The Alabama Council on Economic Education

The Alabama Council on Economic Education
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

I have learned not to be afraid to admit when I am jealous. And I am.

This year Alabama's students have a chance in competing in the first-ever Personal Finance Challenge.  The Challenge is a learning tool to teach students the importance of  income, money management, spending, credit, saving and investing.  Here's the deal.  I am just as excited as the next guy about the new program for Alabama's students but I just can't help but say "Where was this stuff when I was in school?!"  Is it bad that I am jealous of these students?  I am not ashamed to say it, that is just how it is.  The Personal Finance is the bright and shiny new program being debuted by the ingenious Alabama Council on Economic Education.  They have, in my opinion, integrated teaching lessons about what has the potential to be boring into the classroom seamlessly time and time again.  So now the Personal Finance Challenge comes along, teaching kids the importance of all of the life lessons that my generation had to learn by being overdrawn time and time again.  Oh, don't act like you haven't done it too.  I wish I had been given this opportunity.  And my second wish is that if I had been given it I would have paid attention.  I will omit my third wish.  So to get the ball rolling, the ACEE enlisted the best celebrity politician they could have.  Young Boozer, the State Treasurer has personally endorsed the program.  What a good idea, taking such a vital part of financial knowledge and making it fun.  The winners of the state competition will advance to a national level.  I read up on the freshly elected Boozer and was quite impressed.  He is entirely qualified to be the Treasurer.  He has quite the resume.  So anyway I am stoked that Alabama's students are competing in an innovative competition, and also a little jealous.  So now is the part where we take action into the streets.  Let's support this thing!  Tell your local schools that you want The Personal Finance Challenge in your schools.  I mean, this is a total no-brainer.  With our education statistics where they are we need programs like this.  We want to be proactive in our kid's future.  Being reactive is what got us where we are.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Just because I didn't pay attention doesn't mean they won't

In the last post I went over in very light detail how ridiculous the entire housing crisis was.  It should not have happened.   That's just the way it is.  So how do we keep global crises like that from happening again?  What proactive steps can we take to protect ourselves from having to bail out banks with money the country doesn't have?  If you are squeamish or have a weak heart, look away, this blog is about to get nasty.  Here it is: Let's just teach kids in school.  Why don't we teach them the importance of money before they try to learn it on their own?  I was terrible with money and still can be.  Personally, my mother taught me how to balance a checkbook but for any of you with ADHD out there, you know how that went.  I was making doodles of a dinosaur wrestling a unicorn while she was talking.  The amount of material I actually learned in school is astonishing.  I took two years of Spanish, which I barely passed, and can pretty much hold a conversation in Spanish if you speak slowly.  The amount I absorbed absolutely against my will amazes me.  I have no doubt that if we taught kids the importance of money as it pertains to a global operating economy at least some of it will sink in.  The country is in debt and no one under the age of 21 know why.  This is important stuff, right.  So why don't we start when they are young?  Information moves at a rate never before heard of and it is only getting faster.  Money will mean something completely different to the next generation than it does this one.  Non profits like The Alabama Council on Economic Education have it right.  Full Disclosure:  I volunteer there.  They give teachers materials that teach kids about money from very young.  And they do it for free.  Teachers can get free materials.  Check out their website alcee.org or go to their facebook page. There just isn't any other way to do it.  That being said, if you think you know a better way, tell me.  I would love to hear it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How should we feel about the mortgage crisis?

One night while I was driving, NPR did a story that was designed to explain the mortgage crisis.  They intended to explain the crisis to the layman, which I was.  I like NPR and most of the stories they cover that don't have anything to do with politics, so I listened.  At the end of the story I had an idea of what had happened but still wasn't really clear.  Truthfully, economics and money have never really been a big interest of mine.  Because as I get older I can't stand not to understand things, I kept looking.  Thank God for the internet.  I learned.  One thing that kept creeping up to me was the feeling that as a country we should feel foolish for what happened.  A mortgage that isn't owned by a bank?  I mean, knowing what I knew I could tell that this was a bad idea. 

