Bridget N O’Connor & Lisa S Ponti. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.
At a time when K-12 education is focusing on meeting standards in reading, writing, and math, students are increasingly not meeting those standards. Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles is that many students do not see the relevance of Shakespeare’s plays or Euclidian geometry to their lives. In this chapter, we suggest that one way to instill meaningfulness into learning is to present these young minds with authentic problems and learning opportunities that allow them to apply what they are learning in the academic core. We will focus on how courses in economics and experiences in school-to-work programs can support academic learning; we’ll also explore the issues involved in creating rigorous, relevant learning experiences. We will address issues surrounding how education about, for, and through work can create an informed citizenry that both understands its economic system and can operate well within it.
Economics education is about ensuring that students are knowledgeable about the economic system, capable of functioning in a complex economic environment, and aware of the wide range of financial services that are available to them. School-to-work (STW) programs are all about exploring occupations and creating an awareness of the skills they would need to succeed—to develop those skills, to choose careers, and to discover the industry and higher education options that would help them achieve their goals. Successful economics and STW programs integrate academic and career oriented studies; emphasize learning in the context of specific, applied tasks; and in the case of some STW initiatives, link student work or work-based activities, both paid and nonpaid, back to the classroom.
The questions that are raised here for curriculum developers and teachers are the same as for absolutely every other high school subject area: What should be taught? Who should teach it? How should it be taught? and How can other academic foundations best be integrated with what is being learned? Additionally, what are the roles of parents, the community, and society in general in responding to these questions? For economics and school-to-work to have both rigor and relevance, the participation of these key stakeholders is arguably more important than in other disciplines.
We’ve organized this chapter by first discussing the what, who, and how of economics education and STW separately. Then, we’ll bring them back together in a discussion of how they can be integrated with academic foundations. Our conclusions are a call for educators in all disciplines to bring these content areas into their classrooms.
The value of economics education can be seen on two levels. First, a well-rounded person should be well versed about how the economic system and its financial services operate. Second, citizens need an understanding of economics if they are to make informed decisions about public policy issues. Although most would agree with these statements, economics education options vary from school system to school system.
What Should Be Taught as Economics Education?
So even though we all espouse that everyone should be economically literate, little agreement exists as to what that means. Some suggest that macroeconomics, the discipline that studies our economic system and includes concepts such as supply and demand, opportunity costs, marginal cost and benefit analysis, and market prices are vital to an informed citizenry. Armed with an understanding of how markets work, citizens are in a good position to vote on the basis of informed decisions. For example, in a Gallup poll, college seniors were asked whether or not they thought the U.S. government should prohibit oil companies from raising the prices of oil and gas in response to a supply shock in the Middle East (Walstad & Allgood, 1999). Fully 40% of those surveyed felt that the government should, in fact, prohibit oil companies from raising their prices as a response to decreased supply. This response reflects a poor grasp of some of the most basic tenets of economics, namely the allocation of scare resources, supply and demand, and open markets. Perhaps Alan Blinder, former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and current professor of economics at Princeton University, said it best: “I believe that a society that has a higher average level of economic literacy will produce better economic policies because the people will demand more of their legislators” (Blinder in Salerai, 1998, p. 36).
On the other hand, high school level economics can be viewed through the lens of personal finance, and enough cannot be said about the need for students to be savvy consumers, particularly knowledgeable about credit cards, mortgages, banking, insurance, and investing. Personal finance offerings, however, have mistakenly been offered as remedial substitutes for academic-level math and have often lacked depth in what is covered. In other words, these offerings tend to be considered applied and remedial, not academic and mainstream. With current curricular trends toward pure academics, school systems that offer economics or personal finance courses usually err in one direction or the other (either the course is too rigorous or it is too easy).
Several organizations have recognized the need for and are pushing an agenda of financial literacy for the country’s youth. They include the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Finance, the National Council for Economic Education (NCEE), and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC). Additionally, the Policies Commission for Business and Economic Education (PCBEE) has been actively engaged in establishing the role of business education in financial education. Descriptions of these organizations, along with their Web site addresses, are included in the References and Further Readings section of this chapter.
NEFE says the financial literacy problem is pervasive, citing a report that nationwide, high school seniors from all socioeconomic groups scored an average of just over 50% on general financial knowledge, a below failing grade (National Endowment for Financial Education [NEFE], 2002). This lack of financial competence can have devastating effects later in life, as illustrated by the rising level of personal debt of individuals and the increasing rate of bankruptcy filings. NEFE pushes its agenda as a means to address the gap between haves and have-nots. They argue that low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students have an even greater need to manage their own finances than their better-off counterparts.
