JVER v26n2 - A Case Study in Reform: Integration of Teacher Education in Agriculture with Teacher Education in Mathematics and Science

Volume 26, Number 2

A Case Study in Reform: Integration of Teacher Education in Agriculture with Teacher Education in Mathematics and Science

Carol A. Conroy
Cornell University & The GLOBE Program
John W. Sipple
Cornell University


Integration of vocational and academic curricula at the postsecondary level provides faculty a means to present content in the way that many students learn best-hands on learning, including the application of abstract concepts. Factors such as organizational structure, power relationships, frames of reference, and individual motivators may allow for but may also inhibit efforts at such integration within universities. This case study examines a formal effort at such integration through the eyes of individuals working directly within the recently created Teacher Education in Agriculture, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) program at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. This study details both programmatic and administrative aspects of the merger of two previously separate teacher education programs. In doing so, we investigate the driving forces and obstacles behind the merger. While the agriculture, education, and mathematics/science programs have been formally merged, the culture of the two worlds remains distinct, and disagreements continue as to the role of teacher education faculty in the 21st century.

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

The purpose of this study is to understand how and why the merger of the Teacher Education in Agriculture (TEA) and Teacher Education in Science and Mathematics (TESM) programs at Cornell University took place, with a focus on the perceptions of individuals involved in the merger. In carrying out this study, we set out the following objectives: 1) analyze the extant documentation and the relevant theoretical and applied literature, 2) interview faculty, staff, administrators, and others associated with the merger, and 3) determine if perceptions of the merger and its processes differed by frame of reference of participants.


Integration of vocational education with academic programs at the secondary school level has been a priority since the passage of the Perkins Act in 1985. Initiatives such as Tech Prep or High Schools That Work demonstrate that large-scale changes can be implemented and successful ( Gray, 1993 ). Success at the postsecondary level, just as in grades K-12, depends on collaboration and change based on a shared vision and blueprint for where the changes can and should lead ( Thompson, 1995 ). The theoretical framework for this study draws on literature from education, psychology, and organizational studies and attempts to shed light on the complexity of integrating two programs with divergent histories, constituencies, and cultures. We review three conceptual areas with which to analyze our case: 1) organizational theory with respect to organizational change, 2) collaborative efforts, and 3) frames of reference.

Organizational Theory and Change

Decades of analyses of organizations have led to an enriched understanding of how they function and change. Alternatively, and often as important, researchers have begun to comprehend why organizations can be immutable in the face of concerted and meaningful reform efforts to change. Analyzing these two sides of the same theoretical coin (i.e., change and permanence) is central to the discussion of the merger investigated in this study.

At the most basic level, university departments are organizations within a hierarchy of larger units (college and university). This nested structure of autonomous faculty within larger organizational units, often with competing and conflicting goals, spurred Cohen, March, and Olsen ( 1972 ) to refer to universities as "organized anarchies." Typically, the different disciplines within teacher education are found in different departments or even colleges. The department of interest in this study is not atypical in that it is made up of faculty, a Chair, support staff, and students, all using common space in a single building. The difference is that the agriculture and mathematics/science faculty were all housed within the same department and physical space prior to any serious effort towards merger. At its most basic level, the proposed merger was intended to alter the organizational chart within the department and foster more efficient operation of teacher education programming. The merger of agricultural education with science/math education would result in one coherent and seemingly more efficient program in that many administrative functions could be combined. The unique organizational structure of the Department of Education at Cornell-with all education disciplines housed in the same department-permitted early discussions about a potential merger, giving individuals time to reflect on what it may might involve.

Meaningful and lasting change requires an understanding of the histories of participating agents, the complexity of the existing and proposed organizational units, and a sense of the environment(s) in which the organizations have and will function. Educational organizations function as dynamic, open, and social systems with inputs and internal processes that transform the inputs into outputs ( Hoy & Miskel, 1996 ; Scott, 2000 ). These internal processes include four core systems that produce the intended (or unintended) organizational outcomes as discussed below:

Individuals within organizations all have needs, values, interests, and goals. They each possess personal histories that form schemas and taken-for-granted ways of understanding the world around them as well as their own interests. Their interests focus on immediate day-to-day tasks, career goals, and personal lives outside of the workplace ( Morgan, 1997 ). Uncovering individuals' interests and identifying their schemas and norms of understanding will go far in helping to identify biases and difficulties in joining two programs.

Serving to organize the interactions and relationships within an organization is the structure of the organization. The structure for educational organizations consists of the organizational chart plus the schedule, supplies, budget, and the formal curriculum to be taught. While structure seems to be the most frequent target of change, altering structure alone is rarely successful ( Elmore, 1995 ). Elmore ( 1995 ) explained the popularity of structural change in that such change frequently involves "highly visible" components, is easier to implement than other forms of change (e.g., firing staff and hiring anew), and represents important cogs in the larger organizational machine.

Not unrelated to organizational structure and individuals are the sources and sinks of power. Identifying who has the authority to make which decisions and who has the power to support or defeat the decisions is critical. Weber ( 1978 ) described three mutually nonexclusive ways to secure authority: traditional, rational-legal, and charismatic. Traditional forms of authority are granted to individuals who occupy positions that have long enjoyed authority. In deferring to tradition, authority is granted based on the sanctity of the traditions within any organization. Conversely, the rational-legal authority is granted to those who are in command as a result of the established normative and regulative rules. Charismatic authority, as a result of one's actions and character, is granted (or more often earned) as a likely response to frustration with the inadequacy or unresponsiveness of the first two forms. Scott ( 1992 ) described characteristics of the charismatic leader as the "uncommon gifts of spirit and mind" ( p. 39 ).

