Economic Literacy for Life

Mary Suiter is interviewed by Maria Hasenstab at the St. Louis Fed.

Mary Suiter (right) is interviewed by Maria Hasenstab.

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In this podcast, our economic education officer, Mary Suiter, talks about our mission to get people of all ages to learn about basic economics and how to handle personal finances. Such efforts are aimed at not only helping the individual but the economy as a whole. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is a leader in this sort of literacy campaign. It has already created more than 400 resources that anyone can use for free — online courses, lesson plans, videos, podcasts, infographics and even flash cards. There’s something for everyone, from preschoolers to teachers to retirees. Suiter selects several resources that would be a good starting point for those who want to teach themselves or others about these important subjects. Listen to the 12-minute podcast.

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To learn more:

See our 2016 annual report, Economic Literacy for Life: Today’s Lessons=Tomorrow’s Financial Stability and Success.

Links within the transcript below are to our online resources and other information as indicated. Also, explore the filter at stlouisfed.org/education to find even more resources.

Transcript:

Maria Hasenstab: Hi. I’m Maria Hasenstab with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. I’m here today with Mary Suiter, an assistant vice president and economic education officer at the St. Louis Fed. Hi, Mary.

Mary Suiter: Hi, Maria. How are you?

Maria Hasenstab: Good. How are you?

Mary Suiter: I’m fine. Thanks.

Maria Hasenstab: Today, we’re going to talk about the St. Louis Fed’s efforts to promote economic education and personal finance in the schools as well as everyday life. Specifically, we’re going to discuss what kind of economic and personal finance resources the St. Louis Fed creates. We’ll talk about why the St. Louis Fed makes these services available and who uses them. Finally, we’ll tell you where you can go to find these resources and highlight a few of our more popular offerings so that everyone listening has a good idea of where they can start exploring.

First, let’s talk about the big picture. What kind of economic education and financial literacy services does the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis provide?

Mary Suiter: Well, we provide pre-K through 12th grade classroom resources for teachers to use. We also have professional development for teachers, and we provide resources for use in college classrooms as well as resources that consumers and students can use to better understand the economy and personal finance.

Maria Hasenstab: Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the resources? What kind of resources do you have?

Mary Suiter: Sure. We have over 400 resources. And right now, we have resources that are videos, online courses, we have some podcasts, we have lesson plans, and really much more.

Maria Hasenstab: With all these resources, it sounds like the St. Louis Fed is really a leader in this area.

Mary Suiter: We are a leader in this area. So when Jim Bullard became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2008, he mentioned his concerns that people live in an economic world that they really don’t understand, that they might not get economics in high school or college, and as a result, don’t understand how things work as well as they could. So he challenged us to be a leader in this field, to put online resources out there for people of all ages to improve their economic and financial understanding.

Maria Hasenstab: And why else does the St. Louis Fed offer these services?

Mary Suiter: Well, the Federal Reserve System has a dual mandate of price stability and maximum sustainable employment. And having an economically literate and financially literate populace contributes to meeting that mandate. As former Chair Bernanke said after the Great Recession, people made decisions during the Great Recession, and those decisions aggregated and had an impact on the economy as a whole. If people have better economic and financial understanding, they might make better decisions that lead to better results for the economy as a whole.

Recently, Chair Yellen and her town hall with educators talked about the fact that economics helps people develop analytical tools and skills that are useful not just in their work life, but in their everyday life. So those are some of the reasons that we think this is really important for the Fed and why the Fed’s involved in economic and financial education.

Another practical reason I think we should talk about is that, really, very few schools offer economic or financial education, and teachers have little training there, and kids need to know more. So if we can provide resources and education, and we can provide those things at no cost to schools and teachers, then we can really contribute to that education in the K-12 realm.

Maria Hasenstab: You mentioned professional development and hundreds of free resources for educators and others to use. Tell me about that strategy. Since you’re an expert in economic education, have you considered going into the classroom and teaching these lessons yourself?

Mary Suiter: So I am an expert in economic education, and I could go into a classroom and teach these things myself. However, if I go into a classroom this year and teach 30 kids, next year, that teacher’s going to ask me to come back and teach a new 30 students the same lesson. And that’s really an inefficient way for me to use my resources. So what we do is we teach teachers, and we provide them with high-quality resources,  because they can use those resources and the knowledge that we’ve helped them gain to teach their students this year, and their students next year, and their students the year after, so we get a multiplier effect from that process. So we kind of refer to it as teach one, reach many.

And we also do it that way because we have research—several decades of research—that tells us that when teachers receive high-quality professional development and good resources to use in the classroom, their students learn the content, learn the personal finance and economic content better than the students of teachers who have not had that training, not had access to those resources. So that’s an important reason that we do it that way, as well.

Maria Hasenstab: A lot of people think about economics with high school and college classrooms, but you mentioned having lessons for preschool and kindergarten students all the way up through college. Why is it important to teach students so young?

