Paying Dividends: In Year Three, TC's Cowin Financial Literacy Project Truly Hits Its Stride

In year three and reaching teachers nationwide, TC's Cowin Financial Literacy Project is hitting its stride.

On a lunch break during the third annual summer institute of Loot, Inc.: The Cowin Financial Literacy Project, five high school teachers compared notes about the case studies they had been discussing, which pose dilemmas about people or families who are facing major financial decisions.

Teresa Phillips, from Houston, thought her students would especially like “To Become a Buckeye?” in which a high school freshman is already pondering whether to apply to a small, private, Catholic college that might offer financial aid, or Ohio State University (OSU), a less expensive public institution that probably won’t.

Phillips predicted her own students would choose OSU—partly because it has the kind of loyal, networked alumni organization that helps graduates find jobs straight out of school, but even more because it’s a football powerhouse. Phillips’ school sits in a city and state where football players are the ultimate superheroes. When she asks her mostly minority third-graders to draw self-portraits, “almost every boy draws themselves in a football uniform,” she said. 

It was different for Jennifer Rawls from Richmond, Virginia, who had already taught the case studies and found that her high school students “really liked the session on buying a car.” But another teacher, who teaches at a special education high school on Long Island, said that case wouldn’t work for her students. “My kids don’t know what living independently means.”

The conversation highlighted the diversity of this year’s five-day Loot Inc. professional development seminar in financial literacy, held in early July. While the previous two years’ cohorts had consisted almost entirely of New York City teachers, this year’s 85 participants hailed from 13 states. There was a 75-person waiting list.

As in the past, the Cowin Project Institute used case studies to help teachers make topics like credit, insurance, investing, money management and financial planning relevant for their students—but “having discussions with people from across the country gave everybody a lift,” said Maureen Grolnick, who co-directs the program and managed the team that created it. Participants “rose to the occasion when talking across state lines. The teachers were their best selves,” sharing information about what they were doing back home.

Named for its benefactor and guiding spirit, TC Trustee Joyce B. Cowin (M.A. ’52), the Cowin Project gives teachers basic financial literacy tools to pass on to their students and use themselves. The summer institute is designed to bring experiential learning about personal finance into under-resourced, urban classrooms. The curriculum is now available nationwide for free download at Loot, Inc.

In addition to drawing a more national crowd, this year’s summer session allowed for deeper, more analytical discussions, said Loot Inc.’s developer, Anand R. Marri, Associate Professor of Social Studies & Education, who is currently on leave serving as Vice President and Head of Outreach & Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
 
“We’re getting more knowledgeable,” Marri said. “We are able to be less prescriptive with the teachers and instead encourage them to bring their viewpoints in here.”

As in the past, the summer institute drew a case of prominent speakers. Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America (Putnam, 2014), raised a question that is almost taboo in personal finance classes: How can poor people make financial plans or even good short-term financial decisions, if they don’t know whether they’ll have a job or income next week?

Tirado, a former welfare recipient, spoke from personal experience that many students and even teachers can relate to. Tirado juggled raising two children, working two low-wage jobs, and taking classes to further her education. She spoke about how hard it is to make good financial decisions when all of the choices are bad ones, and when the work of making ends meet is day to day—and exhausting. She advised teachers in low-income schools to deliver their lessons with empathy.

Speaker Adam Davidson, co-founder and co-host of Planet Money, a co–production of National Public Radio and This American Life who writes the weekly “It’s the Economy” column for The New York Times Magazine, suggested to the teachers that his job as a reporter and journalist is similar to theirs as educators. The best practitioners in both professions know how to tell an engaging story that grabs attention and imparts complex information in language that lay people can understand, Davidson said.

The session did not lack for information about the American economy and Wall Street. Sam Stovall, an analyst, publisher and communicator at Standard & Poor’s, provided S&P’s outlook on the economy and markets. David Anderson, Executive Vice President of W!SE, TC’s partner in the Cowin Financial Literacy Project, gave a primer on bonds; and Anja Luesink, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and registered investment adviser, talked about the basics and importance of financial planning and investment strategies.

Marri, the highest ranking official at the Federal Reserve working to promote financial literacy, said that next year’s institute would include a tour of the Fed and more discussion of monetary policy and how to teach it.

The need for financial education in high schools is clear, but while 17 states mandate it in public schools—and hundreds of financial literacy programs are available to schools around the country—Marri, Grolnick and Cowin all believe that if students are to use what they learn from the study of personal finance, they must be engaged in problems and dilemmas that are intrinsically interesting.

"Most teachers are afraid of economic topics, period,” Marri observed. “Fewer than 20 percent of teachers have taken more than one economics course in their undergraduate days. They must realize now that they don’t have to have all the answers—they just need to know what questions to ask.”

Cowin, the program’s founder and guiding spirit—and a generous supporter in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis—asked where each person had come from and made a point of encouraging them to take what they had learned back to their schools and share it with other teachers.

 “My hope is to see this program in every high school, in every state in this country,” she said, echoing comments she made in a Wall Street Journal profile in May. “That’s my dream.” – Patricia Lamiell

Published (8/19/2015)

Published Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015

Paying Dividends: In Year Three, TC's Cowin Financial Literacy Project Truly Hits Its Stride

In year three and reaching teachers nationwide, TC's Cowin Financial Literacy Project is hitting its stride.

On a lunch break during the third annual summer institute of Loot, Inc.: The Cowin Financial Literacy Project, five high school teachers compared notes about the case studies they had been discussing, which pose dilemmas about people or families who are facing major financial decisions.

Teresa Phillips, from Houston, thought her students would especially like “To Become a Buckeye?” in which a high school freshman is already pondering whether to apply to a small, private, Catholic college that might offer financial aid, or Ohio State University (OSU), a less expensive public institution that probably won’t.

Phillips predicted her own students would choose OSU—partly because it has the kind of loyal, networked alumni organization that helps graduates find jobs straight out of school, but even more because it’s a football powerhouse. Phillips’ school sits in a city and state where football players are the ultimate superheroes. When she asks her mostly minority third-graders to draw self-portraits, “almost every boy draws themselves in a football uniform,” she said. 

It was different for Jennifer Rawls from Richmond, Virginia, who had already taught the case studies and found that her high school students “really liked the session on buying a car.” But another teacher, who teaches at a special education high school on Long Island, said that case wouldn’t work for her students. “My kids don’t know what living independently means.”

The conversation highlighted the diversity of this year’s five-day Loot Inc. professional development seminar in financial literacy, held in early July. While the previous two years’ cohorts had consisted almost entirely of New York City teachers, this year’s 85 participants hailed from 13 states. There was a 75-person waiting list.

As in the past, the Cowin Project Institute used case studies to help teachers make topics like credit, insurance, investing, money management and financial planning relevant for their students—but “having discussions with people from across the country gave everybody a lift,” said Maureen Grolnick, who co-directs the program and managed the team that created it. Participants “rose to the occasion when talking across state lines. The teachers were their best selves,” sharing information about what they were doing back home.

Named for its benefactor and guiding spirit, TC Trustee Joyce B. Cowin (M.A. ’52), the Cowin Project gives teachers basic financial literacy tools to pass on to their students and use themselves. The summer institute is designed to bring experiential learning about personal finance into under-resourced, urban classrooms. The curriculum is now available nationwide for free download at Loot, Inc.

In addition to drawing a more national crowd, this year’s summer session allowed for deeper, more analytical discussions, said Loot Inc.’s developer, Anand R. Marri, Associate Professor of Social Studies & Education, who is currently on leave serving as Vice President and Head of Outreach & Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
 
“We’re getting more knowledgeable,” Marri said. “We are able to be less prescriptive with the teachers and instead encourage them to bring their viewpoints in here.”

As in the past, the summer institute drew a case of prominent speakers. Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America (Putnam, 2014), raised a question that is almost taboo in personal finance classes: How can poor people make financial plans or even good short-term financial decisions, if they don’t know whether they’ll have a job or income next week?

Tirado, a former welfare recipient, spoke from personal experience that many students and even teachers can relate to. Tirado juggled raising two children, working two low-wage jobs, and taking classes to further her education. She spoke about how hard it is to make good financial decisions when all of the choices are bad ones, and when the work of making ends meet is day to day—and exhausting. She advised teachers in low-income schools to deliver their lessons with empathy.

Speaker Adam Davidson, co-founder and co-host of Planet Money, a co–production of National Public Radio and This American Life who writes the weekly “It’s the Economy” column for The New York Times Magazine, suggested to the teachers that his job as a reporter and journalist is similar to theirs as educators. The best practitioners in both professions know how to tell an engaging story that grabs attention and imparts complex information in language that lay people can understand, Davidson said.

The session did not lack for information about the American economy and Wall Street. Sam Stovall, an analyst, publisher and communicator at Standard & Poor’s, provided S&P’s outlook on the economy and markets. David Anderson, Executive Vice President of W!SE, TC’s partner in the Cowin Financial Literacy Project, gave a primer on bonds; and Anja Luesink, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and registered investment adviser, talked about the basics and importance of financial planning and investment strategies.

Marri, the highest ranking official at the Federal Reserve working to promote financial literacy, said that next year’s institute would include a tour of the Fed and more discussion of monetary policy and how to teach it.

The need for financial education in high schools is clear, but while 17 states mandate it in public schools—and hundreds of financial literacy programs are available to schools around the country—Marri, Grolnick and Cowin all believe that if students are to use what they learn from the study of personal finance, they must be engaged in problems and dilemmas that are intrinsically interesting.

"Most teachers are afraid of economic topics, period,” Marri observed. “Fewer than 20 percent of teachers have taken more than one economics course in their undergraduate days. They must realize now that they don’t have to have all the answers—they just need to know what questions to ask.”

Cowin, the program’s founder and guiding spirit—and a generous supporter in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis—asked where each person had come from and made a point of encouraging them to take what they had learned back to their schools and share it with other teachers.

 “My hope is to see this program in every high school, in every state in this country,” she said, echoing comments she made in a Wall Street Journal profile in May. “That’s my dream.” – Patricia Lamiell

Published (8/19/2015)

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