Financial Literacy Resources

April is Financial Literacy Month, and one of the three resolutions passed at the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention called for the Illinois PTA to advocate for schools to incorporate financial literacy education into their existing curricula. Financial literacy is critical for students to acquire, as managing money, purchasing a car or house, saving for a child’s education and for retirement are all essential skills for adults. Add to that the challenge of managing student loan debt, which now exceeds credit card debt in the US, and students graduating from high school or college face far greater financial challenges than their parents did.

Here are some resources that PTAs, teachers, and school districts can use to incorporate financial literacy into their curricula aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards.

  • The University of Illinois Financial Literacy Program: Run by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Business school, these resources are primarily aimed at high school students and teachers. Among the resources is the University of Illinois Securities Exchange Simulation (UISES) that allows high school students to buy and sell equities just like real investors using the same web-based simulation that UIUC’s business school uses to teach undergraduates, MSF, and MBA students.
  • The Illinois Bankers Association: IBA resources include links to programs that help students build their financial literacy skills, including the US Federal Reserve’s education materials.
  • Council for Economic Education: The CEE has developed K-12 standards for financial literacy that are aligned with and connected to the Common Core State Standards (and thus the Illinois Learning Standards), allowing financial literacy materials to be used to teach to current standards. CEE also provides materials on assessing students’ financial literacy knowledge and skills as well as offering professional development materials to help teachers feel comfortable with the materials. Also available is the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum that has teacher, student, and parent guides.
  • National Education Association: The NEA teachers’ union provides resources for teaching financial literacy, including lesson plans, lesson sets, games, and background resources aimed directly at the teacher in the classroom.
  • Money as You Learn: Developed as part of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, Money as You Learn provides teachers with Common Core aligned texts, lessons, and tasks that connect the Common Core to real life applications while also equipping students with the knowledge needed to make smart financial decisions.
  • Junior Achievement: Junior Achievement has provided students with hands-on financial and economic experience for years. Junior Achievement programs could be incorporated into the classroom or run by a PTA as a separate program.
  • Making Cents: The Making Cents Project is a cooperative effort of the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Penn State University aimed at improving personal finance and economic education throughout the state. Though targeted at Pennsylvania, the project has archived webinars (both slides and videos) for teachers, curriculum resources, a model high school personal finance course, and research results on economic and financial literacy education.

Please share these resources with your school district and your principal, encourage them to use financial literacy materials to teach the Illinois Learning Standards they are already focused on, and consider how your PTA can support financial literacy education at your school through programs and events.

Photo © 2003 by Jacob Edward under Creative Commons license.

Illinois PTA Convention Preview—Resolutions

The 115th Annual Illinois PTA Convention will be held on April 7th and 8th at the Hilton—Naperville. Convention is a great opportunity to attend interesting workshops and network with other PTA leaders, but it is also the time that the Illinois PTA conducts its business. Part of that business is directing the legislative and advocacy activities of the Illinois PTA.

One of the ways that PTAs influence what the Illinois PTA advocates on is through resolutions. Resolutions can come from an individual PTA or from the Illinois PTA Legislative Policies committee. A resolution can call for legislation, direct the Illinois PTA to work with other organizations, provide information to local PTAs, or study a topic further and make recommendations. At this year’s convention, there are three resolutions for the membership to vote on addressing financial literacy, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Resolution on Financial Literacy

The Illinois Learning Standards for math touch briefly on financial literacy, requiring students to understand how pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars work as money and as decimals for elementary students and to be able to calculate the effect of interest on money invested for a certain period of time for high school students. But the standards don’t address how to fill out a check, how credit card interest rates affect the cost of the things you buy, or whether you should buy a car by paying more money up front, taking a loan for three or five years, or leasing.

These issues are of increasing importance for our children as more and more students are graduating from college with more and more student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. The Resolution on Financial Literacy addresses this issue through several actions:

  • That local PTAs and councils work with their school districts to incorporate financial literacy education into their curricula
  • That the Illinois PTA work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to include financial literacy materials that meet the existing Illinois Learning Standards
  • That the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils work for legislation for programs that teach financial literacy.

Most of the concepts of financial literacy are based in math, and one of the most important ways to get students to take an interest in math is to show them how they can use it in real life. Thus, using financial literacy materials to teach math concepts can be accomplished within the existing Illinois Learning Standards. School districts just need to be willing to make the effort. In addition, many financial literacy materials already aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards are available, and programs from organizations like Junior Achievement can also play a role in developing financial literacy.

