Markets In Your Community

“Economics touches every aspect of our lives”

Arkansas teachers give students a better start through economics education

In April, Little Rock-based financial services firm Stephens Inc. launched a new partnership with educational non-profit Economics Arkansas to develop classroom programs focused on economics and free enterprise for students in the state’s K-12 schools.

The free-enterprise education program boasts a grade-specific, branded curriculum along with 39 workshops and resources for teachers. The program is designed to serve more than 31,000 students and teachers during the 2018-19 school year.

For Stephens, the classroom program is an extension of the firm’s commitment to educating Americans about the benefits of capitalism and the free market. Last year, Stephens launched the “This is Capitalism” web series focusing on stories that explain the free enterprise system.

And for Economics Arkansas, the new classroom modules are the latest offering from an organization that’s been promoting economic literacy in schools for more than a half century. Kathleen Lawson, the executive director of Economics Arkansas, talked with Project Invested to share some insight into her organization’s mission and the new partnership with Stephens. 

Tell us about the work Economics Arkansas does to improve economics education in the state’s schools.

Economics Arkansas is a non-profit, non-partisan, educational organization founded in 1962 to promote economic literacy in Arkansas. We see economic education as “real life,” because students will grow up and become a part of the marketplace.

We provide professional development opportunities to engage teachers in economics and personal finance. This has a multiplier effect, since the 2,500 teachers we train annually end up reaching thousands of students. We also provide resources and training to pre-K-12 teachers in both public and independent schools in Arkansas.

We also offer student competitions, like the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game, an innovative education experience where students learn about the U.S. economic system while conveying and reinforcing basic concepts in economics, investing, math, business language arts, social studies, and personal finance. This well-attended program will celebrate its 20th anniversary with Economics Arkansas this coming school year.

The Stock Market Game is a good example of how engaging education can be when you embrace project-based learning, rather than lectures in front of a blackboard.

Arkansas educators have a long record of winning numerous national awards for excellence in teaching economic education. In addition, we’ve had some recent policy wins, like the recent adoption of Act 480 to require teaching personal finance to students in the 10th-12th grades.

Economics Arkansas is leading this effort by delivering 15 Arkansas Department of Education-approved trainings for Act 480 compliance around the state. 

Where does economics education in today’s schools need improvement? 

Arkansas includes economics in the pre-K-12 standards and requires a high school course, but we are one of 34 states that don’t require standardized testing of economics. Teachers have a lot to cover in the school day and sometimes subjects that are not tested fall to the wayside. We know economics touches every aspect of our lives, and because of this, we aim to offer cross-curricula teacher professional development workshops allowing teachers to apply economic education in multiple disciplines.

Explain the purpose of the pre-K through 12 free enterprise education track supported by Stephens Inc. 

Inspired by the This is Capitalism video series developed by Stephens Inc., Economics Arkansas created an umbrella pre-K through 12 education track to support teachers so that a student can have multiple layers of economic education throughout their school experience. We wanted to ensure students across the state have quality economic education, regardless of their location or grade level. The support of Stephens Inc. allows us to take a giant step toward making this a reality.

Describe briefly how the program works. 

This track is broken into branded curriculum with a specific curriculum customized to each grade level. The curriculum consists of:

  • Itty Bitty Economics (grades pre-K-2): Through songs, play, art and children’s literature, children as young as four years old learn the economic way of thinking. In support of this program, ten teacher trainings will be offered around the state.
  • Compact Concept Connectors (grades K-5): A set of teaching guides that tell the “story of economics” through 12 thoughtfully sequenced statements. Each durable, eight-page fold-out guide contains concept background with examples, introductory activity, three reproducible activity pages with teaching notes, key points for students and extension ideas. Sixteen teacher trainings will be offered across the state.
  • iNSPIRE (grades 6-12): The This is Capitalism video series serves as a springboard for lesson plans, activities and research projects about the accomplishments of extraordinary individuals made possible because of certain economic conditions. Eleven teacher trainings will be offered around the state.
  • Teaching Free Enterprise in Arkansas (grades 9-12): Teachers learn from local entrepreneurs and experts how to nurture the next peer group of successful business men and women. Two teacher trainings will be offered.

What impact/benefits do we expect the program to have?  

We have quality teaching materials that we hope will empower elementary educators to incorporate economic education into their day. The development of teaching materials around the This is Capitalism series will also provide a well-rounded set of curricula for teachers to engage with students about free enterprise and the opportunities it allows.

What are your initial metrics to measure the program’s success? 

This pilot year is comprised of 39 workshops and resources for teachers across the state. An initial metric is teacher participation and ensuring that we reach the targeted 31,000 students this project aims to serve. We will also incorporate teacher surveys and mid-year follow-ups. We’ll use those as a feedback mechanism to determine how the program might be improved and strengthened in the future. 

Could other school systems use this program for their students?

This program could easily be replicated in other states. We offer “train-the-trainer” sessions around these programs, and in fact, three additional states have already participated in our Compact Concept Connectors training. This is a packaged set of materials sold by Economics Arkansas, making it easily accessible to trainers across the country.

What kind of response have you gotten from educators and administrators so far? 

This project has been very well received. We have been encouraged by new schools reaching out to us to inquire about how they can get involved. Most educators recognize that there’s a real need to prepare young people to thrive in both their professional and personal lives, but they may not be sure where to start. A strong grounding in the fundamentals of economics, personal finance and economic decision-making is essential in today’s world, and this program goes a long way to give them that grounding. 

Further reading on Project Invested: 

‘We are all capitalists’: Stephens tells stories of free market system 

Capitalism is the great equalizer

How students at one Arkansas middle school won the Stock Market Game 7 years in a row

Interview with 2016 Financial Educator of the Year: ‘Financial education can empower individuals’