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Ben Bernanke Talks With Clayton Economics Teacher

The Federal Reserve chairman spoke this week by teleconference to Mark Bayles of Clayton High School and other St. Louis teachers.

(CHS) economics teacher Mark Bayles joined about 30 St. Louis-area teachers Tuesday afternoon to visit via teleconference with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke about personal finance education.

In an email interview, Bayles discussed his takeaways from the conversation and told why he thinks economics education is so important for Clayton students.

How did you get selected for this opportunity? Discuss the experience. What did Chairman Bernanke talk about during his remarks, and what did you and other educators ask him? 

The St. Louis Fed posted an online invitation to teachers within the bank’s geographic region.  As a regular attendee of the bank’s programs, I made a point of taking part in this special opportunity to join a group that would interact with the chairman.

The central focus of Chairman Bernanke’s remarks was the importance of increasing the quantity and quality of personal finance education for all Americans. He mentioned, for example, that the Treasury Department is now conducting a campaign to develop smartphone apps that will allow consumers to easily calculate costs and benefits of common household transactions.  Chairman Bernanke singled out the St. Louis Fed’s economic education efforts during his remarks, too.

Most interesting to me was his description of a two-part response to the current financial crisis:

  1. Systemic macroprudential supervision and
  2. Increasing the resilience of the U.S. financial system through, for example, increased capital requirements.

Teachers at several banks, including one in St. Louis, asked the chairman a number of questions. While many asked specifically about ways to improve teaching of finance, questions ranged over other matters including the Euro crisis and the USA’s trillion dollar student loan debt.


Talk about the economic education courses that your students took online through the St. Louis Fed. What kinds of things are these students learning about?

The St. Louis Fed’s online courses (“Econ Ed Live”) give classroom teachers the ability to introduce online instruction to students who can then complete the web-based module on their own time. A few years ago, my CHS students piloted the GDP and Pizza course that many tens of thousands of high school students have now completed.  In addition, CHS students have completed the online lesson on the economic principles underlying international trade “Comparative Advantage” and the web-based “Currency Crusaders of Justice” which takes students through the basics of foreign currency exchange rates.

Each of the Econ Ed Live lessons provides the student with several interactive quizzes to check for understanding. Students also take a pre-test and a test following completion of the module. Students scores are easily downloadable by the teacher.

Why is personal finance important to you, both personally and as a teacher? 

More broadly, as an economics teacher I am looking for lessons that illuminate and illustrate basic economic concepts and aid my students in developing “the economic way of thinking.” Certainly, personal finance is part of that process as students benefit greatly from activating core economics concepts such as cost-benefit analysis and opportunity cost when making consumer and saving decisions.

How do you hope students respond to education about personal finance? What anecdotes can you share from students' experiences in taking the St. Louis Fed programming?

In my experience student responses to economics education are overwhelmingly positive. Over the past decade, many CHS students have benefited from the above-mentioned Econ Ed Live courses, more traditional lesson plans that track the “In Plain English” DVD, as well as from attending St. Louis Fed-sponsored events that target high school students, such as the CEO Next Generation programs. 

Most recently, two of my AP Macroeconomics students, Ian Tarr and Andrew Rudolph, were selected to serve on the newly-formed Student Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It’s exciting to see students progress to this level and have their accomplishments recognized.

How long have you taught at Clayton High School?

I student taught at CHS in 2002 and became a full time teacher there in 2003.  Currently I teach Economics Principles, AP Macroeconomics, American Government and U.S./world history.

What other comments would you like to make?

Thanks for the opportunity to communicate with you. It may be important to know that I teach economics and not a personal finance course per se. Marcy Boland, a terrific business teacher, is the primary personal finance teacher at CHS.  While there is significant overlap in curriculum concepts the focus is quite a bit different.

Finally, I must tell you about the tremendous contributions to economic education made by the St. Louis Fed’s Economic Education department. Led by Mary C. Suiter, Ph.D., the St. Louis Fed creates and distributes an astonishing amount of high-quality teaching materials—traditional and high-tech—that benefit innumerable students throughout the country. Mary and her entire department are terrific!

If you're a teacher in Clayton or Richmond Heights with a cool educational experience to share, we'd like to hear from you! Email your news tips to nate.birt@patch.com.

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