Chalk talk

Agriculture classes thrive in urban schools

TOLEDO, OHIO - Inside a greenhouse here, high school students studying hydroponics are growing lettuce and basil without soil.

In Philadelphia, teenagers tend to a herd of cows. And in Minneapolis, students are researching how grass grows in different kinds of soil.

An increasing number of students in cities and suburbs are taking agriculture classes and considering careers in the industry even at a time when the number of farms is declining.

"We're not trying to teach cows, sows, and plows," says Thomas Scott, principal at Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia. "What we're really trying to do is teach skills so that they can apply them to science or any field they want to go into."

The National FFA Organization, formerly Future Farmers of America, says its membership of 476,000 students is the highest in 22 years.

Much of the growth has come in urban schools, says spokesman Bill Stagg. The organization has programs in 11 of the nation's 15 biggest cities.

- Associated Press

A grim look at California schools

By nearly every objective measure of school quality - including funding and academic achievement - California's public schools trail the nation, presenting a tarnished image of the state's once-sterling schools, according to a Rand Corp. study released last week.

Researchers found that declining per-pupil funding, ballooning enrollments, relatively flat teacher salaries and large class sizes have undercut the state's efforts to improve public education.

Even a reform that was meant to boost achievement - reducing the size of classes in kindergarten through third grade - spawned the unintended consequence of bringing legions of inexperienced teachers into schools, particularly those serving low-income and minority children.

The report did not offer recommendations to address the problems, but its lead author said the state should consider systemic solutions rather than piecemeal remedies - an approach likely to require huge sums of money.

- The Los Angeles Times

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