Finally, each organization has a culture that serves to either welcome or rebuff individuals, shape and/or reinforce power relations, and establish firm, if unspoken, norms of behavior, speech, and decision making. The cultural system represents the taken-for-granted ways of knowing and functioning prescribed and enforced by dominant members within the organization. It is worth noting that new members often enter organizations with different schemas and habits of mind. They may conceptualize multiple (or different) options for decisions and/or actions where longstanding members can think of no other way to operate ( Scott, 2000 ).

The individual, structural, political, and cultural systems function together in inextricable ways. Attempting to understand and explain change without analyzing each system and how it relates to the others results in an incomplete picture of the organization. Researchers must also pay attention to the subtle and the obvious influences and constraints from the environment.

There is a well developed literature that stresses and explains the impact of the environment on organizational behavior. Meyer and Rowan ( 1977, 1978 ) suggested that organizations that match the socially prescribed templates and rituals for behavior in the environment earn valuable legitimacy in the eyes of their constituents. Such gains in legitimacy are a prerequisite for organizational survival. In other words, organizations that mirror the accepted practices and organizational forms are more likely to survive than those organizations that create new and novel forms and practices. DiMaggio and Powell ( 1991, 1983 ) further criticized the traditional view of organizational success that more efficient organizations are more likely to survive and thrive. They emphasized the examination of the content of environmental beliefs and practices, and argued that the more successful organizations are those that become isomorphic with the socially determined expectations and templates-often at the expense of efficiency.

The implications of this theoretical lens on the present study are substantial. The merging of any distinctly different programs into one involves not just the internal (departmental-level) processes and personalities, but external ones as well. This merger involves meeting the needs and expectations of two distinct environments. The agricultural teacher education component of TEAMS serves and responds to a different set of environmental expectations than does the science/math component. The faculty in each discipline belong to different professional organizations, serve different components of the public education system, and have quite different constituencies on and off campus and in broader academe. Without attending to these environmental pressures, one can easily overlook (with negative consequences) the possibility that one or both of the programs (agriculture teacher education and science/math teacher education) could lose legitimacy in their respective environments, causing them to lose valuable support and decrease the chances of organizational survival.

Collaborative Efforts

Collaboration to effect reorganization requires time, effective communication, and mutual adaptation between organizations and professionals ( Fox & Faver, 1984 ; Rothman & Schwartzbaum, 1971 ). People who actively engage in collaborative efforts believe that the resulting separation of tasks and the joining of specializations lead to increased efficiency and improve the quality of work ( Fox & Faver, 1984 ). Fox and Faver ( 1984 ) also stated that collaborations have associated costs in the time required for negotiations, but more importantly in the personal and socio-emotional costs incurred to develop and maintain good relationships. Collaborations between individuals with very different backgrounds may be stalled when members of the group develop different conclusions when judging the same evidence ( Knutson, 1967 ). This situation can easily arise when the collaboration is mandated or imposed by an administrative authority.

University administrators often seek to identify departments or programs with common disciplinary bases that could operate as one unit. Rothman & Schwartzbaum ( 1971 ) found that mergers have the potential, though, to disrupt formal and informal structures in the separate entities as well as weaken the power and status of individuals and groups within them. Historically, research has shown that people's response to change is a factor of their perceptions of the costs and benefits of change ( Asch, 1952 ; Muzafer & Sherif, 1953 ; Rothman & Schwartzbaum, 1971 ), developed as a function of their frames of reference.

Frames of Reference or Schemas

The term "frame of reference," or schema, refers to the "structure of a situation which tends to orient the direction of an individual's initial response regarding something perceived or judged" ( Knutson, 1967, p. 107 ). Frame of reference includes both the psychological structures we bring to a situation as well as environmental factors. It can be reasoned that greater group variability would yield a wider range of frames of reference, resulting in more viewpoints, more information, easier identification of areas of controversy, and livelier interactions. It is likely, though, that these benefits to diversity would be offset by more difficulty in interpretation and understanding, problems with communication, and more disagreement on what is significant.

Knutson ( 1967 ) identified three significant factors in how frames of reference influence communication: 1) the meaning that the listener gives to a communication, 2) the relevance the communication has for the listener, and 3) the validity the listener assigns to the communication ( p. 114 ). Congruence between intended and perceived communication occurs when the communication contains facts that conform to the listener's knowledge or concepts of truth, or to the listener's paradigm out of which he/she operates. Change (or learning) involves a change of concepts or notions that may then be reconciled with the facts as they are communicated.

In summary, it is reasonable to assume that a strong relationship exists between frames of reference and conceptions/misconceptions held about any person, place, or thing. Obstacles to collaboration that result from misconceptions must be addressed through presentation of new knowledge in a meaningful way and the development of common frames of reference. New knowledge and common frames of reference are both necessary to realize the meaning, relevance, and validity of communications identified as critical to establishing collaborative relationships and implementing change such as the merger in this study ( Fox & Faver, 1984 ; Katz, 1954 ; Knutson, 1967 ; Rothman & Schwartzbaum, 1971 ).

Methods and Procedures

This case study employed qualitative data collection and analysis techniques ( Patton, 1990 ; Seidman, 1991 ). The population for the study was the set of individuals employed in Cornell University's Department of Education during 1999 who were involved with the 1996 merger of the TEA and TESM programs. All 12 individuals were invited to participate (four agricultural education, four science education, two math education, one social foundations, and the Department of Education Chair). Nine of the 12 individuals participated: the Department Chair; an assistant dean (agricultural education); one curriculum specialist (agricultural education); one extension specialist responsible for field placements and certification (science education); one doctoral student (science education); two agricultural education faculty; and two science education faculty.

A review of documents obtained from the Department Chair was used to better understand the context in which the merger occurred. They included the executive summary of the Understanding Agriculture: New Directions in Education report ( National Research Council [NRC], 1988 ), recommendations for the agricultural education program from a 1994-95 study group, written comments on the recommendations from a senior member of the Department (educational psychology), and a position description for two new faculty hires. These documents assisted us understand the climate that existed when discussions of a proposed merger were occurring.

