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The online edition of the magazine published by The Johns Hopkins University, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences


A Smart Investment in the Future

illustrationThe students in Pat LoPiano’s seventh grade math class—many of whom struggle with grades, attendance, and the increasingly important standardized tests—began last year by taking a personality test. Am I a risk taker? Conservative? Aggressive?

Not idle questions for these pre-teens, since the conclusions they reached would directly impact the make-up of their investment portfolios.

The Elkridge Landing Middle School students are among those from eight Maryland schools participating in the Stocks in the Future program, an innovative supplementary curriculum developed by researchers at Hopkins’ Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS) in partnership with the Stocks in the Future Foundation. Students in the program can earn up to $80 a year investing in publicly traded stocks like Coca-Cola Co., PetsMart, and Time Warner—stocks they can cash in when they graduate from high school and turn 18.

The program’s overarching goal is to boost school performance for at-risk kids by building their knowledge of “financial life skills,” says CSOS program director Craig Terbeek. But there’s a metaphoric component, too. “We’re hoping that kids can look at themselves and see the potential for growth there, too,” he says. “To see that if they’re willing to make sacrifices right now, to invest in themselves and their education, the dividends will come in the future.”

LoPiano has found that students who don’t normally fare well in math really shine when the coursework turns to graphing stock performance and understanding debt to equity ratio. “They showed an aptitude you wouldn’t necessarily see in a regular math course.”

Concurs Terbeek, “There are some kids who just take to it. You can see that light in their eyes…when they get the sense that they understand something that many adults don’t get. It’s pretty high-level thinking.”

There’s more than anecdotal evidence to show that the four-year-old pilot program improves student performance, notes Douglas MacIver, principal researcher at CSOS. He studied 195 students from eight schools who participated in the program during the 2003-04 school year, as well as a control group of 222 students who did not take the course. Stocks in the Future students attended school an average of 3.2 days of school more than their control group counterparts—equivalent to two weeks more of school over the course of the middle school years.

Participating students also scored higher on vocabulary, reading composition, and applied math questions, says MacIver.

Pat Bernstein, founder and chair of the Stocks in the Future Foundation, established to provide financial support (together with corporate sponsors) for the program, has been thrilled to see the program’s growth since its inception in 2001. “The students are so excited and we’re impacting attendance,” says Bernstein. “It’s setting off bells among administrators about restructuring learning in other classes as well.” In fact, says Bernstein, initial discussions are under way with Baltimore County Schools about integrating concepts from the Stocks in the Future program across the curriculum in the county’s middle schools.

As program director, Terbeek works closely with teachers at participating schools to implement the three-year math curriculum, which begins with students in sixth grade. Classes meet at least once a week, some (like LoPiano’s) up to three times a week. Under the program’s incentive plan, students can earn the chance to buy stocks by improving their grades and attendance.

MacIver, Terbeek, and their CSOS colleagues will continue to tweak the curriculum based on the data they generate and feedback they receive from participating teachers and students. Terbeek, for example, says he’d like to expand the choice of stocks beyond the current low-risk funds currently offered. Almost uniformly, students in the program tend to be “high risk-takers,” Terbeek says. “I’d like us to offer some lower-priced stocks with higher volatility—to make it more thrilling for them.”

—Sue De Pasquale





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