Washington D.C. -- (ReleaseWire) -- 07/25/2014 -- Nationally Syndicated Financial Myth Busting Radio Show with Host Dawn Bennett, CEO of Bennett Group Financial Services, LLC, on July 20, 2014, interviewed Nina Rees, President and CEO of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Economic and financial literacy is actually the key to get us out of our financial mess in America says Ms. Bennett, a 30 year veteran money manager. “It has to start in elementary school and go through high school, as well as at home. So when people start life as an adult, they will have the financial knowledge they need and avoid ‘the school of hard knocks.’”
“I think we do suffer from economic and financial illiteracy in the U.S., and for the past decade, we've allowed people into political office that essentially have full use of our savings accounts, in my mind. They seem to be fulfilling their own political ambitions at the expense of our present and future lives. We've had this decade of over spending with no plan to slow down, or better yet, no exit plan to actually stop putting this heavy burden on all Americans. I call this negative behavior economic and financial illiteracy, which means I think we all need a course in economic and financial literacy,” concludes Ms. Bennett.
Nina Rees is the president and CEO of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She sets up charter schools and talks about the results that happened with this program and about how financial ignorance strangles American prosperity, and how public schools in America need to respond, and why, potentially, charter schools are actually uniquely positioned to help.
Previously, she served as the First Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. In this capacity, she oversaw the administration of 28 grant programs supporting 1,300 projects and was responsible for spearheading innovative federal programs and policies such as school choice, charter schools, alternative routes to teacher certification, and school leadership.
Ms. Rees has authored more than two dozen policy briefs, and her articles and opinions have been published in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Her mission is to help build an American education system that equips every child to achieve his or her born potential and to prepare all students for success in the 21st century, which is why she's championing the cause for charter schools, because in many ways, they are even outperforming public schools.
Here is the interview with Nina Rees:
Q: Given our general education system in the United States, can American children today be competitive, global American adults tomorrow?
A: It depends on where you are living and what schools you're sending your child to. In many of our communities, unfortunately, the quality of our education system is not as competitive as we need it to be in order to compete with a lot of the students in other countries.
The difference between now and 20, 30 years ago was that we could afford to only educate a few and have them be competitive against countries like South Korea, China and Singapore. But today, with a global marketplace and increasing competition for jobs coming from all over the globe, it's much more important for more of our students to not only master the skills, but also graduate college with abilities to run businesses and the intellectual capacity to create jobs rather than to be an employee.
Q: So, many educators feel their job is just to teach students how to think, how to read, how to do math, but don't you think that they should be teaching them basic life skills? Where do you come down on the divide between financial literacy and economic literacy?
A: It should be both. People need the basics and life skills are crucial, but if teachers focus on too many things, nothing gets done. I think they need to you start with the basics.
Depending on the community that you live in, some students can afford to do more than the basics and be pushed a little bit further. In a lot of inner-city communities, you have to start with the basics of math and reading at an early age, make sure that they have high-quality teachers in these schools so they can benefit from some of the other things that are important to succeed in life.
There are a lot of soft skills that can also be acquired in our schools. There's a great body of research, thanks to Angelo Duckworth and others, looking at how to build resilience and perseverance in students at an early age, because, ultimately, the students who do well after they graduate from high school and college are the ones who persevere and don't give up easily. Those not used to getting a lot of support are quick to give up and likely not succeed in life.
Q: So are school systems in America going to be getting that intricate about building the American student into such a tremendously competitive adult?
A: Increasingly they're going to have to, and what's great about charter schools, is that a lot of these schools are taking a step further and just not just focusing on academics, but also focusing on life skills.
A key way to really instill these principles comes from the home. If someone is coming from a broken home or a home where a mom is working two jobs, and he or she doesn't have exposure outside of the school to a lot of these community activities that build the person that he becomes, then it's important for the school to take on these responsibilities.
In many of our charter schools, Harlem Children's Zone is a great example in New York, they have taken on the responsibility of not only grooming students as successful in academics, but also as individuals who can leave school with the necessary skills to succeed in life. Athletics definitely are one of the skills to build the resilience and perseverance needed to compete and to stay the course.