The nine semi-structured interviews lasted approximately one hour each and occurred between April 1 and July 1, 1999. The interview protocol focused on participants' beliefs about the intent of the merger, initial and current barriers to the merger, status of the merger, and benefits to faculty and students. Each interview was audiotaped, transcribed, and coded ( Patton, 1990 ). In addition to analysis by the a priori theory reviewed above, we documented emergent themes or constructions of meaning in a matrix format based on the interview protocol. Triangulation of the data through the use of document review and interviews, as well as cross-member checks to review participants' respective interview transcripts, ensured validity.


In 1994-95, the two remaining agricultural education faculty members in the Department were getting ready to retire. A study group was formed to investigate agricultural education and identify needed changes in the existing program. The study group collected documents related to national strategic planning for agricultural education and interviewed faculty at one two-year postsecondary agricultural and technical institution. Objective 1 was met through an analysis of the documentation collected from this study group. This analysis revealed that the Department was visionary in its approach to agricultural education, developing recommendations based on current labor market data for the agriculture industry, the New Directions report ( NRC, 1988 ), and discussions with various stakeholders that focused on needed industry and educational changes. Both the agricultural educators and science educators admitted, however, that retiring agricultural education faculty and existing staff were not a part of these discussions. The following statement reflects the group's dilemma in thinking about filling the agricultural education positions:

We believe that the knowledge, skills, and experience required for an innovative approach to this transformation of agricultural education may well be found outside the traditional pool of people with degrees in Agricultural Education…While there is no reason to preclude people so trained from applying…there is a reason to cast a wide net in the search and to be willing to hire a person who has not come out of that tradition.

There are two possible explanations for this conclusion about the available pool of potential applicants. First, while the study group appeared to be visionary in its outline of what the agricultural education program would involve, this statement about the available pool of potential applicants may reflect a lack of understanding of the culture and traditional constituencies of agricultural education. In steering a new direction for agriculture, the new movement appeared to not be hindered by the traditional ties to the local agricultural education communities in the public schools.

A second explanation can also be offered. The emphasis on finding a new faculty member outside of agricultural education may represent the notion that not doing so would potentially constrain the alteration of the existing teacher education program, possibly undercutting the new intent at reforming the Department's agricultural education efforts. We found the interpretation to be largely a function of backgrounds and professional ties. Non agricultural personnel with ties to the math and science communities and the agricultural education faculty and staff more likely to see the statement as reflective of a lack of understanding of their field.

The only agricultural education personnel working in the Department by the time the searches commenced were non-tenure track and unable to vote on faculty hire decisions. The first hire, effective January 1996, was made within the context of finding someone outside traditional agricultural education and without the influence of voting faculty in agricultural education-since they had all retired. This hire came after a search that had already been aborted because the candidates were perceived to be too "ag eddy and behavioristic;" in contrast to the constructivist leanings of the non-agriculture personnel. This decision to hire someone outside traditional agricultural education threatened to undermine support from the traditional agriculture constituencies, though at the same time served to increase legitimacy and support from those promoting reform in agricultural education and a closer alignment with current views of science and math education.

The documents obtained from the study group do not mention a "merger" of the TEA and TESM programs, but it was written that the preservice TEA program should be better integrated with TESM. Goals established by the study group were (a) mutually supportive relationships between the two faculty groups, (b) a learning community for students to interact, (c) involvement of TESM faculty in the agenda of agricultural education and vice versa, (d) shared teaching, and (e) emphases on dual certification. These stated outcomes became a basis for discussions of the merger, initially to streamline administrative tasks such as placement of student teachers. This was to be in place by the time the second agricultural educator was hired in July 1996. We should also mention that both new hires, the second of whom is co-author of this article and primary interviewer, came on board with an understanding that a "merger" was desired, even though the term "merger" was not used in any of the documents. In fact, the Department Chair insisted during the interviews that there was never talk of a merger, explaining the discrepancy in a subsequent conversation:

I did have a sense of the 'coming together' as what needed to happen coupled with a further sense of needing to be careful about getting too far out in front of the faculty. This was also coupled with a further sense that the word 'merger' is a loaded term and was sure to raise the hackles of those involved. You need to keep in mind that [retired Agricultural Education faculty member] was still in the picture and it was important at the early stages to move gradually with a faith that the logic of the 'coming together' would gradually become apparent to all concerned.

Analysis of the Interview Data

Objectives 2 and 3 were met through a series of semi-structured interviews, using 10 questions (see Appendix) to guide the discussions. The following three questions are representative of the interview protocol:

  1. Can you think back to the first discussions about the merger of the two teacher education programs? What were your perceptions at that time as to what the merger was proposed to include?
  2. What barriers do you see that exist to implementation of a complete merger of the programs?
  3. What do you see as the benefits of the merger, to students and faculty?

Interview data were analyzed using a matrix to categorize responses based on interview questions and concepts that evolved from responses. We were able to identify four emergent themes: (a) initial perceptions of why the merger was being proposed were consistent across all interviewees, but impressions of "how" it would occur differed significantly with each individual's background; (b) the data suggest that deep philosophical differences between members of the two programs resulted in differing perceptions of whether a merger would work, and what barriers to implementation might exist; (c) all parties have converged in their thinking at the time of the interviews and believe the merged program to be beneficial to both faculty and students, and see few, if any, obstacles to continuing the new organizational structure; and (d) working together has resulted in an awareness among science educators of the uniqueness, or differentness, of agricultural education as well as recognition of a need to rethink the total structure of the merged program.