Resolution on Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that manmade climate change is occurring. Among the effects of climate change that have direct effects on Illinois are an increase in extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, droughts, and floods) and public health issues such as:

  • Increased respiratory ailments including asthma due to increased levels of pollen, mold, air pollution, and dust
  • Increased incidence of certain cancers due to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation
  • Increased foodborne diseases and nutritional deficiencies due to food contamination, shortages of staple foods, and the reduced nutritional value of food caused by rising carbon dioxide levels

The Resolution on Climate Change addresses this issue through a multi-pronged approach. These include:

  • The Illinois PTA providing information to local PTAs and councils regarding climate change and its effect on the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local PTAS, and councils encourage school districts to consider including renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal heating and cooling, wind turbines) and green infrastructure (e.g., energy efficient windows, green roofs, permeable paving) when building or renovating school district facilities
  • The Illinois PTA work with other like-minded organizations on the issue of climate change and its effect on the environment and the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local units, and councils support legislation that regulates activities that contribute to adverse climate change, mitigates the negative effects of climate change, supports and encourages the use of renewable energy, and supports efforts to remediate the negative effects of climate change that have already occurred.

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses the injection of water and undisclosed chemicals into rock layers at high pressure to fracture the rocks, allowing oil and natural gas to be extracted more easily. The contaminated wastewater from this process is then injected back into the ground for disposal.

Research has connected hydraulic fracturing to a significant increase in earthquakes, unsafe levels of air pollution near fracking sites (resulting in asthma attacks, lung disease, dizziness and seizures, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancers, among other health effects), and contamination of groundwater. The latter is of particular concern in Illinois, where 35% of all residents, including 90% of all rural Illinois residents, rely on aquifers for their drinking water.

The Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing addresses this issue through both education and legislation. The resolution calls on the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils to:

  • Share information on the health and safety concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal
  • Work with other like-minded organizations to raise awareness of these concerns
  • Support additional research on current and new methods of oil and gas extraction and their potential environmental effects by independent researchers not affiliated with the energy industry
  • Support state and federal legislation that addresses the environmental and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Helping Your Child Prepare for Assessments

Spring is here, and with it comes assessments. For third through eighth graders, that means the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). For high school juniors, that means the SAT.

Just like some schools may play up the assessments with pep rallies and such while others treat them as simply another test, some students may take assessments in stride while others stress out about them. Whichever reaction your child has, here are things you can do to help them prepare.

Understand the Role of Assessments

It is important for families to understand the role of assessments. The state of Illinois only requires one set of assessments—PARCC, the SAT, and the Illinois Science Assessment (ISA) in fifth and eighth grades and high school biology.

The additional assessments that your child takes are determined by your school district, and concerns you have with excessive assessments beyond the once-a-year state assessments should be directed towards your district. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has piloted the Illinois Student Assessment Inventory to help school districts reduce the number of assessments that they use by eliminating those that do not inform student instruction or overlap with other assessments.

The PARCC assessment tests students’ ability to apply what they’ve learned, not just report back facts they have learned. Likewise, the PARCC assessment report provides more information to both families and teachers on where students are struggling. A recent survey found that 90% of parents believe their child is performing at or above grade level in reading and 85% say their child is on track to meet learning goals and grade level expectations; however, in fact only 34% of eighth graders are reading at or above grade level according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The PARCC assessment provides you with the information you need to know if how you think your child is doing in school is actually true.

Finally, understand that how assessments are used to evaluate how your child’s school is performing has changed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA has given the states the duty of determining how they measure school performance, and Illinois is using the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM). Under ESSA, schools that are identified as struggling are targeted for additional support, not the punitive measures that were enacted under No Child Left Behind for schools that didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Helping Your Child with Test Anxiety

Illinois PTA has shared information on how to help your child deal with anxiety in a general sense, but even kids without anxiety issues can feel anxious about a test, whether it is the PARCC, SAT, or a regular math test. The suggestions for dealing with general anxiety still apply with test anxiety, but there are other things that can help as well.

Familiarity with what the test will be asking can help. PARCC has practice tests available, as does the SAT. Good study skills and a plan to prepare help as well. Great Schools also has a short two-minute video on things you can do to help your child with text anxiety.

Resources are Available to Help You

There are many additional resources out there to help you help understand what your child needs to know to meet their grade-level expectations.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.