Most middle schoolers can easily cite the stats of their favorite professional athlete or the details of each performance on American Idol. But how many preteens can tell the latest trends in the stock market and analyze company performances?
In Maryland, the answer is at least 150, thanks to Stocks in the Future, an incentive-based educational pilot program that appears to be changing the way underperforming students feel about school.
While teaching challenged students in seven schools about investing, percentage yields and price/earnings ratios, Stocks in the Future is engaging the participants and improving their attendance and grades. For the first two quarters of the 2002-2003 school year, students attended classes an average of 2.1 days more than control groups in their schools.
"This attendance advantage is both statistically and educationally significant," said Douglas Mac Iver, a principal research scientist at Johns Hopkins' Center for Social Organization of Schools, a partner in the program. "Stocks in the Future students were 2.3 times more likely than control students to achieve perfect attendance."
The curriculum teaches factors that influence business decisions and helps students analyze publicly traded companies and examine various financial instruments. As they learn, students earn Stocks in the Future dollars through various incentives: perfect attendance for the week ($1), improvement in a math or English grade ($2) and receiving an A or A- ($3) or a B+, B or B- ($2). They can earn up to $80 in a school year. With those earnings, students purchase publicly traded stocks that are redeemable when they graduate from high school.
For the program, participating schools identify students who are generally behind in major subject areas on standardized tests, whose attendance is problematic or who demonstrate unsatisfactory behavior and attitude problems. The students receive instruction once a week during the regular school day.
"This is not a project about money. It's about giving students an incentive to change behavior and learn something new," said Pat Bernstein, chair of the Stocks in the Future Foundation. "The program offers the neediest ones a chance to buy into the future in ways they probably would never achieve otherwise. They respond because they are learning something that has relevancy to their lives."
Stocks in the Future is currently offered in seven sixth-grade and two seventh-grade classes. Participating schools are the Barclay Elementary and Francis Scott Key Middle schools in Baltimore, Deer Park Magnet Middle School in Baltimore County, MacArthur and Old Mill middle schools in Anne Arundel County, Neelsville Middle School in Montgomery County and Southern Middle School in Garrett County.
With materials written by CSOS researchers to reinforce math and reading skills, Stocks in the Future examines youth-friendly stocks; with their earnings, students can buy actual shares of Coca-Cola, Sony, AOL Time Warner, Toys 'R' Us and Walt Disney.
Bernstein previously initiated the Cycle Across Maryland Teen Challenge, a summer program that linked marginalized students with adult cycling mentors for weekly training and encouragement that led to a weeklong cycling trip. Completion of the program earned students new bicycles.
"The CAM Teen program gave students success outside the classroom and a boost to self-confidence that carried over in other parts of their lives," Bernstein said. "In developing the Stocks in the Future program, I wanted to apply the same guiding principles within the classroom. The experience [with Cycle Across Maryland] taught me two basic concepts: Students respond to incentives that have perceived value and, most importantly, they need an excuse to change undesirable behavior. [Both] the bicycle and the publicly traded stock act as metaphors for learning life skills."
For more information about Stocks in the Future, go to www.stocksinthefuture.org/index.shtml.