Initial Perceptions of the Purpose of the Merger

All participants agreed that initial discussions were informal and held only among TESM faculty and staff. A need to provide an economy of scale by combining administrative functions and some instruction was the reason noted by most participants. Once early conversations between TEA and TESM groups occurred, however, the two groups differed as to what the merger would involve. Science educators believed the existing structure of TESM should remain. The merger would add two faculty in agricultural education to help co-teach core courses, and there would be no loss of content from existing science education curriculum. Conversely, agricultural educators did not feel positive about the merger and believed the science educators felt "ag students can take courses we have already established." Lack of ongoing formal discussions among faculty and staff in both TEA and TESM led to different perceptions about various individuals' willingness or intent to create an integrated program, as illustrated by the following comments. (Notations following quotes designate background of individual, i.e., SE indicates science educator and AE indicates agricultural educator. The number denotes the code number.)

Actually, it was [Social Foundations Faculty member] who was one of the forces behind a merger…Some of his arguments were that agriculture subject matter gives really wonderful application…but, it was the existing ag ed faculty that had always done things a certain way and did not want to talk. (SE3)

If we say anything, they discount it…the perception is that if you're an aggie, you're treated like a second-class citizen. (AE2)

Analytically, domination of "negotiations" by science educators stemmed from the power differential present at the time. The only voices representing agricultural education were retiring faculty and new, untenured faculty. The science educators were all tenured and in the primes of their careers; and external pressures were strong and direct on the science educators and distinctly different from those facing the agricultural education faculty. This kept pressure on the science educators to maintain their traditional roles and program. This was the basis of their professional support outside the department. Any change to the practices and affiliations had the potential to undermine the established reputations of the science educators.

There was full agreement that no formal discussions occurred about the merger, and informal discussions occurred between various faculty and staff within the two groups, often casually over coffee or as "side notes" to discussions during meetings called for other purposes. The agricultural education staff perceived that "political power" held by science educators would mean that existing methods courses in agricultural education would be cancelled and important elements of discipline-specific instruction would be lost. Science education faculty were not even aware of a need for discipline-specific instruction in agricultural education (e.g., management of FFA chapters and Supervised Agriculture Experiences [SAE] projects) and, as a result, couldn't conceptualize a need for additional methods courses beyond what was already offered by the science and math teacher preparation program.

Science education faculty believed that agricultural education students could be integrated into the existing TESM courses and adaptations made in the set of readings and examples they presented. They also hoped new agricultural education faculty would share teaching responsibilities with them in existing classes. There were no discussions, however, about competencies or exit outcomes for students in the program. In fact, these discussions were not possible due to perceptions the groups had about each other. Agricultural educators were perceived by science education to be operating out of a behavioristic paradigm, and the word "competency" held certain meanings. In fact, one science educator said he "had convulsions at the very mention of [competencies]." In short, the values associated with the language used by the two groups varied greatly. Competencies were valued and used in agricultural education, but ostracized by the current community of science educators. The two groups were not able to discuss what it is that graduates of a merged program would be expected to know and do.

Colliding Frames of Reference and Barriers to Implementation

The differences in underlying philosophies of faculty at the time of the initial discussions led to perceptions that an integrated program might be difficult to implement. Differences also fueled the fears of agricultural education that it would be "swallowed up" by science education. One agricultural educator also perceived that science educators had the attitude that "one group (science education) was intellectually superior to another." One science educator confirmed these perceptions:

There were concerns that the agricultural education students would be less prepared or less able to participate at the same rate and pace than the science and math students could. (SE4)

Another science educator viewed the situation as a "clash of cultures" and stated, "our students (science/math) would have a great deal of difficulty with it, that we were just trying to unite two different worlds." This "two different worlds" statement is a strong and prophetic metaphor for the two distinct environments (professional organizations, academic norms, public school constituencies, university partners, etc.) within which each group operated.

Most people agreed that cultural differences and lack of knowledge about other programs kept the two groups from having meaningful discussions about a merger even though there were attempts made by the TESM group to discuss a merger with agricultural education faculty:

We did meet as a faculty with the emeritus professors in ag ed who were living locally and talked with them about what they saw as the pros and cons of this effort…there was resistance by that group (of emeritus professors). (SE4)

We certainly had conversations with [retired agricultural educator]…He was so steeped in it (tradition) that he couldn't really leave it behind…couldn't take an idea and divorce it from the package. (SE6)

I thought it (the merger) would all likely depend on finding new faculty with whom we could finally communicate…and their willingness to try to do things in concert instead of quite independently. (SE5)

Agricultural educators believed they were also willing to discuss the merger and felt the "other side" was preventing discussions from moving forward:

You have to remember that back then there were different ag ed faculty members and the perceptions that they were following…more of a vocational agriculture model. I say those folks (agricultural education faculty) felt like they were more than willing to meet people more than half way on the merger. (AE2)

I think [agricultural education faculty] were more than willing…I think it's a perception more than reality of why we wouldn't merge…it also had to do with personalities…Like oil and water, they didn't mix very well. (AE2)

It is also important to note that there were additional conflicts and differences that emerged between the existing agricultural education staff and new agricultural education faculty.

Philosophical differences also created problems and concerns as each group viewed the content of the other's course offerings within the context of integrated instruction. The TEA program included classes in teaching methodologies in the competency-based tradition and was viewed as behavioristic by the science educators. In comparison, TESM operated out of a constructivist paradigm, and coursework focused on theoretical perspectives of knowing and learning. For the science educators, traditional methods such as lesson planning, delivery strategies, and assessment were only addressed in a two-week pre-student teaching seminar. Perceptions about the potential of the merger were influenced by these differences:

The ag ed program was largely behavioristic…so, I can remember talking about the student teaching seminars and [an retired agricultural educator] wheels out this 10-page thing of…write legibly on the chalkboard, all of these things that are not unimportant, but are certainly not what I consider the focus of teacher ed. (SE5)

It was pretty hard, I think, because they ignored anything we do. One example, I thought you needed a strong methods course…it doesn't matter about reflecting, everything else if you aren't given skills to be effective in the classroom. (AE2)

The depth of the differences was a major obstacle. Participants did not articulate and perhaps were unaware of the normative and cognitive pressures and expectations derived from their respective academic disciplines and professional practice ( Scott, 1995 ). They were, nevertheless, initially unwilling or unable to grant legitimacy to others' perspectives and practices, mostly due to an inability to separate departmental history from the issues of professional difference. The mistrust only masked the underlying epistemological chasm between the groups. For any successful merger, this chasm must be bridged.

