By: Derek D’Angelo, President, Michigan Council on Economic Education
Why do you wear your seat belt while in a motor vehicle? I don’t wear my seat belt because of a government requirement, I wear it because my mother was in a horrible accident. It was a cold February morning in 1993 and my mother was on the way to work when her mini-van caught a patch of ice. The vehicle began to slide uncontrollably and she was t-boned on the passenger side by a truck. She was wearing her seat belt, spent a week in the hospital, and eventually made a full recovery.
Michigan was the first state to enact a seat belt law in July of 1985. Initially the legislation was met with much resistance from legislators and a populace whose seat belt usage was less than 20%. In the year of my mother’s accident the seat belt usage rate in Michigan had climbed to 64.4%. Merely establishing a requirement was only a first step toward moving the seat belt usage rate to the 93.3% it sits at today. Just as important was the research that showed people how many lives were saved, the graphic pictures of those who were not, enforcement efforts, and technological improvements to vehicles that followed enactment of the legislation.
Now that 20 state legislatures have jumped the hurdle to require high school students take a course in economics and lawmakers in 17 states require high school students take a course in personal finance, the work has just begun. Seldom do we put enough focus on the importance of the steps following legislative action. Establishing a state requirement is only the first step in the process of building a citizenry equipped to make financially sound decisions. Teachers must be supported through an investment in high-quality professional development. The delivery of this professional development must be strategically designed to target the needs of the teacher within the subject they teach. The model of large auditorium sit-and-get district required professional development should be abandoned for a more differentiated approach that encourages a growth mindset in teachers.
It’s time for a new conversation about teacher improvement. Teachers should receive ongoing professional development, tailored to their unique needs as lead learners in their classrooms. State Councils and Centers for Economic Education are uniquely positioned to provide high-quality, low cost professional development to those teaching economics and financial literacy. Across the nation, State Councils and Centers for Economic Education are equipped to provide the curriculum tools, the pedagogical support, and the community of peers needed for teachers to successfully implement and create the change sought by establishing state standards in economics and financial literacy.
We know that states with economic and financial literacy requirements are more likely to save, more likely to pay off credit cards in full each month, and less likely to be compulsive buyers. In 1985, the establishment of a state requirement in Michigan jumped seat belt usage to 60%, before falling back to 45% shortly thereafter. It is not enough to merely establish a state standard and believe all the problems will go away. The establishment of state standards in economics and financial literacy must be followed by a proper investment in the educators who will be delivering the messages to our children. It seems a much better and more cost-effective option than just hoping children learn from the accidents they witness.