Teacher Training in Economics Gets Strong Support in Rhode Island Teacher Training in Economics Gets Strong Support in Rhode Island

A white, hip roof colonial house at the west end of the campus of Rhode Island College serves as headquarters for the College's Center for Economic Education and the Rhode Island Council on Economic Education. From this base, Council President Jeffrey Blais and Center Director Peter Moore work with classroom teachers and school administrators throughout the Ocean State in a collaborative effort to foster economic education.

The Rhode Island Council on Economic Education and the Rhode Island College Center for Economic Education are affiliates of EconomicsAmerica, a nationwide network of state economic education councils and more than 260 university-based economic education centers. The umbrella organization for EconomicsAmerica is the National Council on Economic Education, a nonprofit partnership of leaders in education, business, and labor, devoted to helping students at all grade levels learn to think and function in a changing global economy.

No Fancy Trappings
EconomicsAmerica pursues its mission by focusing its efforts on teacher training. Each year, the network of state councils and economic education centers conducts workshops, graduate-level courses, and in-service training for more than 120,000 teachers across the United States. The teachers, in turn, deliver more effective economic education to over 7 million students. This network is the largest nongovernmental teacher training organization in the world.

The state councils and centers manage to do all this without lavish spending, large staffs, or fancy trappings. Rhode Island is a prime example. Jeffrey Blais and Peter Moore team up to work with 23 of Rhode Island's 36 school districts – 80 percent of the state's public school enrollment – as well as with many of the parochial and independent schools. They have no formal support staff. They answer their own phones, do their own photocopying, pour their own coffee.

Dr. Jeffrey Blais, who is also an associate professor of economics at Rhode Island College, has been president of the Rhode Island Council since 1986. His involvement in economic education is broad and deep. Before coming to Rhode Island, he was director of the Center for Economic Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Under his guidance, the Rhode Council on Economic Education has continued to thrive and remains one of the most effective Councils in the Economics-America network.

Dr. Peter Moore has been involved, "off and on," with the Rhode Island College Center for Economic Education since day one. He was co-founder and director of the Center when it opened its doors in 1968, and his contributions to economic education are widely recognized in national circles. At its 1997 annual meeting in Indianapolis, the National Council on Economic Education presented him with the Bessie B. Moore National Service Award for providing service to the economic education network around the country. (Peter never mentions the award first, but if someone else brings it up, he is quick to note with a smile that Bessie Moore is NOT a relative.)

Serving Grades K-12
Although most people might think of economics as a pre-college course for high school juniors or seniors, Jeff and Peter believe that economic education is most effective with an integrated program for grades K through 12, combined with a capstone economics course for high school students.

Peter notes that elementary school teachers are an extremely receptive audience: "They come to us and say ‘I don't know economics. Teach me everything you can.’" In recent years, more than 150 elementary school teachers have enrolled in the Rhode Island Center's Saturday program on YESS!/Mini-Society, a 10-week classroom simulation in which students in grades 4 to 6 design and develop their own society and, in the process, experience economic concepts ranging from supply and demand to the importance of entrepreneurship. Conducting classes on a Saturday might not appeal to most people, but Jeff and Peter are excited over the prospect of helping fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade teachers bolster their knowledge of prices, costs, markets, and how the market system works.

Indeed, enthusiasm for economic education is strong at all grade levels, and it shows no signs of abating. Jeff and Peter predict that the recent introduction of Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics will stimulate teacher demand for economic education across the board. The Standards include benchmarks for grades 4, 8, and 12.

Using Technology
The Rhode Island Council and the Center have been quick to recognize that technology has the potential to draw more teachers to economic education courses. Peter Moore, who has been a member of the National Association of Economic Educators' Technology Committee since 1994, notes: "Many of the teachers have computers at home. They know how to use them. They're looking for ideas on using technology to teach." In fact, they are so interested that the Rhode Island Center had to turn teachers away from three technology workshops held in October and November 1997. The workshops highlighted Net Newsline, which offers online economics lessons for grades K to 12, and CyberTeach Guide, a guide to using existing online lessons and creating original lessons. Teachers seemed to be most impressed, says Peter, by the broad range of online resources and by the Web conferencing aspects of the Internet. And he emphasizes that the Internet is most effective as a resource when teachers use an activity-based approach that "gives students a reason to do something and gives them something to find."

These and other workshops offered through the Center are made possible through the strong support received from many quarters, including Rhode Island companies and individuals, national foundations, and Rhode Island College. College President John Nazarian has been a staunch supporter, as has the College's Department of Economics and Finance, which houses the Center.

True Economists
Another reason that the Council and Center have continued to flourish is that neither Jeff nor Peter has been content to stand pat or bask in past accomplishments. This year they undertook a major effort to recruit more school superintendents and classroom teachers for the Rhode Island Council's Board of Trustees.

They have also decided to put their program and their convictions to the "market test." Each school district served by the Rhode Island Council and Center is being asked to pay a modest annual affiliation fee based on the number of buildings and the size of the district. Jeff and Peter believe the fee "will make for an even stronger commitment on the part of most districts and will serve as a means for allocating Council and Center resources to those who are willing to pay for them." Spoken like true economists.