Use of DOR economic model meant to stimulate critical thought, not indoctrinate Anchorage students

There has been a good deal of correspondence, in this newspaper and on talk radio, concerning the use of the Alaska Department of Revenue's Revenue and Expenditure model in an Anchorage School District Professional Development In-Service. I helped coordinate the event and would like to offer a response to some of the criticism.

First I'd like to start with a question that my organization, the Alaska Council for Economic Education, or AKCEE, addresses daily: Why economic education? We believe when children and youths have a better understanding of economics, they can make informed choices and function in a changing world economy. Economics curriculum also enhances learning in math, technology, and social studies, all while teaching and reinforcing important skills in critical thinking, and decision-making.

In helping coordinate the ASD Professional Development In-Service on Oct. 16, my goal was to apply an economic way of thinking and financial literacy content to the current budget sustainability discussion. Unfortunately, this stirred up some controversy because of its use of the Department of Revenue's model. Opponents criticized ASD's decision to host the event, even going so far as to accuse them of training teachers to indoctrinate Alaska's children to the governor's Sustainable Budget Plan. This is simply not true.

I'd like to clarify these points of contention: The lessons were not intended for students to solve the long-term budget situation, but rather, a way to create an environment of engaging students in a current real-world problem. At the in-service, teachers split off into dozens of breakout sessions, and two of them focused on how to use the Revenue and Expenditure Model as a problem-solving exercise.

Although DOR's model is not a perfect model, we found it the easiest to use with teachers and students — though I do thank Brad Keithley for his concern with DOR's model and in the future we will be working with ISER to incorporate its model into related lesson plans. Additionally, UAF eLearning has some work in progress based on ISER's model. In short, the primary differences between ISER's model is that it is a revenue structure model while DOR's is a cyclical model. This is beyond the scope of this discussion, but an article by Commonwealth North available online offers a concise explanation. Both models, at best, are speculative, as all economic models are. However, the negative response about using DOR's model is not relevant to the point or goal of the lessons. As put by Sam Oullaris, senior economist at the International Monetary Fund Institute: "The very process of constructing, testing, and revising models forces economists and policymakers to tighten their views about how an economy works. This in turn promotes scientific debate over what drives economic behavior."

AKCEE believes problem-solving should be a part of any curriculum, including social studies and certainly economics. The process assumes students take responsibility for their own learning, take action, resolve conflicts, discuss and debate alternatives. The economic principles and decision-making tools which AKCEE teaches provide students with methods to use their newly-acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and at higher levels of understanding. The overarching goal of the model is to help students, their parents and others understand that even government lives in world of trade-offs. This is a valuable exercise. The lessons developed for the in-service encouraged discussion and written responses from students to the problem in their own words —? not the governor's.

To reiterate, the intent of the Professional Development In-Service and accompanying lessons involving DOR's model were purely academic in nature. It is imperative that Alaskan students learn the terminology of the state budget and explain possible ways to provide adequate revenue and practice prudent spending.

I invite all Alaskans to explore both Alaska Department of Revenue's revenue and expenditure model and ISER's Fiscal Planning Model, available online.

In conclusion, I applaud Anchorage School District for working to teach students about the state's budget and fiscal issues although it is a very complicated subject and not easy for the public, teachers or students to understand.

And a special thanks to Paul, Brad and David for making this a civics lesson as well.

Greg Huff has worked as labor economist for the Alaska Department of Labor and as a Social Studies educator in the Anchorage School District. He currently serves as director for the Alaska Council for Economic Education where he helps coordinate professional development in-services for ASD Social Studies teachers.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.