Additionally, more than 75% of college undergraduates have credit cards, with most of them holding multiple cards and carrying average debt balances of over $2,700. Between 1990 and 1999, there was over a 50% increase in the annual bankruptcy filings among adults aged 25 and younger. This problem is exacerbated by the escalating debt students take on to finance their college education. In fact, 42% of undergraduate students enrolled in the 2003-04 academic year had accumulated student loan debt and had borrowed an average of $11,600 during the course of their studies (Berkner, Wei, & Carroll, 2006).
Furthermore, many students are taking on private debt to supplement what they are able to borrow under federally funded programs and do not always understand the terms and conditions of these loans. As a result, they are unpleasantly surprised by rising interest rates that are not capped and loans that have no provisions for forgiveness of late payments. The 2007 financial aid office scandal could perhaps have been mitigated to a certain extent if these borrowers had been more adept at comparing loan options and not relied solely on the advice given to them by their college financial aid or outside loan officers. Armed with knowledge of banking principles, students can better ensure that college lending officers structure the best possible loan packages.
Economics education is also part of the standards march. In 1998, NCEE, in connection with its “Campaign for Economic Literacy,” enumerated 20 different economics standards that students should master in economics by the time they graduate from high school. These standards, which can be adapted for suitability at numerous grade levels, include such concepts as the scarcity of resources, how these resources are allocated, how market economies operate, and gains from trade and specialization. These standards are grounded in economic theory, and each standard also has personal applicability.
One example is Standard 17, which addresses the issue of understanding the effects of government policies and actions. This standard dictates:
Students will understand that the costs of government policies sometimes exceed the benefits. This may occur because of incentives facing voters, government officials, and government employees, because of actions by special interest groups that can impose costs on the general public or because social goals other than economic efficiency are being pursued. (National Council on Economic Education [NCEE], 1998, p. 40)
An everyday example of government involvement that has costs as well as benefits that would be of interest to students is the enforcement of minimum wage laws; and another for students who live in certain urban areas of the United States, the concept of rent control.
Recently, the JumpStart Coalition (2007) developed a more specific personal finance-related definition of financial literacy that includes having skills to manage one’s financial resources for life. National standards have been established in personal finance also and encompass such broad goals. These standards require that students be able to locate, evaluate, and apply financial information to their own lives. To do this, they must know how to set financial goals and create a plan to achieve these goals. Part of this involves developing income-earning potential, as well as the ability to budget their money, understand and use financial services effectively, meet their financial obligations, and build and protect their wealth. (JumpStart Coalition, 2007).
Who Should Teach Economics?
Typically, states include economics as part of a business education or social studies curriculum. According to a 2007 NCEE survey, 49 states and the District of Columbia included economics in their educational standards. Iowa, the only state without any standards on the subject, included economics as a subset of social studies and required that social studies be taught in Grades 1 through 12. Among the 49 states that included economics in their educational standards, 17 offered a stand-alone, required economics course (NCEE, 2007). Although the other states include economics in their educational standards, they do not provide for separate instruction in the subject. Perhaps content is covered as part of other courses, but no data confirm this.
Given the nature of the standards established and the focus on basic concepts, the curriculum should be taught by qualified instructors who have extensive coursework or even degrees in economics if they are to be expected to provide some depth to these complex topics. With regard to personal finance, the NCEE survey revealed that only 40 states had personal finance standards, and these were often included within the economics standards. At the time of the survey, nine states required a course with personal finance content be offered, and only seven states required that a student take a personal finance course (NCEE, 2007).
The Policies Commission for Business and Economic Education linked the National Business Education Association’s The National Standards for Business Education with a 2001 policy statement that suggests every business educator should be competent to provide financial education as well as take the leadership in its development and teaching through partnerships and a K-12 interdisciplinary approach (Policies Commission for Business and Economic Education [PCBEE], 2001). Because most business teachers have taken economics as part of their required business core content, this group of educators is very likely to be competent to teach in this arena.
How Should Economics Be Taught?
A successful macroeconomics course would be taught as a separate course and cover several basic concepts. Keeping the list of basic concepts short allows for more in-depth instruction of each topic, and repeated applications enhance the students’ understanding of the material and increase their ability to apply such concepts. Some examples of these topics are supply and demand, markets, scarcity, opportunity cost, and marginal costs and benefits.