Q: Last week, the Secretary of Department of Education, Arne Duncan, said that American schools need to start ensuring students achieve financial literacy. Is it a surprise that most students graduate from high school, or even from college, not being financially literate?
A: I was certainly surprised, and I think after the financial debacle we were in a few years ago, and now with the student aid financial crisis that we're in, I think if there's one lesson of these two things, it’s that we need to make sure people have basic financial literacy as soon as possible, before even graduating from high school.
There are a couple of factors here that are important to point out. First of all, financial literacy introduced at an early age can also be a gateway to teaching math, and the more you bring the principles of why you're teaching math to life at a young age to children, the better and faster they learn math and appreciate math for the skills that it's teaching. So, it's easy and fun if you focus on it early on.
20 to 30 years ago, someone could get away with not knowing these basics, but only 1 in 10 students currently have the sophisticated financial literacy skills they need in order to succeed in life, and 1 in 6 don't have even the basics of balancing a check book mastered. We do have a crisis on our hands, but there are some easy solutions that schools can adopt, either through curricular changes or before and after school programs that can be introduced, in order to expose students early on and make sure that they actually master these skills before they go on to high school and graduate.
Q: Do you think it's possible that financial literacy in our youth today could be the key to economic recovery for our country?
A: It certainly is a component. The more people know about savings, the more they will avoid going into too much into debt.
There are many aspects to financial success in life. Our Social Security system is not going to be quite as lucrative as it is for some older Americans now. So, it's the notion of saving enough and the fact that people are living longer and a changing demographic and, lifestyle. I think these are all components that will lead to a healthier economic recovery and a happier life, right?
Q: Do you think that financial literacy, given the difficulty that our economy is in right now, will continue to take a back seat until it's seen as a legitimate academic discipline?
A: The fact that the Secretary of Education brought attention to this issue and that there is a Financial Literacy Month in April, along with many entities now focusing on financial literacy is big. There are also a lot of platforms that have been created over the years. There's an organization called Operation HOPE that has been focused on this issue for quite some time. The more attention we bring to this issue, the better. As a country, once we acknowledge there's a problem, we try to address it quickly, and this is one of those things that can be quickly and easily addressed.
Only four states right now, require financial literacy for students to have mastered before they graduate. Hopefully more states will try to build it into a curriculum, but the more you notify parents about the need for financial literacy, and the more educators are aware of the tools at their disposal outside of the classroom, the easier and faster it can be addressed.
Q: Is the charter school system addressing this issue? Do you have courses that are required for students?
A: No. Charter schools have been around for about 20 years. These are independent schools that operate outside of the school district infrastructure. In many cases, they have a degree of independence in exchange for raising student achievement. So, with that independence, they can come up with new ways of teaching and learning, and they can also adjust to these types of needs very quickly. Here, in DC, there's a school called Two Rivers that has a six-week financial literacy course that has led to the school's success in math, for instance.
So, we have a few examples of charter schools that have done a very good job with financial literacy, and we've been promoting what they do. But there is no central command post for the charter school movement. These are independent schools often run by entrepreneurs who come to this space with an aspiration to do things differently. So, depending on the focus of the school, they will focus on very different things, but, once you have examples of successful charters that are doing something like this differently, a lot of other charter schools will focus on them.
One of the things we've been trying to do is promote the concept of financial literacy so that more of our schools are looking at how they can instill these in their curriculum. Once it’s in place and implemented in the right way, it can have a huge impact on math test scores, which is one of the measurement sticks in all of the state accountability systems right now.
Q: So, can you briefly talk about how charter schools are faring under the Obama administration? I know he's spoken, President Obama, a great bit about exploring education reform ideas. I'm just wondering, "Are charter schools among the reforms he's embracing?"
A: Absolutely. He has been a supporter of charter schools since he took office, and over the years, he has visited a number of charter schools and used his bully pulpit to really promote the concepts within charter schools.
Of course, as an advocacy organization, we always think that the president can do a lot more, especially on the financial side. One of the key things we need as a movement is growth, and the only way to grow the number of charter schools is by offering more seed funding to start these new schools. Right now we have over 1 million student names on charter school wait lists, so the demand for charter schools has also grown substantially over the years.
