implement programs like these for graduation.   Here's how it went down -- All the democrats except one abstained, basically killing the bill without publicly killing the bill.

Like 'Da Bears from the same midwestern region, we'll be back next year, as committed as ever ... and we might even fly out some ag students from Chicago.



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