The reality of the situation is that banks sold all of these mortgages to Wall Street in bundles, which were considered safe.  They were only considered safe until people stopped paying their mortgages.  It isn't like they just decided not to.  The stopped because they couldn't afford it.  They got into deals they couldn't afford because they were allowed to.  What kind of sense does that make?  How did no one see this?  You have no job and you have no money?  Welcome to the neighborhood, The Jones' will bring over a fruit basket later.  The American Dream.  So now, all of these people start defaulting on the loan that we were well aware that they couldn't pay back.  We knew because we asked them, remember.  No money, no job, no problem.....fruit basket.  Got it?  So now all of these bundles of mortgages are worthless and losing money, along with Wall Street. 

Enter the foreclosure.  Everyone has to report to the bank, right?  Explain what happened, beg for forgiveness, say that we have nowhere to go?  No.  The bank doesn't own the mortgage, they sold it to Wall Street.  Wow.  So how should we feel as a country that this happened here?  The crisis did damage that could take decades to recover from, not to mention the government got a lot bigger when it bailed out the banks.  That is what I consider a problem.  A big one.   So what do you think?  Everyone has an opinion and I would love to hear what people more versed in this than I have to say.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Statistics Blues


Education statistics in Alabama are staggering.  I realize I am not shocking anyone by saying this but I just googled education statistics in Alabama and what came up really were unbelievable.  Alabama is 45th in the country when it comes to the percent of students above basic reading levels.  Fifty three percent of students can read at a level above basic.  I could go on and on about where we stand, but that isn’t really what I want to say.  It seems that considering where this country just came from, we would be eager to educate our children to make sure that they don’t have to go through the same thing that we did.  Economics is at the heart of this.  Making sure that people understand how money works at a sufficient level sounds really good right about now.  I grew up in a school where I never once had to take a class about economics.  The only training I received was when I made mistakes with money.  That is code for overdrawing my account.  I never knew how or even why the Stock Market worked.  I knew that this country was in debt, but I had no idea how that was even possible.  I am still cloudy on that one.  The point is that even coming out of a recession, we aren’t pushing education the way we should be.  I have a theory on why.  The reason we don’t push education more, specifically economic education, is that there are no immediate, tangible results involved.  It takes years to educate a child.  And a slow process in which a kid systematically learns about how money works is not very sexy.  It is effective, however.  So what if there were some program that would teach our educators how to get the point across to students.  And what if it were free?  Already done.  The Alabama Council on Economic Education supplies Alabama’s teachers with teaching supplies for free.   It’s true.  The website is alcee.org and they are on Facebook.  Just look up Alabama Council on Economic Education.   Get involved.  Help the leaders of tomorrow dodge the bullet. 

Miracles are happening in Alabama

                                                                                                           