In spite of the difficulties, the integration of the programs occurred. Three factors influenced how the merger of TEA and TESM actually evolved: (a) the lack of coordination of the merger, (b) one semester following the retirement of agricultural education faculty in which there were no TEA faculty to handle responsibilities for courses, and (c) changes that forced the Department to seek accreditation through the National Center for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

As an immediate consequence of retiring faculty, four agricultural education students enrolled in a TESM course during spring 1997. One of the new agricultural education faculty co-taught the course, but there were no changes in planning or materials to accommodate agricultural education students or faculty. The following year, the second new agricultural education faculty co-taught this course, with responsibility for the lectures; the former instructor (science educator) handled the laboratories, which focused on adaptation and instruction of existing environmental science lessons. Again, there was no joint planning or changes in the laboratory to coincide with the materials covered in the lectures or vice versa. Students were confused at the sometimes-conflicting information between the classroom and lab meetings.

As an example, the agricultural educator spent considerable time focusing on the importance of planning to effectively manage instruction. The information was presented in a non-behavioristic, research-based manner that the co-author believed to be an appropriate approach and in consonance with the philosophy of the program. At the same time, the science educator was telling students that lesson plans were not important and superfluous to the instructional process (as witnessed by the co-author).

The next academic year, the agricultural educator was given full responsibility for the instruction of the course, representing a shift in thinking as the course contained science and math education students, as well as agricultural education students. It is unlikely that prior consideration would ever have been given to having an agricultural education faculty member assume responsibilities for a course in which science/math education students were enrolled, particularly a course focused on instructional methods. The change in personnel has been largely responsible for this change in operations as expressed by all participants:

Well, I think the new faculty we hired have a new paradigm in their minds, how to be effective, where we need to go in agricultural education (AE2)

I was not encouraged about who would apply for (this) position. I did not think we could get people who could rethink what it means to do ag education. (SE6)

The new faculty members were either giving in to the pressure to conform or were involved in an academic community that was different from their predecessors. Understanding this background is important to the discussion of the following emerging themes from the analysis, as this change has permitted individuals to work together more closely than before.

Convergent Thinking

The merger has been in place since January 1996, with ongoing emphases on combining administrative functions. At a summer 1999 retreat, faculty and staff discussed the need for programmatic changes as well. All individuals agreed that the benefits of the merger outweigh the problems on multiple fronts (programmatically and administratively) and for the individuals involved. The Department Chair looked at the merger from a different perspective than faculty and staff directly associated with it. In his opinion, the main benefit has been that doors have been opened so that "people, focused in one area, see the strengths that exist in the other area."

What is the meaning of the changes? Has progress been made? Three questions are important to answer:

  1. Programmatically, what has changed due to the initial merger?
  2. Do the changes allow for a better instructional program and experience for students?
  3. What are impacts on faculty?

Programmatically, all participants believe that progress has been made, largely through the efforts of the new agricultural education faculty to change the TEA program. Based on these shared experiences, some faculty also believe that the informal process used to implement the merger-using existing courses and program requirements-might now need to be made more formal:

I think we're making progress, but we have avoided coming to the table and settling issues, for whatever reasons…We haven't had enough face-to-face meetings to say, okay; these are the commitments we are going to make. (SE3)

We need to incorporate more into the TEAMS curriculum, we haven't done enough to change the curriculum for the whole program to incorporate what are the absolute strengths of ag ed such as leadership and experiential learning. (AE5)

So many of our ideas about the TESM program were mapped out and we fit ag education into it…in terms of give and take it was mostly ag ed that had to give. We've created boxes for ourselves…we need more discussions about issues and how to create something different, change the boxes. (SE6)

This change represents a major philosophical shift toward convergent thinking that has evolved over the time the merger has been in place.

The major benefits cited for students are the ability for them to work together, and how their perceptions of one another and themselves have changed:

The students, it is of great benefit for the students to work with each other…I've had a couple say to me "I'm going to think differently about the ag teacher. I am going to look for a school where I can work with an ag teacher." (SE3)

I think the science and math students have a lot to learn from the agriculture students, especially if they've come up through the ranks as agricultural education students, themselves, including the experiential, the leadership, other areas. (SE6)

This change in perception doesn't just apply to the science and math students. Faculty also believe that the agricultural education students benefit from the enhanced prestige of being in the program with the science and math students and being able to perform equally to them:

Student benefits…I think it's prestige. I think that it helps the agricultural education people to have interaction with others who are in science and math education because, at least the culture around here has sort of relegated the ag ed students to secondary status…they can hold their heads up high and say that they take the same classes and do the same things that other students do. (AE5)

One science educator who teaches a curriculum analysis class said he notices the effects of the merger on students and himself. He stated that, for the first time, he has had biology and agricultural education students teaming up on projects, and he didn't know "which was which…so I thought it was remarkable. That has never happened before." Participants cited several other benefits to the merger for faculty including a greater appreciation of agricultural education through knowledge rather than false assumptions, the opportunity to work with a wide range of students and to learn from them, and improved access to resources. From the perspective of the co-author, there has been a professional gain in that she was able to secure a National Science Foundation Career Award to study the merger and develop a replicable model.