The personal finance standards can be taught as a distinct offering, but they could also be handled through an integrated curriculum approach so that students can gain the skills they need without having to spend more time on yet another subject. For example, math courses could have personal finance skills integrated into the existing course-work to include skills such as calculating loan amortization and credit card interest. The New York Stock Exchange supports the Securities Industry Association’s Stock Market Game™, which is geared toward students in Grades 4 through 12 and marketed to teachers in all disciplines. In this real-time simulation, students are given virtual cash, and in teams decide how to invest their funds. As part of the learning experience, students follow current events and apply math skills in calculating their earnings. Throughout this virtual simulation, they buy and sell stocks online, and learn firsthand how current events affect stock prices. The developers have also added a national essay contest in which students compete for prizes on essays geared to financial issues. In their National Strategy for Financial Literacy, the FLEC also promotes the use of an integrated curriculum in teaching personal finance as a creative way of giving students valuable life skills, as well as ensuring that support for financial education is not cut when budgets fall or curricula change.
Another experiential-based curriculum is NEFE’s High School Financial Planning Program® (HSFPP), a highly interactive curriculum that includes a wide variety of learning modules employing Web resources and student-run assessments. As part of their learning portal, NEFE also includes training modules for teachers, parents, and the general public. In the 2003-04 academic year, impact evaluation was conducted on this program, which is provided to schools at no cost. Findings showed that young people who studied the curriculum for as little as 10 hours not only significantly increased their understanding of money management, but also improved their financial behavior in the ensuing months (NEFE, 2004).
The concept of learning through experience has been around for decades and is the conceptual rationale for STW programs. John Dewey, in Democracy and Education (Dewey, 1916), pushed for “occupations as context for learning” as a means of instilling meaning in learning. Dewey advocated against the notion of vocational or academic tracking in schools; he suggested that everyone could benefit from learning through experiential learning. Dewey’s thinking evolved around experience and reflection, and resulted in his espoused passion for participatory learning—that we all have common and shared interests— and was also related to his passion for democracy. This is a terrific book to pick up and read—and reread—frequently; Dewey’s ideas are timeless with his emphasis on the importance of experience in learning and the resultant development of community and democracy.
While occupational or vocational education was prevalent in comprehensive high schools for decades, the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act attempted to link occupational training with academic and life skills, a key notion of Dewey’s work. Under this act, states could receive up to $10 million annually in federal grants to support learning experiences designed to encourage career exploration, to provide students with opportunities to experience what it means to work, to develop skills students could use in the world of work, and to help students come to appreciate the relevance of their academic preparation to their lives and future careers. Most important, STW programs were marketed as a way to motivate all students to want to learn and for students to develop higher order problem-solving and creativity skills that they could apply in their future postsecondary education or employer-sponsored learning and development programs. The term school-to-work thus became shorthand to describe the goals of a myriad of experiential, work-based learning programs, and its use as a unifying term has continued beyond the initial legislation.
What Should Be Taught in School-to-Work?
STW goals have been advertised as a means to instill meaningfulness in schoolwork and merge academic with vocational goals. These goals followed reports from the Secretary’s Commission for Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1991), which produced competency listings for skills needed to succeed in the workplace. The resultant complementary report has been foundational for revising many high school curricula. But the size of a school, its access to resources, and its community may actually expand or limit choices. Large urban public schools may have paid cooperative work programs and job placement services for part-time employment, but STW programs housed in rural schools are often challenged. Suburban schools may even have an advantage over urban and rural districts because they tend to have high degrees of parental involvement and at the same time, access to city resources, including potential internship sites and active professional organizations in the community (Theobald, 1996).
STW or work-based learning initiatives tend to fall under one of four major categories: (1) career awareness, (2) skill development, (3) work-like experiences [nonpaid], and (4) work experiences [paid]. These organizing categories are used here to frame this discussion; however, the list cannot be exhaustive because numerous other new, innovative approaches are continually being implemented.
