Money Matters: TC Awarded $2.45 Million Peterson Grant to Create Fiscal Curriculum for High Schools

Think back to when you were in high school. What did your history or economics class cover? Did they discuss American fiscal responsibility, how and why we have a national debt and a budget deficit, and what affects them? Few schools today focus on such questions; however, in a few years this may change, thanks to the efforts of those at TC.

Anand Marri, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Education, and a team of TC faculty and students recently received a $2.45 million, three-year grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to develop a curriculum centered on the federal budget and deficit and the national debt. The curriculum is entitled “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility (UFR): A Curriculum for Teaching about the Federal Budget, National Debt and Budget Deficit.” By 2011, 100,000 copies of the curriculum will be available and distributed, free of charge, to every high school nationwide (approximately 40,000 schools), as well as middle schools, universities/colleges, and other educational organizations. The UFR team is made up of twenty members, including Professor Erica Walker from Math, Science and Technology, Professor Tom Hatch from Curriculum and Teaching, and Professors Bill Gaudelli and Margaret Crocco from the Program in Social Studies, as well as thirteen doctoral students from the Math, Science and Technology, Curriculum and Teaching, and Arts and Humanities Departments.

Anand has been studying how fiscal responsibility has been taught in classrooms for some time now. The team defines fiscal responsibility as “making economic choices (as a person, community, or nation) that meet the needs of the present without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to do the same.” Last year, he and the UFR team conducted a research study to establish baseline data about how these topics are currently taught, interviewing 35 teachers in 9 states, as well as reviewing all 50 state standards and 12 of the most commonly used economics textbooks for high school and college.

The new curriculum will be geared towards students in grades 7-12 and focus on five key areas: U.S. history and geography, world history and geography, economics, government and civics, and mathematics. It will also be non-partisan and inquiry-oriented. Anand states that ideas of economics and fiscal challenges throughout American history are mentioned in social studies textbooks, but often not studied in class beyond a superficial level. Because nothing beyond the facts is explored, he explains that students get a sense that financial decisions are the result of “natural law,” not a series of choices by elected officials and policymakers. If students can investigate national fiscal choices and their consequences, they can be encouraged to become more civically engaged. The curriculum will have a first draft finished by July 2010, which will be piloted in schools in Austin, Pittsburgh, and New York the following year.

Anand stresses that this curriculum is being designed as a “seamless integration” into what teachers already teach, rather than something that competes with that. The Peterson Foundation has been a wonderful partner to TC and very supportive of the work the team is doing. They make it clear that “they really believe” in the project. All in all, while it remains to be seen what will happen with the fiscal challenges in the United States, at least American students will be better equipped than ever to understand fiscal responsibility as civically engaged citizens.