Changing Perceptions and Lessons Learned

Remarkable changes have occurred in the science/math education faculty's view of agricultural education. As noted above, the change in how the integrated program should be structured also represents a major philosophical shift. This contrasts with the agricultural education faculty who, to a certain extent, have been "plugging along attempting to make the merger work, while also ensuring their students were well-prepared to enter the field," according to a college administrator. While the agricultural education faculty agreed that it has not been easy, they also feel a certain level of satisfaction at this point.

Science educators uniformly agreed that the process has been enlightening for them and that effective communications can accomplish a lot:

From what I have heard from friends of mine in science ed, there is a culture difference between ag ed and science ed…those are very deep so that efforts to bridge those gaps are going to involve lots of talk…It gets down to some of the substantial notions of what it means to teach and to learn. (SE3)

I think we went at this kind of backwards…just made the decision to merge without looking at what the model (program) should look like…other groups should think seriously about what the model means to their departments. (SE4)

Both of these statements are significant in that these same science educators also acknowledged that the types of conversations they are suggesting would not have occurred during the days prior to the implementation of the merger. One other science educator indicated that his thinking about the ability of the students to work together well, and his initially perceived barriers to an effective merger-focused on philosophies and personalities-have changed drastically. He believed that the students would not be able to cope well with one another and that the barriers were insurmountable. He stated he no longer feels that either of these areas remain an issue for him. This same individual had some interesting thoughts about re-thinking the program:

I think a lot of the things we are doing (from the TESM model) are probably a little archaic now and I'm not sure they are really appropriate…I would say we need more open discussions about fundamental issues…have retreats once a year and use them only for trying to understand each other better, rethink our program…step back from what you're doing, not step into it and I think what we've been doing is stepping into it more. (SE6)

These changes in viewpoints about programmatic shifts and needs for communication are significant. The science/math faculty had always believed that their existing courses were uniquely resistant to a need for change. The shift also shows the benefits of learning through ongoing and repeated exposure to new knowledge, ways of doing things, or philosophies.

The influence of the decision to seek NCATE accreditation, when viewed as a form of bureaucratically imposed restructuring, cannot be discounted in the analysis of the merger. The decision to seek NCATE accreditation to satisfy requirements for recertification led to discussions of requirements, several of which involve articulation of programmatic inputs and outputs: a conceptual framework, articulated curriculum, competencies, and where met, exit outcomes, etc. One of the agricultural education faculty developed a draft list of competencies and presented it to TEAMS faculty and staff; this list was met with appreciation and enthusiasm. Plans for future meetings include discussions of how these competencies will be met (in which classes) and assessed-a dramatic shift in operating philosophy. The question must be asked: how much of this shift is due to the externally mandated accreditation process and how much is due to the shifts in philosophies as a result of the ongoing processes of the merger, itself? According to the Department Chair

My idea all along is that there ought to be some common, crosscutting non-subject specific teacher education activities, courses, onto which would be grafted the subject specific pieces…We've made some progress, but we're not as far along as I'd hoped we would be…I'm hopeful the NCATE review is going to prompt us to wrestle with this and come up with what is the best of both.

The Department Chair also agreed that deadlines imposed by NCATE will help move the integration process along. Because it generates an externally imposed deadline-not the Chair's or the Dean's-it is "just something we're all living with, it's our common challenge, " a notion supported by several faculty on both sides:

Like that list that was circulated this morning (of competencies)…people are looking at it within the context of the NCATE review and saying, yeah, we really need to do this…Gee, I might have to revise my course…that is a type of discussion we could not have had three years ago. (AE1)

I think the NCATE is a good opportunity…it is a little hard to think out of the box…If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but I think there are things about it (the program) that are broke…but you shouldn't have it (NCATE) hanging over your head to discuss fundamental questions. (SE6)

In summary, the interview data analysis shows shifts in attitudes and perceptions from the time of the initial discussions about the proposed merger to the present. Faculty with very strong biases have begun to work together in ways previously thought impossible, and have embraced the concept of integration. Both student and faculty groups are now viewed differently, due to regular exposure to one another, but perhaps also due to the bureaucratically mandated NCATE review. Conceptually, some of the taken-for-granted notions of program, instruction, and the motives of the "other side" were broken down and are in the process of being reestablished. This local phenomenon if intra-departmental integration exemplifies the "different worlds" in which the two groups had operated. The following discussion will relate this evolution to the literature on organizational behavior, collaboration, and frames of reference.

Discussion and Conclusions

The situation that forced individuals from different academic disciplines to work together-the retirement of agricultural education faculty, leaving students with no course options other than one of the science education courses-began a series of events in which faculty and students were exposed to one another in meaningful and substantive ways. The strong desire for gaining economies of scale was the impetus to combine students in courses beyond the situation created by faculty retirement. Figure 1 provides a chronology of events that occurred between the initial discussions of an integrated program in teacher education (1994-95) to the present. It also conceptualizes the impact of incremental opportunities for exposure of individuals (i.e., faculty, staff, and students) to one another on the evolution to convergent thinking about the success of the merger, benefits to faculty and students, and thoughts about the future.

Organizationally, this study highlights the importance of understanding the many facets of university academic departments when attempting significant change. It also recognizes the significance of externa`l constituencies. Earlier, we reviewed the four internal systems in all organizations: structural, individual, political, and cultural. The merger of the TEA and TESM programs entailed more than simple alterations to the organizational chart. The merger challenged individual schemas (frames of reference), departmental politics, and the take-for-granted notions of what the teacher education programs were trying to accomplish. There were distinct differences in the experiences, knowledge base, conceptions of power, and cultures of the individuals affected by the movement to merge the two programs.

Figure 1
An evolution to convergent thinking.

