Bill Smith: The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in partnership with The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has begun a thorough assessment to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the two Reserve Banks' financial and economic education efforts.
Instructor: You know, getting students understanding the difference between monopoly, and monopolistic competition; they sound the same. They're not the same.
Bobbie McCrackin: Economic education really refers to a set of programs where we have formal learning goals in mind for the intended constituency.
Instructor: Once I'm to this point in the class I realize that everyone has their demand curve drawn, I've corrected any problems that students might have had.
McCrackin: The bread and butter of the programs is face-to-face teacher workshops, either that we sponsor or that we participate in as a presenter in somebody else's conference.
McCrackin [with students]: Treasury bonds, a government bond, is very safe because we've got the government behind it.
Julie Hotchkiss: And the idea, basically, is to educate the public about economic and financial issues. And the theory is that a better-educated public is going to provide for a more stable economy.
McCrackin [with students]: When you save your money you want to invest it, you want to make it grow.
Hotchkiss: Nobody disagrees on whether or not a better-educated public is a good thing or not. The question becomes whether or not the Fed should be the vehicle through which this education is delivered.
Charles Davidson [with students]: The Fed goes out and makes sure these banks are lending in a sound manner.
McCrackin: Most people probably don't have an opportunity to go through a formal economics training once they get out of high school. So in order to reach that need most effectively, we target teachers.
We have an online newsletter called Extra Credit; it goes to teachers around the Southeast.
Mark DeCourcy [with students]: See, Atlanta's got what? Five branches: one, two, three, four, five.
McCrackin: We also have a tour program where teachers come with their students and go through a guided tour.
Instructor: This is a cash processing area.
McCrackin: And then finally, we have some curriculum and materials that we distribute.
DeCourcy: Those are nice because they give you real-life examples, contemporary stuff, things that the kids can relate to.
McCrackin: The overall mission of economic and financial education is carried out by several entities in the bank, in addition to Public Affairs. The branches in Community Affairs play especially important roles.
McCrackin [with students]: OK, how about this table here?
McCrackin: The assessment project that the Fed is undertaking is being done by two teams of academics. In the first phase of the assessment we used several instruments to test three programs on a pilot basis. These were instruments that we had to create and test for their validity, and then actually apply to these pilot programs.
McCrackin [with students]: If you're really lucky you might get a savings account for 4 percent.
McCrackin: The instruments we use included a survey of teachers that included information about their experience and other factors that might influence the outcome. Importantly, it included a pre- and post-test. And finally, we surveyed teachers after the fact, about six weeks later, to find out if they were actually using what they had learned in the materials they'd received.
Instructor: What's happening to the demand for most products in Atlanta over the last 10 years?
McCrackin: The instruments were designed to measure knowledge gain, behavioral change, and the reach of our programs.
Instructor: So, let's talk about supply-and-demand curves: friend or foe?
McCrackin: The results of the first-phase tests were really positive. We found that 90 percent of the teachers said they intended to use the materials and the learning in their classroom. And, of this group, when they were surveyed about six weeks later, 60 percent said they actually had used the materials already.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, the teachers did have a big knowledge gain—on average about 18.6 percent improvement in their test scores.
The bank will do several important things with these findings. First of all, we will modify our programs. Secondly, we'll be using the tools that we get out of this initiative to continuously assess our programs going forward. Thirdly, we want to share these assessment tools with others who are out there also doing economic and financial education. And finally, we're going to be using the results of this assessment to help us in our marketing efforts. We're trying to attract more teachers to take advantage of our programs. And we think it will be helpful in those four ways.
Smith: The Atlanta and St. Louis Feds, assessing the effectiveness of the Banks' economic and financial education programs. Visit the Atlanta Fed Web site at www.frbatlanta.org for periodic updates and findings about the assessment study.