Personal finance education is most effective when teachers are comfortable with it themselves
By Annamaria Lusardi & Nan J. Morrison, Education Week
Would a school allow athletes into a game without any practice? Send kids to their library or point them online but not help them learn to read? Should schools stop teaching math because some children find it hard or might fail? The notion, as advocated by some, that America should let students slide into adulthood without teaching basic personal finance concepts is equally shortsighted. As a researcher and a leader of a financial education organization, we could not disagree more. In fact, we experience every day the profound, lasting impact that financial education has on our nation’s young people.
One high school senior who recently completed classes in economics and personal finance told us that this practical curriculum was transformational: “At first, it felt like a foreign language. Now, I understand how to make more thoughtful decisions about my life. It’s a new way to think,” the student said. We’re thrilled the teacher was able to get the training necessary to master the subject and inspire kids in another avenue of knowledge.
Not every teacher, student, or school has that option.
“Teachers, like many other Americans, need to build the competence and confidence to teach this subject.”
The 12th grader’s observation puts a fine point on who needs financial education and how to deliver it. If we want to demystify the language of finance and build capability, we must ensure that every child has access to quality financial education. That happens best in the classroom when personal finance is treated like any other subject. Ideally, these essential life lessons should be integrated into the K-12 curriculum—a bit each year, culminating in a full semester class. In a standard math education, for instance, we teach kids to count in kindergarten so they build readiness for algebra years later. Personal finance education should be treated similarly.
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In the Federal Register, which is where the U.S. government publishes agency rules and public notices, DeVos’ proposed priority is to “align the Department of Education’s … discretionary grant investments with the Administration’s Opportunity Zones initiative, which aims to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities.”
Perhaps the best-known program to get funding through discretionary grants is the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program, which gets $440 million and supports new charters as well as those seeking to expand. In fact, the department announced at the start of this month in a rule that a priority for distributing these charter school grants will be to fund charters that are in Opportunity Zones, which provide tax breaks to investors in exchange for long-term investment in identified areas. (More on that below.)
But the department’s proposed rule, published on Monday, could broaden the extent to which these competitive federal grants are tied to the zones. It’s possible federal grants to magnet schools, arts education, and programs like TRIO and GEAR UP that help bridge gaps between K-12 and higher education could also prioritize Opportunity Zone investments in the future…
And in general, there’s some hope these Opportunity Zones could strengthen schools by bolstering and diversifying the services available to students in struggling communities.
Remember: The big-ticket education funding programs, such as Title I services for disadvantaged students and special education state grants, rely on formulas and not competitive-grant applications. So those funding streams wouldn’t be affected by this new grant priority.
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Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.
But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….
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A program meant to diversify New York City’s infamously segregated specialized high schools failed to admit representative numbers of black and Hispanic students this school year, figures released last week by district officials show.
The Discovery program, hyped as a desegregation tool for elite schools, mostly benefited Asian students despite the fact that those students already account for a majority of enrollment.
In contrast, black and Hispanic children, who account for about 67 percent …
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Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.
The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.
Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.
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If the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.
The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.
In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.
In reality, it’s not so simple. The practical and political challenges of ESSA’s shifts are playing out in stages as the law is phased in and as local and state education leaders start to face tough choices about federal compliance, poorly performing schools, vulnerable students, and more.
This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts…
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Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.
This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level. ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.
For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.
Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.
The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…
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Civics education is popular again. As our democracy itself sits on a historic precipice, people from around the country are calling for a national renewal of civics education. However, more civics education by itself is not sufficient. This new political moment requires a new civics: one in which a quest for racial equity is front and center.
When it is taught at all, civics is predominantly presented as a stale and monotonous topic, in which democracy feels irrelevant to the majority of students’ lives. Conventional civics focuses primarily on how government works and does not acknowledge the lived experiences of many of today’s students.
That approach can harm our very politics. By definition, an effective democracy requires equal representation from all segments of the population. It demands the robust political participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial equity. That promise does not yet ring true in our country.
A new civics education, which centers racial equity as a cornerstone of American democracy, must explicitly address the political and social marginalization of communities that have traditionally been excluded from the formal democratic process. In doing so, we can begin to dismantle the barriers to civic identity and participation faced by so many young people in this country, particularly by young people of color. In this equity-focused civics education, students can develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.
Unfortunately, the word “equity” itself is now widely understood as a partisan ideal. In consequence, many education leaders and civics educators choose to approach the subject from a broad perspective, believing that a rising tide in civics will lift all boats. Without an explicit focus on educating for the promise of racial equity, however, there is a danger in perpetuating a democracy led by a privileged, often white minority, instead of a diverse, inclusive majority.
“Civics education should reflect the needs and demographics of the nation’s public school children…”
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Last fall, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker used Southern Door High School’s newly installed 3D printing lab in this small town near Green Bay as a backdrop to propose a $639 million increase in public school funding.
“We know that ensuring our students’ success, both in and outside the classroom, is critical to the state’s continued economic success,” said Walker, now in a fierce campaign for a third term against long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.
The Southern Door County schools, administrators say, got almost none of that money. In fact, the 1,029-student district—rural, losing students, and hampered by tax revenue caps put in place more than 20 years ago—had to make severe budget cuts this year and pull an extra $200,000 out of its savings account. If a referendum on the county ballot this fall allowing the district to exceed its revenue cap fails to pass, there will likely be more cuts next fiscal year.
The intricacies of Wisconsin’s school spending and whether districts like Southern Door need more or less money from the state has come to dominate the gubernatorial contest between Walker and Evers, both of whom have made their education records a high-profile piece of their pitch to Wisconsin voters in the November election.
Walker says that by leading the charge to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state with the passage of legislation in 2011 that stripped the bargaining rights of public employee unions including teachers, he’s saved the state more than $3.5 billion, while keeping property taxes low and expanding school choice. He has claimed his most recent budget provided districts with $200 more per student, though many dispute that fact.
Under Walker between 2011 and 2013, the state cut education funding by some $800 million, hitting some districts harder than others. Spending has rebounded since then, but Walker’s critics say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with inflation.
Evers says Walker’s budget cuts over the years crippled school districts’ ability to provide students with basic resources, causing massive layoffs and a teacher shortage across the state. He has proposed to boost spending by more than $1.7 billion…
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It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.
But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.
That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.
In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.
In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.
Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.
But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.
Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.
And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.
Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.
“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…
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