Beginning with their own personal experiences, the perspectives of whom the different parties were serving, why they were serving them, and how best to do it were in stark contrast. Tradition played a large role in agricultural education, while breaking from tradition was the centerpiece of the science and math program. Tradition (or breaking away from it) narrowed the language and strategies available to either program. Agricultural education viewed the word "competency" as a proper focus whereas the word made the science educators' skin crawl.

There was also a distinct power differential, real or perceived, between the two groups. An interesting note on the power differential must be made. Whereas the agricultural educators complained that they were viewed as "second class citizens," the Department resides within a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and possesses considerable power due to the strong links to the farming and agricultural community. We argue that one of the causal factors for the merger was the need for the Department (and hence the science/mathematics teacher education program) to further align itself with the agricultural mission of the college. Hence, the question of which group had power over the other is more complex than either group suggested.

The cultural differences were stark, likely as a result of the relative isolation of each program from the other in the previous years. Prior to the merger (and it may continue today), each program was staffed by individuals with different academic preparation, served a completely different constituency, and was guided by different norms of research, teaching, and applied practice in high schools. Any idea that a merger of the constituencies would take place is misguided. The distinct constituencies and ties to the external environment are such that they will continue to tug the programs in different directions. These differences help explain the difficulty of what was undertaken.

We want to highlight the relationship between the social systems within the Department and the professional associations and links outside the Department. Within the University, the associations of faculty differ markedly. The agricultural education faculty and students interact primarily with individuals in Cornell Cooperative Extension, and in the animal and plant sciences. The science educators interact with faculty in environmental science, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. These associations include both professional activity and student committees. There is also no overlap between the professional associations and annual conferences that the faculty attend. We suggest that these different linkages present the faculty with distinctly different norms of professional behavior and reflect different academic foci and standards.

Despite these differences that lead to faculty living in "different worlds," we found what may seem like remarkable progress toward a more integrated program for teacher education. One explanation is that both sides achieved a greater understanding of the other faculty including the demands on and expectations from constituencies. The increased understanding and appreciation resulted in a greater tolerance for differences between programs and an increased ability to work together. A second, more plausible explanation is that the faculty realized the whole would be greater than the parts; the joint program would be stronger than the two individual programs. The merger would benefit the science educators in that it would strengthen their political standing within the College while allowing them to continue providing the New York state with high quality science and math teachers. Moreover, the science educators recognized the strengths of the agricultural education students and their experiences. Examples include public speaking learned through participation in FFA and their abilities to inform the science students how content knowledge is actually used in practice, such as the biology of why fruit tree grafts work. The agricultural education faculty benefit from the linkage to a broader constituency on campus and the reflective practice model emphasized by the science educators. Now working collaboratively and in a seemingly mutually beneficial set of circumstances, the two sets of faculty and students are able to carry out what they had always done-prepare teachers for their respective disciplines-but now in a more effective and supported way.

This study supports prior research on motivation for action within organizations in that individuals were able to begin the process of the merger because there was at least one perceived positive outcome-the streamlining of administrative functions ( Robbins, 1993 ). Other outcomes were perceived as negative or positive depending on the respective participants' frame of reference. Agricultural education faculty feared the merger and believed it would have a negative effect on the TEA program and its students. Science education faculty believed that the merger would "finally get the ag ed program in line with science ed," which was where they perceived agricultural education needed to be at the time. Superficial and incremental changes occurred over time, and each led to more changes as participants experienced the benefits of the integration efforts. When the decision was made to seek NCATE accreditation, there was a necessity to examine the program through an external viewpoint. There is now a desired outcome for the integrated program-the NCATE accreditation-and everyone recognizes that it must be achieved. Because all parties desire this outcome, everyone accepts that there are procedures that are necessary to achieve the common goal. Enough time has passed, with positive shared experiences, that individuals are willing to discuss a reform of the total program curriculum, course offerings, and course content.

This study also supports historical research on the influence of frames of reference on analyses and perceptions of the same events ( Knutson, 1967 ). Prior to the merger, shared experiences of the respective groups were often viewed negatively. Science educators perceived the agricultural education faculty as too behavioristic, resistant to change, and less scholarly. Agricultural educators believed science educators didn't provide their own students with the proper tools to be successful teachers, relegated agricultural education students to the status of "second class citizens," and wanted nothing more than to do away with agricultural education. This viewpoint existed in spite of the very well articulated and visionary documents that were produced as a result of the department's study of agricultural education in 1994-95.

The respective philosophies of each group on the fundamental aspects of the teaching and learning process, and how those philosophies should be operationalized in a teacher education program, created a situation in which there appeared to be no common frames of reference. It is interesting that the shared experiences over the past four years have led to what can now be considered a "new frame of reference" for everyone involved in the program (Figure 2). Perceptions of activities, events, faculty, and communications are now being formed by both the science/math and agricultural educators based on this common frame of reference. More often than not, the perceptions are the same. Even if perceptions differ, the shared experiences have resulted in a respect and collegiality among individuals that was not part of the past. As one of the more dogmatic science educators remarked one day to the co-author when they encountered an area of disagreement, "Oh, this is okay. I don't worry about you, we're on the same page!"

The literature on integration of academic and vocational education calls for a very organized and sequential process to be undertaken ( Edling & Loring, 1997 ; Kisner, 1996 ; Lankard, 1992 ; Lee, 1997 ). Among other things, there is the need to establish a "design team" to identify areas of the curriculum for redesign, and there must also be agreed-upon assessment tools and strategies for each outcome. Accepted strategies for integration could not have worked in 1996 as the deeply rooted philosophical differences of individuals within the respective groups would have prevented any discussions of curriculum redesign, student outcomes, and assessment. In this case, where common frames of reference did not exist, incremental changes that created opportunities for exposure were necessary to engender new, common frames of reference. While this was not a planned-for outcome of the merger, it has implications for the way these processes are undertaken in the future.