Formal initiatives that focus on career awareness make an effort to help students match their own interests and abilities to broad arenas of career possibilities. Career education programs usually include business careers, but may go way beyond. Sometimes schools are organized around careers related to broad specific disciplines such as English, science, or math; or they can be organized around professions such as law, medicine, teaching, or engineering; or around job clusters such as health, hospitality management, real estate, or publishing. Career fairs are schoolwide events whereby representatives of professional associations, industry groups, or the area Chamber of Commerce stage booths where visitors have an opportunity to discuss careers and learn about part-time job opportunities as well as employer-sponsored learning and development programs. Academic institutions participate in such events too, often using them as recruiting sessions.
Mentoring programs require the participation of members of the community and the support of parents. They are usually designed to bring together an experienced job holder and a student who is interested in the mentor’s line of work for informal, one-on-one sessions that are part counseling and part career awareness. A good mentor can provide invaluable advice to someone who truly wants to learn more about how to succeed in a particular line of work or adjust to a school or new community. Big Brothers Big Sisters is an example of a community-based mentoring program. Like their community counterparts, school-based mentoring programs often have the additional value of supporting students at risk of dropping out of school because mentors can help students see the connection between what they are learning in school to what they will see in the workplace. No strict guidelines exist for what makes a mentoring program work, but key variables for success include the establishment and buy-in of expectations ahead of time, making and sustaining appropriate matches, and the creation of a feedback loop to the organizing entity to ensure oversight.
Career academies and schools with career majors bring real problem solving to academic classrooms in an effort to show relevance and applied skills. Sometimes job skills are presented as problem-based learning. As California is considered a bell weather state, skill development through career academies may be on the verge of making a big comeback; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who trained as a salesman in an Austrian high school, was cited in a recent report in the Sacramento Bee that highlighted Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School, where the entire curriculum is organized around health care. For example, “students in an algebra class who calculated proper doses of medicine for a child; in a Spanish class, they participated in a discussion of how herbal remedies are used; and in a biology class, they used microscopes to examine how bacteria grew in different mediums—water, alcohol, or hand sanitizer” (Rosenhall, 2007, p. Al).
Tech prep programs take a much different approach to skill development. Begun in the 1980s as a means to develop a much-needed workforce as well as to ensure that noncollege bound students were receiving an education equivalent to their college-bound counterparts, tech prep programs were a reform effort for traditional vocational education programs that had become dumping grounds for the academically challenged. The concept broke the division between high school and college. A 2 + 2 tech prep program provided a means for students to earn a 2-year professional degree as part of their high school experiences. Tech prep ensured that the high school curriculum was rigorous and relevant for all students. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act gave new wind to these initiatives, providing funding for schools to expand their reach to businesses and industries that could partner with learning and development programs, often resulting in job placement immediately after high school (National Tech Prep Network, 2007). Other modifications of the original tech prep model allow all students to earn college credit (not necessarily an associate’s degree) while still in high school. In such cases, courses are usually taught by college instructors in subjects including English, accounting, and economics.
Work-like experiences differ from work experiences in that these are nonpaid jobs. For example, students may work in the school store or other school-based enterprises. Internships, in which students are given highly supervised jobs in an area they might want to explore for a career, are another approach. Usually, internships are not paid work experiences. In service learning, students perform relevant, sustained community service as part of a class assignment. Key to the success of work-like experiences is that they are, indeed, related to a student’s career exploration and are tightly monitored by both someone at the school and at the organization in which the student is working.
It is important for us to expand on the service learning practice here because its popularity is on the rise. The National Service Learning Clearinghouse reported that 10 years ago, 25% of K-12 students participated in service learning programs, and that number continues to increase (National Service Learning Clearinghouse [NSLC], 2007). It is important to note that the NSLC definition of service learning includes words like “reflection, discovery, civic responsibility, and community” and that learning outcomes are both for the learner and the participating agency. Students participating in service learning are expected to work in a meaningful, planned, and structured service; to reflect on what that experience meant to them; and to understand that such contributions strengthen their community (NSLC, 2007). Outcomes for cooperating organizations include seeing problems and opportunities with new perspectives and often creative solutions.
It is also important to note what service learning is not. It is not one-time volunteering; many organized programs require up to 40 hours of volunteer time. It is not work for which there is no direct supervision or opportunities to apply problem-solving, creativity, or other higher order skills. It is not just logging hours for community service. For service learning to be effective it requires preparation, action, and reflection; these are the hallmarks of all work-based education efforts.
Sometimes work is just work. When a student works for money during afterschool hours, these afterschool jobs instill work values and habits whether or not the student intends to continue in that line of work after further training or education. Sometimes schools can act as job placement centers, helping make the match between potential employers and members of their student body. On the other hand, paid cooperative education and apprenticeships are tightly coupled with career intentions and usually entail paid part- or full-time work. The student who works part-time may need special scheduling for academic classes. Those working full-time may need opportunities to take academic classes during off hours.
Who Should Lead School-to-Work Initiatives?
Experiences that fall under the school-to-work umbrella obviously are quite different from traditional classroom-based classes. It takes a diverse skill set to organize a career fair or mentorship program, run a job placement office, or supervise interns. Few teacher certification programs exist around competencies needed to perform these tasks. Leaders in STW often come through business education programs; the business content of this focus includes management, marketing, communications, and accounting. Additionally, many central school district offices provide teacher training and maintain databases of service learning opportunities.
How Should School-to-Work Be Taught?
To understand learning, we need to know what motivates students to learn. Indiana University’s T. James Crawford said, “No teaching method works if the student doesn’t” (Crawford, circa 1980). The motivation to learn can be honed in school with an ultimate goal of preparing students to learn how to learn, thus preparing them for lifelong learning. Those practices that engage the learner in problems, in practice “make learning more significant than teaching— and writing, design, and formatting skills as important as lecturing techniques” (Jarvis, 2001, p. 27). This understanding should completely change methods of instruction that rest on the class lecture method. Building on John Dewey’s work, Etienne Wenger posited that learning is not just of personal ability, but positioning yourself within a community. We learn with and from members of our community. Communities, he said, become stale when all they do is bump up against each other (Wenger, 2003). Accepting this premise, STW leadership is all about implementing interventions with a view to what needs to be learned as well as how to help workplace supervisors mentor their charges.
So perhaps the most important success factor in building STW programs is designing appropriate initiatives and taking a detailed, hands-on, personal interest in their development, implementation, and evaluation. Programs that are simply arranged with little or no feedback to participants (everyone involved) do not succeed. “Teaching” in STW is really a curricular and extracurricular management exercise that requires detailing learning goals, creating nontraditional assessments, and developing and implementing a mechanism for continual feedback. Moreover, because of resistance to change in educational practices, the STW champion must also be well versed in public relations if he or she is to advance the STW agenda.
How Can Economics and School-to-Work Be Integrated with other Academic Instruction?
Personal finance (and to some degree, economics) and STW have been touted as a means to motivate students, providing relevancy to an academic program of study—relevancy that may be exactly what students need to stay in school and find meaning in their academic classes. Although it is true that some of the values behind the development of such programs were for the noncollege bound, this is extremely limiting; the learning outcomes of these programs are the knowledge and skill sets that all citizens need to possess if they are to make informed decisions about how they will spend their working lives, how to be an informed citizen and voter, and how to use the financial services that are necessary components of economic life.
Macroeconomics is an academic discipline, and when offered, students can take economics as part of a college-prep program of study. This course, however, like all other high school courses, should include opportunities for the development of critical reading skills, writing skills, and applied mathematics. Financial literacy, by definition, requires that students “read the fine print”; use math to calculate interest rates; and write business correspondence. School-to-work, on the other hand, will only succeed if it is linked with opportunities for students to use their academic foundations in the pursuit of solving work-based problems or real problems in the workplace. Ensuring that this happens requires the involvement of parents, the community, and society in general to develop the best of programs, implement them soundly, and provide feedback loops to all stakeholders.
No good idea succeeds on its own merit, however, and making money available for program development is not enough, as evaluation of STW grants has demonstrated. Those programs that succeeded had the cooperation of everyone involved: administrators, principals, teachers, counselors, parents, students, the community, and potential employers. As with any educational innovation or reform effort, courses and programs must be linked to educational objectives and all stakeholders need to be on board.
These stakeholder groups have distinct challenges. Because class schedules may need to be rearranged to support off-site jobs, principals have additional tasks. Many teachers of pure academic subjects must often be convinced of the value of such programs, and they must also learn to find or create real-life, work-based problems whose solution requires the application of what they are teaching. Moreover, many teachers do not have the administrative skills needed to manage programs that exist outside the classroom, and this can be a challenge. Career counselors may not understand the value of work-based education for their college-bound advisees, and so they may need convincing of their value. Also, more counselors, teachers, and administrators may be needed to help young adults choose and find work placements because these tasks are time consuming and often daunting.
Of course, there are challenges for the students themselves who have busy curricular and extracurricular schedules, and they must see the value of such learning experiences, like an enhanced resume for prospective university admissions offices or employers. And for any STW program, the community and employers often need coaching on how best to partner with teachers and curriculum designers to design work-based initiatives and learn to run and evaluate effective work and internship experiences. Moreover, schools are often very reluctant (and sometimes unable) to let outside forces help them establish curricula and standards. Finally, one of the most important and often most vocal obstacle are parents who may resist STW initiatives that they mistakenly believe track their children into vocational or remedial education.
Readers of this chapter who are planning careers—or are in careers—as teachers in high school settings are in a position to make a real difference in the lives of their students. Our goal here has been to describe rationales, opportunities, and obstacles facing these two related, vital curricular areas. Even if you are not an economics teacher or school-to-work coordinator, we hope you are challenged to find ways to bring the work-a-day world into your classes. The 1994 School-to-Work Opportunity Act was not renewed by Congress because, as we suggested earlier, no good idea succeeds on its own merit. Stakeholders simply put up too many obstacles, failing to give a chance to the values of the act, which were to create awareness, relevance, and an understanding of skill sets needed to succeed in not just jobs, but careers. Many school systems read “school-to-work” to exclude the role of colleges and universities in students’ planning. This was not the intent of the act. It is surprising that while the most popular undergraduate major today is business, most school systems are not giving students the perspectives on what a career in economics, finance, accounting, management, or marketing would be.
High school social studies teachers can sometimes become certified to teach economics with little or no coursework, and economics is not everyone’s favorite subject to teach. Teachers trained in business education are more apt to have this background, but they sometimes do not want to be considered for these roles. It is also surprising that although we know learning initiatives that require active learner participation are in the best position to succeed, many teachers are unable (perhaps because of union restrictions, administrative mandates, or academic background) or unwilling to take a chance on developing lessons or curricula that differ from the mainstream.
Moreover, despite evidence that many schools consider their financial literacy and work-based learning efforts to be quite successful, critics argue that such reforms are not working, citing low levels of learning or suggesting that companies are using internship and apprenticeship programs as recruitment and training departments. Moreover, as schools are continually forced to cut back or eliminate elective offerings, education for and about work are often the first to go. One reason is that it is unclear what makes one initiative successful and another not. Another is that stakeholders are sometimes unable (because of time and money constraints) to develop exemplary programs or may simply not be convinced of these offerings’ potential value.
Thus, it may be managing this public relations effort that is the major challenge for schools as they attempt to implement work-based learning initiatives. Confusion and unrealized goals often result as schools experiment with new approaches to learning. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said we need to shift educational paradigms in this country. Work-based education offers a new framework of opportunities for stakeholders to work together to solve educational problems if they can develop a shared vision, which requires the time, effort, and fiscal resources of all involved. A stakeholder who champions the initiative is required in any endeavor.
The goal of education for and about democracy is to instill in our children an appreciation for how to live and work in an exceedingly complex economic environment. John Dewey remains right; experience is often the best teacher, and learning through well-planned activities that are followed up by reflection is a surefire way to ensure motivation for learning and the application of academic skills in real-world problems and practices. Our citizenry needs to know how to make informed decisions about financial products, about national policies, about career options, and how best to make those careers happen. An educated person can apply what is learned in an academic setting. Active learning methods, used in situations that have meaning, result in learner engagement and the development of higher order thinking and problem-solving skills. All of these outcomes are the promise of economics and STW educational offerings that meet so many professed goals.
When we consider that the average person works at least 30 years, helping young adults know the kinds and types of careers open to them—careers that they will find interesting, rewarding, and supportive of their desired lifestyles—ensures that work and career decisions are made for the right reasons. When we engage students fully in their academic lives, we provide the relevance needed for everyone, with even more dramatic results when such programs help ensure that students remain in school. The trick here is to help students make the academic-work-life connections themselves. School systems provide the backdrop for learning practices. It is when school curricula coincide with the learning needs and values of students and their families that learning best happens.
As we close this chapter, we suggest locations where you can find more information about the services and organizations cited here. A sincere hope is that we have challenged you to think outside the box, to consider that learning at all levels of education and life requires skills that are best learned through active problem solving and experimentation. Perhaps armed with a new understanding of the values behind the desirability of economics education, financial literacy, and experiential learning opportunities whereby students can apply what they are learning, you will be in a terrific position to create these learning opportunities yourself.