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Joyce B. Cowin Funds Program at Teachers College to Foster Personal Financial Literacy among High School Students

NYC Schools Chancellor Walcott and NYS Education Commissioner King agree to partner on pilot program; nationwide expansion is ultimate aim

Joyce B. Cowin, an alumna and long-time Trustee of Teachers College, has given the College a gift to create an innovative and unique professional development program for New York City public school teachers that will address the critical need for high-impact financial literacy in students in grades 9-12.

“Every person past the ninth grade should have knowledge of money – how to finance a college education, how to balance a checkbook, how to ensure that expenses don’t exceed income, how to monitor a credit card and interest, how to shop for clothes and food, and how much to pay for rent and what a mortgage is,” Joyce said. “When the market collapsed in 2008, so many wonderful, hardworking people who had saved money throughout their lives were snookered about sub-prime mortgages, and they lost everything. We need to educate the next generation to ensure this never happens again.”

An Anti-Snooker Campaign: The Cowin Financial Literacy Project


A partnership among Teachers College, the New York City Department of Education and the nonprofit Working In Support of Education (W!SE) will launch The Cowin Financial Literacy Project in Fall 2012, with the first workshops for teachers from select New York City schools to begin in Summer 2013. Teachers College alumna Dr. Pola Rosen has been a consultant and collaborated on this important endeavor. New York State Education Commissioner John King also has fully endorsed the new program.

“This collaboration is a wonderful example of partnership between the public and private sectors, with the goal of strengthening New York City public school students’ skills in an important field,” Dennis M. Walcott, New York City Schools Chancellor, wrote to Joyce. “Financial literacy is necessary for our students’ success in the 21st century.”

No central financial education resource for teacher professional development currently exists in New York City. The Cowin Financial Literacy Project will distinguish itself from the more than 800 other financial literacy curricula that have previously been developed in the United States by addressing this critical need.

The Cowin Financial Literacy Project will not create an academic curriculum, but instead, “focus on helping teachers to integrate important concepts about finance into courses that they are already teaching, such as World or U.S. History,” said the project’s director, Anand R. Marri, Associate Professor of Social Studies & Education. “Our approach will be to help teachers themselves better understand basic concepts such as banking, savings, consumption, borrowing, and investment and risk management. We’re treating teachers as professionals by, in essence, say, ‘You know what will work best in your classroom, with your students, whether you’re in Scarsdale or the South Bronx. Here are some different teaching strategies from which you can choose.”

Marri, who previously led a Teachers College team in creating Understanding Fiscal Responsibility, a 24-lesson high school curriculum about the federal budget and national debt, said The Cowin Financial Literacy Project is also unique because it seeks primarily to change student behavior rather than to transmit academic knowledge.

“Rather than generating yet another focus for standardized testing, our focus is on imparting and enhancing a critically important set of life skills,” Marri said.

The Cowin Financial Literacy Project will cover nine topics:

  • Money, including issues such as taxation, pay day lending, and “fiat currency” – the concept that money does not have intrinsic worth, but instead derives its value from government and the public’s faith in government
  • Budgeting and spending plans, including setting financial goals and distinguishing needs from wants
  • The cost of money, including the role of interest and the impact of inflation
  • Banking, including the need for savings, checking and reconciliation
  • Credit, including how credit works, the terms and conditions of various sources of consumer credit, and credit history
  • Insurance, including the purpose of insurance and shared risk;
  • Investing, including the concept of putting money to work, investment products and choices, and factors influencing the market and financial products
  • Money management and financial planning, including setting financial goals and plans, strategies for being a smart consumer, housing purchase and rental, and college tuition and expenses
  • Careers
To gauge the effectiveness of The Cowin Financial Literacy Project, the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), based at Teachers College, will assess teachers before and after they undergo the program, and also conduct follow-up interviews with students of participating teachers.

The Cowin Financial Literacy Project also seeks to ensure that the project’s materials and methods become widely adopted throughout the New York City school system and beyond. EdLab, a creative services unit within Teachers College’s Gottesman Libraries, will create a website in which teachers can download the project’s materials at no charge.

Joyce B. Cowin is a Smith College alumna and earned her master’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College.She chaired the College’s Alumni Council and served as its liaison to the Board of Trustees for 30 years, and has also served for more than 30 years on the Board itself.  With her late mother, Sylvia Berger, she funded the creation of TC’s Cowin Conference Center. Joyce also is the founding funder of TC-affiliated Heritage School, an arts-themed public high school in East Harlem.

Joyce has actively supported Manhattanville College, where she has funded a fall lecture and an art room at the college’s museum, as well as a spring art trip, in honor of her late father, Arthur Berger. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and has served for more than 50 years as a Trustee of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, which recently honored her.  

Joyce serves on the board of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and has a longstanding involvement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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