Program teaches teachers about economics

Lakeland College, located in Sheboygan County, recently replaced the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as the host of the Milwaukee Center for Economic Education.

One of eight similar centers throughout the state sponsored by Economics Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Center for Economic Education provides economics instruction to K-12 teachers to help them teach finance and economics to their students. The center also provides economics programs for students.

“The goal of the center is to expand the economic literacy of people in the community,” said Scott Niederjohn, associate professor of economics and director of Lakeland College’s Sheboygan Center for Economic Education.
UW-Milwaukee was the host for the Milwaukee area economic education program, but UWM decided to cut ties with the program, and now the Milwaukee Center for Education is managed by Lakeland College at its Milwaukee area adult education campus in West Allis.
“When UW-Milwaukee decided to close the center, Economics Wisconsin reached out to Lakeland College because of the things we were doing with our own center in Sheboygan,” Niederjohn said. “It seemed like a natural fit for us.”
Each economics education center in the state has its own director who has a doctorate in education or economics, who is responsible for offering programs to teachers in that geographic region.
The goal of the center is to improve the economic and financial education of students in the state.
“The most efficient and effective way of getting to K-12 students is through their teachers,” said Jim Guenther, president and chief executive officer of Economics Wisconsin.
Tim O’Driscoll, known by many in the Milwaukee area as the official scorekeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers and as the longtime baseball coach at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, has served as the director for the Milwaukee Center for Education for the past four years. He is continuing in his role as director under Lakeland College’s control.
“Ultimately our goal is to increase the public’s knowledge about basic economics and personal finance,” O’Driscoll said. “To do that we have a variety of programs dedicated to the education of children, but a large portion of our outreach is towards the teachers who encounter hundreds of kids each year, it’s a multiplying effect.”
Over the last three years, the Milwaukee Center for Education has conducted learning seminars and programs for nearly 15,000 teachers, O’Driscoll said. Those teachers encounter anywhere from 30 to 150 kids year after year.
According to O’Driscoll, the center conducts most of its seminars for teachers free of charge with the help of sponsors by local banks and financial institutions.
“The Council on Economic Education, puts out a wide variety of curriculum materials for teachers that teach kindergarten through twelve grade,” O’Driscoll said.
During the seminars, the teachers are given curriculum materials, and taught various lessons and techniques on teaching basic economics and personal finance to their students, O’Driscoll said.
The center measures the effectiveness of its education courses by pre-testing and post testing the teachers’ students, he said.
“This is our fourth year of testing kids in this way,” O’Driscoll said. “The results are clear that if you teach kids about personal finance and basic economics they will learn it.”
In addition to educating the teachers on how to teach their students O’Driscoll visits classrooms on occasion and also hosts summer programs for children.
“Our goal is to expand the economic knowledge of people and putting the materials in the hands of classroom teachers is one way we can do it,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid of economics. I can’t think of another area that people use every single day and that’s why we’re doing what we are doing.”

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