Teachers College Launches a New High School Curriculum on the Federal Budget and Broader Fiscal Issues: “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility”

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May 2 launch convened a panel of education and economic policy experts, including Peter Orszag, Judith Johnson and Charles Calomiris, to discuss the curriculum, the current fiscal scenario, and the importance of educating young people on fiscal issues

NEW YORK (NY), May 2 – Teachers College, Columbia University, unveiled a new high school curriculum entitled “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility,” at an event this evening. The curriculum is the first of its kind, and is designed to educate young people on the federal budget and broader fiscal policy – issues that are critical to their future, yet, as Teachers College research shows, currently receive little attention in schools.

While the fiercely partisan debates about the federal budget national debt, and budget deficit continue to rage in Washington D.C., high school students across the country are preparing to take their turn at shouldering the high-stakes budget related challenges and persistently competing priorities we face as a nation and, by asking first, “Who are we as a nation? What do we value? What are our priorities and what are we willing to give up to ensure that we can dedicate our resources to those priorities?”

A group of leading policy analysts, economists and educators were on hand to discuss the fiscal challenges facing the country, and the importance of educating young people about the federal budget and fiscal policy. Panelists included Peter R. Orszag, vice chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup, Inc., former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama Administration; Judith Johnson, former Superintendent of Peekskill, N.Y. schools and former Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education; and Charles Calomiris, the Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions at Columbia Business School.

Research by Teachers College, Columbia University, found that, although the federal budget is mentioned in the core curriculum adopted by most states, it gets little or no attention in most high schools across the country. The research was the impetus for the new curriculum. Developed by TC faculty and graduate students led by Anand R. Marri, Associate Professor of Social Studies and Education at Teachers College, the curriculum is designed for high schools but adaptable for middle schools and colleges.

“The curriculum is important because it raises questions for students not just about the mathematical details of the federal budget, but big questions about how the federal budget relates to our national priorities, and what it says about us as a nation,” Marri said.  “Our goal is to have students understand the issues in all their complexities, be able to clarify their own thinking about these issues, and, ultimately, care enough to become involved in debating these and other public policy questions as citizens.”

The launch event was opened by Teachers College President Susan H. Fuhrman. She was followed by short remarks by Pete Peterson, Chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which provided funding for the curriculum. The Peterson Foundation is a non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing awareness and accelerating action on America’s long-term fiscal challenges. The program also included the screening of a classroom video made at the Community School for Social Justice in the Bronx, where teachers have used the pilot UFR curriculum, as well as remarks by Marri and Kathryn Swallow, a mathematics teacher from the school.

Marri said the nonpartisan, research-based, and inquiry-driven curriculum engages students in the most important, complex public policy choices that confront the United States and its citizens. The curriculum invites participants from all points of view to ask important questions such as:

  • What do the decisions we make about the federal budget, national debt, and budget deficit reveal about us as a people?
  • How should we address our nation’s fiscal challenges now and in the future in a manner consistent with our values and traditions?

The multidisciplinary subject areas and individual lesson topics were chosen because each offers an important way of understanding these issues and because they align with what teachers are already teaching, Marri said. The collection of lessons addresses such dilemmas as:

  • How should we make decisions about reducing or modifying spending on national security? Can we cut military spending and still meet our national security obligations?
  • Should we raise income taxes to reduce the budget deficit and pay down the national debt?
  • What costs and trade-offs are we willing to accept to ensure the benefits of income security to Social Security recipients?
  • Is there a fair and efficient way to fund and maintain the public services we want?

“These are not easy or clear-cut questions,” Marri said. “But as students grapple with these public policy choices, they come to understand what more they need to know, and they acquire skills and learn concepts to deepen their understanding of the challenges.”

At the conclusion of the project, another research organization at Teachers College, Professor Thomas Hatch and Meesuk Ahn, Co-Director and researcher at the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST) at Teachers College, will conduct an evaluation of the curriculum.

The first 10 of 24 lessons in the curriculum will be available in hard copy on May 2. Those 10 lessons, plus an additional five, also will be available for free download at www.understandingfiscalresponsibility.org. The remainder will be available online soon.

Also available online are supplementary materials, including a full glossary of both terms and concepts, and briefs on topics that include core economic concepts and the precepts of numeracy, as well as a blog for teachers that draws on the news of the day as it relates to the issues of the federal debt and deficit, and suggests how and where these topics may be used in the classroom. And, in the conviction that every student should have an opportunity to engage with these lessons, TC is mailing free copies of first 10 lessons to every high school in America.

Patricia Lamiell
Director, Media Relations
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 W. 120th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
New York, NY  10027

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