We have about 6,500 charter schools right now, serving over a little over 2.5 million students in 42 states and in Washington, D.C. So making sure that there's funding on the table to create and replicate our successful schools is extremely important to the success of our movement and, ultimately, the success of the students who stand to benefit from it.
Q: Nina, your parents did something very brave, I think, that, in turn, has inspired you to devote your life's work to championing this cause for charter schools. Would you mind sharing your personal story with us?
A: Sure. I'm an immigrant. I moved to the U.S. in 1983 from Iran after the revolution and the war with Iraq, and one of the reasons my parents left Iran was for my and my brother’s education. They gave up a lot to come to this country. I think one of the things you quickly notice when you're here, though, is the opportunities at your disposal and how easy it is to access these opportunities if you have a good education.
Unfortunately, I feel that in many communities, there is no access to good education, and the only way to create opportunities is through charter schools. Charter schools are public schools. They're fully funded by taxpayer dollars, and it's just the question of having state legislatures enact laws that allow for their creation.
Q: So, no conversation on education can be complete without some discussion of Common Core. Can you explain what Common Core is and how it's going to impact this new drive to teach the basics of finance and how it's impacting what you're doing too?
A: Common Core Standards were envisioned initially by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. These entities came together right around when No Child Left Behind was being implemented to come up with ways to have different states align their standards against one another. As you recall, one of the drawbacks of No Child Left Behind was the fact that the federal government was allowing states to set their own standards, and through that, if your standards were low and your scores for the assessments you were using to measure student progress were set low, then you were able to get further flexibility without really impacting student outcome.
So these states came up with a common set of standards, and then decided if they each wanted to adopt them. A lot of these standards are actually rooted in what states have already done, so it was taking the best of what a lot of different states had done to create a rubric for a national set of standards. What complicated the problem is when the Obama administration took office, they incentivized adopting Common Core Standards through federal funding.
As a result, there's a perception that these are federal standards and that many states were coerced into adopting the standards. Now you have a few states that have decided not so much to give up the standards, but to not adopt the assessments associated with these standards, because there was also some funding on the table to create these assessments. One thing I should just mention to you about the assessments is that I actually think the assessments are much more important than the standards themselves.
You can have high bars. You can have aspirations to hit certain goals, but if you don't have a good pool to measure your progress against those standards, and if you're not tough around, where your cut scores are going to be to make sure students are, in fact, proficient and so forth, the standards become meaningless. So some states have decided not to adopt the assessments associated with the standards. They'll come up with their own assessments, and so the verdict on how effective the standards will be in these states, in my opinion, is still very much out. What's unfortunate about the debate on Common Core, first of all, is it has captured media headlines over and over, and I understand it's an interesting story, because of the philosophical divide on some of the issues at hand, but what's missing, is that in this day and age, we really should actually be aspiring to even higher international standards around financial literacy and how we're not competitive with China and Singapore and some of these other countries. To me, we should be aspiring to become better at those tests. This is missing the mark in some instances and that's where the bar should be.
Bennett Group Financial Services LLC, based in Washington, D.C., is a comprehensive financial services firm committed to providing opportunities to clients’ as they seek long-term financial success. Its customized programs are designed with the potential to help grow, lower overall risk and conserve client assets by delivering a high level of personalized service and skill. For more information, call 866-286-2268 or visit www.bennettgroupfinancial.com.
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About Dawn Bennett
Dawn Bennett is CEO and Founder of Bennett Group Financial Services. She hosts a national radio program called Financial Myth Busting http://www.financialmythbusting.com.
She discusses educational topics and events in the financial news, along with her thoughts on the economy, financial markets, investments, and more with her live guests, who have included Rock Legend Ted Nugent, as well as Steve Forbes and Grover Norquist. The show is a great complement to Dawn’s monthly investing seminars that take place at Tysons Corner in McLean, VA, where she discusses investing.
She can be reached on Twitter @DawnBennettFMB or on Facebook Financial Myth Busting with Dawn Bennett or firstname.lastname@example.org