Five years ago, there was no such thing as the Mississippi Council on Economic Education.
Now the group is holding awards luncheons with more than 700 people in attendance and being recognized as one of the leading chapters of the National Council on Economic Education.
The MCEE held its Forum on American Enterprise last week at the Jackson Marriott, where it honored Sen. Thad Cochran, who is responsible for getting the group off the ground, and named its U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran Economics Teacher of the Year Award, given to Terry Smith of Oak Grove High School.
The Council also administers the Master Teacher in Economics Program that trains high school teachers on the most effective methods of teaching economics. Data compiled by the MCEE shows that teachers who had not completed the course scored an average of 62% out of 100 on the Test of Economic Literacy; those who had finished it scored an average of 86%.
“Teachers cannot teach what they do not know,” said Ted Alexander, CEO of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation and chairperson of the MCEE’s board of directors.
To that end, the MCEE has made it its mission to ensure high school graduates have a deep enough understanding of economics to make wise decisions when they become workers, consumers and investors.
The particulars of the economy are the at the point of the spear in elections that will decide the next President and the next junior senator from Mississippi. The turbulence of Wall Street and the financial system as a whole have prompted the federal government to intervene on a number of levels in efforts to restore public confidence and re-align market forces.
“There has never been a time in American history where we need economic education like we do today,” Alexander said.
Mississippi is one of 17 states that require high school students to have at least one credit in economics to graduate. Those efforts did not go unnoticed recently during the meeting of the National Council on Economic Education in Biloxi.
“This state is fast becoming a model on how to build an economic and financial education system,” NCEE executive director Joe Peri told the crowd at the Marriott. “The commitment the leaders in this state are making is phenomenal. Mississippi is making great strides in the economic and financial education of its young people. This has everything to do with being a responsible, well-educated adult.”
The economic requirement was one facet of the high school curriculum redesign plan state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds presented to lawmakers a couple years ago. The redesign aims to make high school curriculums more relevant to a modern economy.
“We’ve got to make certain when (high school students) graduate that they have the skill set to be competitive,” Bounds said.
That goes beyond the ability to balance a checkbook. Today’s economy reaches beyond the borders of the United States, creating a marketplace that involves all countries.
“Like it or not, we’re in a global economy,” Gov. Haley Barbour said. “We need to give our students the tools they need to succeed in that economy. Economic education has to start early. Some in this room believe it should start in kindergarten.”
The economics requirement, an the master course given to teachers, has been met with success at the ground level.
“I use my Master Teacher of Economics certification in every way possible,” said Brandon High School teacher Monica Roland. “It has increased my knowledge of the topic, making me better able to instruct my students.”
In his keynote speech, Cochran pointed to the long-term benefits economic education will have.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .