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Lakeland College has received a $50,000 grant from The Bradley Foundation to launch a statewide effort to improve the economic and financial literacy of Wisconsin's K-12 teachers and students.
The grant will be used to fund a series of workshops for American history teachers in Wisconsin and provide them with instructional tools that aid in teaching basic economics.
It's the latest in a series of efforts by Lakeland College's Center for Economic Education addressing the problem of the lack of economics and financial literacy education in Wisconsin schools.
The center's founder, Scott Niederjohn, Lakeland's Charlotte and Walter Kohler Professor of Economics, said the grant supports the college's mission to create a society of better-informed consumers.
"The nation's ongoing financial problems are a painful illustration of the real-world ramifications that an economically and financially illiterate public can bring," said Niederjohn a member of Wisconsin's Council on Financial Literacy and a 2011 winner of the Governor's Financial Literacy Award.
"There are many people and institutions to blame for these problems, but the list must also include financially illiterate consumers."
Niederjohn noted a 2005 study by the Council on Economic Education entitled "What American Teens and Adults Know about Economics." It reported that Wisconsin high school students didn't know basic economics concepts like gross domestic product, inflation and the theory of supply and demand. The same study found that only 26 percent of Wisconsin school districts require the study of economics, but more than twice as many (65 percent) require the study of government.
"More high school students take concert band than study economics," Niederjohn said. "That's not a dig at music, but I think it proves that our schools need to better prioritize teaching financial literacy."
The Bradley Foundation grant will help Lakeland conduct two daylong workshops in the 2012-13 school year - one at Lakeland's Milwaukee Center in West Allis and one at Lakeland's main campus in Sheboygan County.
Primary instructors will be Niederjohn and Mark C. Schug, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Schug is a widely recognized scholar who has written and edited over 200 articles, books and national curriculum materials.
Participating teachers will have the opportunity to obtain the instructional materials at no cost, a modest stipend and an opportunity to earn more by participating in a pre- and post-testing program.
Access to financial services via the web has put a premium on consumers understanding basic about personal economics. Niederjohn noted that more than 92 percent of employee pensions are defined contributions, meaning employees bear the responsibility of controlling their retirement contributions and investments which ultimately impact the level of monthly income that they may likely receive in retirement.
"The dramatic increase in financial services available to consumers via the internet forces individuals to be more responsible for their own financial security," Niederjohn said. "People are making decisions about investing their money without talking to a professional. Now more than ever, understanding basic economics and financial literacy is key to an individual's short- and long-term security.
"Financial literacy isn't a magic pill to cure the nation's economic issues. But if more young people understand personal savings, investing, debt and other economics basics, it will lead to a larger group of better-informed consumers in the marketplace."
Niederjohn said integrating economics with American history curriculum is an easy way for schools to add the lessons without requiring major changes. "American history is a requirement and teachers reach thousands of students," Niederjohn said. "There is some natural overlap between history and the concepts we're teaching."
In 2005, Niederjohn started Lakeland's Center for Economic Education, which provides access to economics and financial literacy curriculum for hundreds of Wisconsin teachers.
Niederjohn recently led a week-long program at Edgewood College in Madison giving teachers instruction in how to teach basic investment concepts, including investor protection and personal investing, personal saving and budgeting and insurance basics.
On Oct. 12, Lakeland's Center, working with EconomicsWisconsin, will conduct its sixth annual full-day conference on economic and financial literacy at Lambeau Field. The conference has previously served more than 600 Wisconsin K-12 teachers.