As a result of this study, we wish to provide both recommendations for future mergers and a framework for understanding the differing levels of programmatic integration. Several recommendations can be made about how integration or merger of seemingly disparate programs can be implemented. First, there must be recognition that individuals within the respective groups have different frames of reference and may indeed live "in different worlds." Thus, individual backgrounds will influence their perceptions of the same events. Understanding the true constituencies of each party is essential for fruitful progress toward actual integration. Second, it is important to identify areas of administrative overlap (e.g., record-keeping, single contact for information, budget alignment) where a merger can occur prior to any activity. Third, the programmatic integration should begin in the least controversial context; and any integration efforts should occur incrementally. Fourth, the best timeframe for introduction of a bureaucratically imposed restructuring is after a sufficient period of time has passed for individuals to gain a deeper understanding of what drives the other program and to also foster new and common frames of reference. Collectively, these will increase the chances that the participants approach the restructuring with similar understandings of benefits and consequences of the merger as well as a common value system related to the benefits of the outcomes.

The merger of the two programs at Cornell University benefited from a unique organizational arrangement. In trying to understand the relative success of this merger, the reader should be familiar with the relationship of the two programs before the merger. Three decades prior

Figure 2
Formation of common, new frames of reference through shared experiences.

to the merger, the School of Education at Cornell University was moved into the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and made a department. The housing of the "regular" teacher education program in the same department and the same college as the agricultural teacher education provided a close, though not necessarily amicable, working relationship. In stark contrast to most other universities, where the two programs are typically in different buildings and different colleges, these faculty shared common office space, a common department, and a common college. Whereas typical teacher education programs are quite large and consist of an array of subject matter and grade level foci, these programs were both quite small (5-15 students each) and focused, respectively, on either secondary agricultural education or secondary science and math education. The small size of each program raised the specter of gaining economy with growth, while the disciplinary nature of the non-agriculture program focused narrowly on science/math education in a college of Agriculture and Life Science. To bystanders, or college administrators, the merger seemed to make sense.

Proximity, size, and related academic discipline, however, do not tell the whole story, so we offer a framework for understanding the various levels of integration. Merger can be carried out along a continuum ranging from the superficial sharing of common space to complete integration of goals and philosophies. For example, a merger could simply imply a sharing of course offerings where students from one program sit in the same class as those from the other. This has taken place at Cornell and certainly takes place elsewhere. A step up in the degree of integration is jointly planned faculty offerings designed by the respective parties. The disciplines remain distinct, but planning takes place to reduce duplication and to offer a degree of coherence to the various programs. A third level of merging two programs consists of jointly organized and administered programs. For instance, the two programs now jointly recruit, teach, and supervise the field experiences of students. Mutually supporting and reinforcing behaviors are common among both students and faculty, though the professional lives (in terms of research and outreach or service) remain distinct. This is the level the Cornell program has achieved.

Finally, we envision a fourth level, in which the faculty all possess common and mutually reinforcing goals for teaching, research, and service to the community. While this is seemingly the ideal toward which all mergers should strive, the realities of traditional academic and university ties may provide a large obstacle to overcome. In this case, the traditional constituencies of agricultural education are quite distinct from those of science and math education. This holds for both "outreach" activities and research agendas. Being an effective member of a university faculty may mean very different things to the respective constituencies. The generation and publication of new knowledge in what some call arcane academic journals may be prized or ridiculed. The provision of public service to local community leaders may also be treasured or belittled. The problem with this dichotomy is not only that it is false, but also that it tends to generate resentment and unhealthy expectations for faculty. To truly merge two programs, for the benefit of students, faculty, and the constituents they serve, merged programs must have similar professional expectations for the respective faculty and students. Maintaining two distinct definitions of "productive" faculty time results in animosity and mutual mistrust. The ideal, we argue, is to reject the false dichotomy of research versus practice and create a stimulating environment where new knowledge is generated, shared with students and colleagues, and disseminated to the relevant constituents; whether these constituents are other academics, teachers, or community leaders. It is only when such common and mutually supporting professional goals are practiced that true integration takes place.

In sum, the experiment at Cornell University to merge two heretofore separate and distinct teacher education programs into one remains unfinished business. Classes are integrated, students engage with each other, and a single administrative structure organizes both programs. Yet, disagreements and debate continue. This debate is not unlike the broader argument-taking place in most universities across the country. Higher education is striving to make itself useful and relevant while also maintaining its unique position as the incubator for new ideas. Can it do both? The future of universities depends on it as does the future of teacher education.


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Interview Protocol Questions

  1. Can you think back to the first discussions about the merger of the two teacher education programs? What were your perceptions at that time as to what the merger was proposed to include?
  2. What did you identify, at that time, as barriers to the merger? Any fears or concerns?
  3. Where do you think we are at this point in the process?
  4. Where do you see we are headed with the merger?
  5. What barriers do you see that exist to implementation of a complete merger of the programs?
  6. Have there been any surprises?
  7. What do you see as the benefits of the merger, to students and faculty?
  8. Are there any "down" sides?
  9. What have we learned in this process to make future similar endeavors work more smoothly?
  10. How are your thoughts about the merger changed as we have undertaken the process?


CAROL A. CONROY is Assistant Professor, Cornell University and Deputy Assistant Director for US Partners, GLOBE Program, 1800 G Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20006. [E-mail: cconroy@globe.gov ]. Dr. Conroy conducts research on agriscience education, and has a special interest in the curriculum of the workplace, particularly in the area of integration.

JOHN W. SIPPLE is Assistant Professor at Cornell University, 4th floor, Kennedy Hall, Ithaca, NY [E-mail: jws28@cornell.edu ]. Dr. Sipple conducts research on school district organization, particularly strategic responses to changes in state standards and graduation requirements.