James Liou, National Board Certified Teacher, Boston Public Schools
Ronald Thorpe, President & CEO, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
We want to commend the Council for Economic Education for its ongoing advocacy and work related to economic and financial literacy education in our nation’s schools. The Survey of the States report, coupled with concerted action and innovative partnership, could very well lead to practical avenues for meeting the needs of educators and their students across the country.
The Council’s work is especially important today. In our “flat” and technologically connected world, understanding economics and achieving financial literacy are key 21st century skills. But before we get into that, let’s take a quick look back to another time in our nation’s history when these issues were just as critical.
After the American Revolution—and even before the results were assured—the rag-tag collection of colonies, now united, confronted a threat that challenged the democratic ideals the colonists had fought for: what to do about the nation’s debt and what structures to institute in order to stabilize the economy and support the veins of national commerce. While historians can argue the points, it is pretty clear that Alexander Hamilton, with his extensive knowledge of financial systems, especially in England, provided critical leadership with his understanding of debt and advocacy for a central bank. Had his opponents—including Thomas Jefferson—had their way, it is likely that the new country may not have survived its crippling war debts and challenges to its federal legitimacy. So, while we identify an understanding of economics and financial literacy as “21st Century Skills,” they are ones that have asserted their importance since the founding of this country and will continue to do so.
The contemporary Occupy movement, one that seemingly began as a loosely organized but resonant economic and political outcry, both here and around the world, has a parallel to this country’s revolutionary history as well. At this time, to the British, the upstart colonists were little more than a pesky bunch that should be warily tolerated, or if necessary, ‘put in their place’. But economic and political crises, as they did in the late eighteenth century, tend to reverberate in ways that have further reaching impacts. They did then, and they continue to do so today.
Economics and financial stability will be central to the upcoming presidential election as everything—education, physical infrastructure, health care, security, energy development, environmental stewardship and goods and services of every kind—will be derailed or fast-tracked as dictated by the language and framework of our economic well-being.
This economic orientation alone should inform us about the importance of educating our students on the topics of economics and financial literacy in our nation’s schools.
There is no question that this additional pressure falls upon our schools when they too are experiencing significant shifts—from a heightened era of standards and accountability, to Common Core implementation, to the impending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. At a time when schools seem over-burdened and under-resourced, how can we possibly ask them to take on even more? But in this regard, education is no different from other professions. Doctors can’t sit back and say “enough already, we can’t take on anymore ideas about how to make people healthy,” nor can lawyers, accountants, and engineers think that way about the developments in their fields. Each profession must find ways—new, creative and sustainable ways—to keep on the road of continuous improvement.
To determine what some of the most accomplished teachers in America think, we conducted a survey of nearly five hundred National Board Certified Teachers in social studies and business education—among them elementary, middle and high school teachers from urban to rural settings. In response to our questions about the obstacles that teachers face with economic and financial literacy education, the most cited responses were: lack of time, lack of prioritization and lack of meaningful professional development. Among these teachers, 74% felt somewhat successful or less with integrating economic education in their social studies classes, and 82% felt similarly regarding the integration of financial literacy topics. A full two-thirds of these teachers cited moderate to limited access to quality curricular materials related to either topic.
Knowing the conditions that now exist is the first step toward making the kinds of changes the Council urges schools to make. But there is also reason to be hopeful that these gains can be made. A strong through line in the survey responses suggested that teachers strongly valued and were similarly committed to finding ways to increase student learning of and experiences with these topics.
At the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, we propose to build on these sentiments, particularly in the related content areas where we have standards and a certification process. NBPTS would be happy to partner with the Council for Economic Education. Perhaps more importantly, National Board Certified Teachers stand ready to help as well. By first identifying a cohort of innovative teachers, and then through a strategic offering of curricular resources, professional development and compensation, best practices of integrating these topics could then be disseminated and shared more widely to other teachers locally, and then nationally. Who better to lead the efforts of improving our schools than our nation’s most accomplished educators?