“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
~ Thomas Edison
Farmers and educators have more in common than one may think upon first reflection. They are both humble professions, unsung heroes, and have the biggest impact on civilization. A farmer is responsible for ensuring high quality yield of food or animals for mass consumption. An educator, or more broadly a school, is responsible for providing students with high quality curricula and services while ensuring benchmarks are met to remain sustainable in the market.
Recently, there has been a shift from enrollment-focused metrics to completion metrics due to the use of government subsidies. Tax payers want schools to be accountable for the resources made available to them for students needing assistance in achieving their educational goals. They want to see tangible evidence of their return on investment. Schools can offer this peace of mind through outcomes assessment plans.
Outcomes assessment is not unique to schools. In order for farmers to be successful they must perform continuous evaluations on themselves, their crops and animals, their production, and their bottom line. Similarly, schools must consistently monitor outcomes, regularly review and update their curricula, and evaluate their sustainability to meet the growing demands of all stakeholders.
Outcomes assessment is one of the main areas in which schools falter. By the time a school experiences challenges, it’s generally gained attention at the national level and not presented in a positive light. So how do we reclaim the position of leaders in outcomes assessment and make it a part of every institutional process? The answer: by using a farmer’s perspective and approach.
- Got Dirt? – Farmers need good soil just like schools need to have a solid foundation. A school can have the best student services, the most responsive admissions department, and the brightest faculty, but if it doesn’t have quality curricula which guides students in the attainment of the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful, then the school has bad soil. Similar to a farmer who has to rotate his crops to ensure nutrients are restored again, schools need to consistently review their curricula to verify they are providing the “nutrients” students need to be successful.
- Got Water? – Farmers are constantly watching the weather. They are forced to make critical decisions based on past, present, and future weather conditions. The same can be said for schools. Schools need to be acutely aware of their target population and the external factors which are occurring not only within regulations, but also within the job market. Educational programs are designed to provide students the education needed to be productive and contributing members of society. In order to remain competitive, schools need to look to the past and present in order to make predictions on the needs of the future. For both professions, this can be high-stakes gambling. Farmers and schools are required to make decisions based on circumstances out of their control. Schools need to be able to adapt. This is made easier for those schools who have implemented an outcomes assessment plan. The plan provides the guidance necessary to eliminate some guesswork and make informed decisions.
- Got Tools? – Advancement in technology has provided farmers with tools and equipment to work more effectively and efficiently. With the increase in technology was an increase in population; however, without these improvements farmers would not be able to meet the growing public demand. Schools experience this same struggle with innovation and use of technology. While technology has brought improved instructional delivery, faculty interactions, and accessibility, it has also brought an increased demand for accountability. New tools and additional equipment are welcomed by both professions, but the struggle now is over their most effective use. Schools need to be able to evaluate their student population and services in relation to the tools and technology it uses to deliver its curricula. The use of technology in education needs to be meaningful.
“I do not believe you can do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow.”
~ Nelson Jackson
Ultimately, to be successful in either profession it takes full commitment and hard work. The recipe for success is 1) a quality foundation, 2) ability to adjust to external factors, and 3) consistent evaluation of processes and procedures. Most schools that fail, do so because they lose their focus and purpose, but mostly because they stopped critically reviewing their programs and services thinking they are “good enough”. Just like the farmer needs to be consistently vigilant in protecting his crops against threats, a school must be just as vigilant to ensure its continued growth and sustainability. A school’s graduates are its biggest advertisement. A graduate’s success is equivalent to the prize bull winning a blue ribbon at the state fair.