Less than two percent of Alabama’s teachers are trained in the art of educating students about economic responsibility.  This country is currently licking its wounds after being trounced by the hardest economic collapse since The Great Depression.  Banks failed, the auto industry imploded, and record numbers of Americans are out of work.  Due to a lack of financial understanding, many Americans are losing houses they couldn’t afford to buy.  We don’t teach our children about the importance of money and the intricacies of how the economy works.  We never really have.
  While the country looks for a solution to the problem, the hard truth looks back through lenses of impossibly cold reason.  There is no definitive solution.  There is no one plan that will dig us out of the hole we are in.  No singular action enacted by the government can pull us out of the ocean of red.  The only way to change this abysmal situation begins in the classroom, by putting more emphasis on economic education than we ever have.  We have to teach the next generation about the importance of economic literacy if they are expected to do any better than we have.
America’s teachers get ideas for the classroom from a variety of places.  The Internet has changed everything about how teachers get information and what they do with it.  Teacher’s forums, blogs and educational websites have revolutionized how teachers formulate lesson plans.  The ACEE uses teachers’ conferences to open doors to teachers who need help in the sometimes complex area of economics.  One of the primary goals of the ACEE is as simple as getting material into the hands of teachers.  This may sound like an easy task.  It is not.  Many teachers cannot afford even to drive to a teachers conference, much less pay for the conference out of pocket.
Teachers have tricks for getting kids to understand long division.  They have figured out why some kids run into barriers when trying to read or write.  Educators  have been handing down these kinds of tricks to new teachers since the inception of the classroom.  There is a sense of pride in handing down this knowledge from one educator to another.  Understanding a topic and then conveying that topic to an audience who is expected to absorb it efficiently isn’t something anybody can do.  This is why we have teachers in the first place. 
Plenty of important life lessons start at home, but many more are learned in the classroom.  We trust teachers to know how to get kids to learn.  When our kids come home after being introduced to the alphabet we take it for granted.  When children begin the task of writing in cursive, we remember being taught that and share their excitement.  We need our teachers because we have jobs and don’t have time to teach our kids everything that they will need to know to perform in society. 
Translating ideas so that someone who operates at a different level emotionally and physically can understand them is a challenge unparalleled.   Algebra is not living room material.  Having the skill to get students to understand algebra is a trade just like welding or carpentry.  It is not common knowledge and it takes an expert at teaching, not just algebra, to communicate it to an audience effectively.  Some mathematicians who are certified geniuses can’t tell a lay person how or why some formulas work.  That takes a teacher.   It takes a teacher to identify when students are not moving at the pace they should be.  It takes a teacher to repeat the same point over and over using different examples until students finally get it.  It takes a teacher to put their foot down when the kid in the back just won’t stop talking.  It is not as easy as it might seem. 
While teachers have enough on their plate, they always have to consider the fact that teaching costs money.  And that money is becoming alarmingly scarce.  Education is often one of the first areas to lose funding.  Every year teachers see less money and have to pay for more for their classroom out of pocket.  The idea of free materials in an underdeveloped area of teaching is a huge opportunity.  The ACEE has been helping teachers for over 40 years by supplying classroom materials and holding events and competitions to get kids involved in economic literacy.  The real selling point of the ACEE is that the materials offered in the classroom and some of the workshops are free.  Teachers can attend any number of various workshops where they can learn the finer points of teaching economics.  The workshops have been indispensible for hundreds of teachers across the state.  There are registration fees for the workshops but they are designed to be affordable for teachers.
What today’s teachers need is a free resource where they can get materials to help them get the message across in the classroom.  This is not always an easy task.  Getting students to absorb anything is a challenge, much less something as seemingly dull as money matters.  The good news is that they have that resource, although they may not know it. The Alabama Council on Economic Education offers Alabama’s teachers classroom materials that help in this specialized area at little or no cost. 
Programs like The Stock Market Game let students compete in developing a hypothetical portfolio worth $100,000.  Students do research on companies they would like to invest in and keep track of current events concerning their companies.  Teamwork, cooperation, and research come naturally to kids in this exciting game where competition with other schools is a driving force.  The Stock Market Game has seen success like no one could have predicted.  Countless teachers have seen unruly classes come together to act as a team in the competition. 
Color the Concepts is a program in which elementary schools students learn an economic concept and then illustrate the concept using imagination and creativity.  What started as a classroom activity has spread to incorporate more than one class.  Many teachers have enlisted the help of art teachers in the school to help kids get their ideas onto paper.  Winning entries get their artwork published in the ACEE newsletter, on the ACEE website and in their area newspaper.  The lesson plans needed for Color the Concepts are completely free. 
The Alabama Economics Challenge puts student teams of four head-to-head in written tests on economics.  The winners proceed to semi-final and final rounds, followed by a quiz bowl to determine the champions.  Winners of the competition receive a prize of $25 and free classroom materials. 
If we are to move forward to an economic solution, the programs the ACEE offers need to be in the classroom from beginning to end.  Economic literacy has to have more attention and funding.  Economics should be as important as every other classroom subject.  Students simply must have a better understanding of money and the power it has if progress is to be made.  Economic literacy is just as important as any other subject that students encounter in school.  As a country we need to educate our children early and often about the importance of the economy.