Mary Suiter: So kids live in an economic world. They see things going on around them. They observe their parents paying for things with plastic, and they see money coming out of an ATM machine, so they have misconceptions that, you know, maybe we don’t use money when we pay for things because we use credit cards, or you just get money out of the machine when you need it. So we have to correct those misconceptions along the way so that they have a solid foundation to build on. But also, we know that kids form their financial habits early, as early as 7. So we have research that tells us that. So we want to get in there and try to help students begin to make those careful decisions early in life. We want to have to develop those savings habits or have them develop those savings habits early. So they might observe their parents, they might get some instruction, and then maybe they have the opportunity to practice, particularly with saving, perhaps saving in a piggy bank, opening a bank account. All of those things help to build for them.

And we really believe that economics should be taught in the same way that other disciplines are taught. When you start with the basics and you build throughout the school years, and then perhaps culminate with a course like an economics course in high school.

Maria Hasenstab: Last year, you reached a big milestone, right? Can you tell me about that?

Mary Suiter: Yes, we did. So we have two components to our website. We have Stlouisfed.org/education, which is a portal or a website where anyone can go and look at our resources, use our resources, download materials. We also have a teacher portal that’s econlowdown.org. And last year, through our teacher portal, we had a million student enrollments in our online courses and videos. So that was pretty exciting for us. A million in a year seemed like a big deal.

Maria Hasenstab: That is impressive. So do you have a new goal?

Mary Suiter: We do. We have a new goal. We’d like to reach 2 million this year. And I want to point out that of those million, they are from states, all states, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. So it’s really important for us to build on that. We’d like to get to 2 million.

Maria Hasenstab: In addition to teachers and students, can you tell me some of the other groups that are using your resources?

Mary Suiter: Sure. So we have scouts using our resources. Boy Scouts use our resources. There’s a personal management badge that’s required for Eagle Scouts. And Boy Scouts can use our resources to accomplish nine of the ten requirements for that badge. So we have Boy Scouts using our resources to do that. We have Girl Scout materials there on our website that scout leaders can use to help Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, and Cadettes earn their leaves or badges related to money and personal finance. We have the carpenters’ apprenticeship program here in St. Louis. We partner with them. And they use our online resources to provide personal finance education for people who are participating in the apprenticeship program. So they’re using our materials. We also have youth groups, community groups that can use the materials.

So if you’re a teacher, or you’re a Scout leader, or you’re a parent, a homeschooling parent, you can go onto our econlowdown.org portal, the teacher portal, you can create a classroom, you can enroll students, or your single student in a classroom, and assign those students videos, online courses and podcasts. And what makes that important is that you can also collect their pretest and post-test scores in the case of online courses, or just their post-test scores in case of videos and podcasts. So you can see how they’re performing in those programs through the teacher portal.

Maria Hasenstab: And anyone with a computer can access those resources for no cost?

Mary Suiter: Exactly. And those resources behind the teacher portal and also all of the resources on Stlouisfed.org/education.

Maria Hasenstab: Can you tell our listeners just a few of your most popular resources that they might want to check out?

Mary Suiter: Sure. So we have resources on the website I think that the listeners might be interested in. We have some information about completing the FAFSA form, making a college choice, learning about financial aid in terms of financing your college, we have information for parents. We have something called Q&A so parents can pull up a list of questions on their phone or print a document with a list of questions. And as they’re reading a recommended children’s book like “Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday” or “Bunny Money,” they can ask their kids these questions to encourage some discussion about what is saving, what kind of saving decisions were the characters making? What kinds of choices were they making? What kinds of spending decisions were they making? So we have those kinds of resources.

We have resources that would help a child or a student who is just getting their first job to fill out a W4 form, understand what a W2 form is, fill out a 1040EZ. So those are resources that would be useful. In terms of our videos and online courses, our GDP video—it’s part of our Econ Lowdown video series—is the most popular video on the Bank’s YouTube channel. 75,000 views. We also have curriculum, “It’s Your Paycheck,” online courses for personal finance. Those are very popular with users. And then some of our videos in the No-Frills Money Skills series, the one on compound interest and there’s one on Roth versus traditional 401(k)s. Those are very popular with our viewers, as well.

Maria Hasenstab: Don’t hold back, Mary. Tell me about some of your other resources.

Mary Suiter: Sure, so we have PowerPoint decks that teachers can use. We have interactive whiteboard activities. We have webinars that we’ve given and archived, so you can go in and listen to them again.

We have publications such as Page One Economics. That is a topical publication; it comes out nine times a year, and it has a teacher classroom application to go with it.

We also have infographics. We have an infographic on college. We have an infographic on alternative financing, so comparing the costs and benefits of things like payday loans and rent-to-own with traditional banking services and credit union services.

We have flashcards. You can print your own flashcards if you need to practice vocabulary in personal finance or economics.

So we really have just a wealth of resources that people can access and use as best fits their needs.

Maria Hasenstab: And all these resources are free and anyone can access them?

Mary Suiter: Absolutely, they’re all free and anyone can access them.

Maria Hasenstab: Can you tell us one more time where people can find these resources?

Mary Suiter: Sure. I’d be happy to. You can go to our St. Louis Fed page, Stlouisfed.org/education. Or you can go to, if you’d like to use the teacher portal, econlowdown.org.

Maria Hasenstab: Thanks, Mary, for talking with us today about economic education resources from the St. Louis Fed.

Mary Suiter: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Maria.

Maria Hasenstab: For more about our economic education efforts, check out our 2016 annual report at www.stlouisfed.org/annual-report. Be sure to watch the videos of the many people who use our resources, from preschoolers to older adults.

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