Written on: September 27th, 2013 in Education
In working to improve educational opportunities for our young people, we must recognize that different students learn best in different ways. Teachers need flexibility in their classrooms to find the best ways to reach individual students. However, some universal truths should be at the core of our efforts to prepare the next generation for future success. One of these fundamental principles is that healthy children learn better and have a greater chance to reach their potential.
That sounds simple enough, but the reality is that while childhood obesity increases, many of our youth have don’t have enough opportunities to be physically active. Youth ages eight to 18 average 6.5 hours per day with electronic media while children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation.
With these trends in mind, I look forward to welcoming leaders from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils (NFGFC) to Delaware today to cut the ribbon on new state-of-the-art fitness centers at three schools in our state. The schools received the centers from NFGFC, funded by NFGFC’s sponsors, for demonstrating new and innovative ways to promote student physical activity and wellness.
It’s exciting to see sparkling facilities in our schools and these events also offer an important opportunity to highlight the invaluable benefits of physical activity in our young people’s development.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer, while strengthening psychological health by decreasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile, recent studies have shown the direct benefits of better fitness in the classroom. It improves a students’ ability to learn and can significantly boost their academic achievement.
These facilities can’t help but generate enthusiasm about ways to make our youth fitter and healthier, furthering the mission of NFGFC Chairman Jake Steinfeld, who has made it his life’s work to fight childhood obesity.
We’re taking the opportunity presented by Jake’s visit to emphasize that our mission to engage students in physical and outdoor activities goes beyond gym class.
In Delaware, we take seriously a point stressed by Harold Kohl III, chair of an Institute of Medicine Committee that recently released findings recommending increased physical activity for students: “This is a whole-of-school approach. It’s not just physical education. It’s everything that occurs during school as well as around the school day.”
Last year, as part of our effort to combat childhood obesity, we launched a Children in Nature initiative with the goal of having “No Child Left Inside” and offering more opportunities for young people in our state to enjoy Delaware’s outdoors. By implementing experiential education and promoting environmental literacy, our schools can tap abundant opportunities to use the natural world in providing a well-rounded curriculum. We’re encouraging them to create opportunities to reconnect children with nature, such as using outdoor classrooms and incorporating nature-based activities into their lessons.
School-related activities should be accompanied by after-school opportunities. Earlier this week, we named the recipients of the first round of our new $2.2 million in after-school program funding from this year’s budget. We held the announcement at South Dover Elementary School, where third and fourth graders in participating in “Girls on the Run” take part in self-esteem building exercises while training for a 5K. This program epitomizes our goal to give youth a safe setting to enjoy the arts, nature and physical activity.
We must continue to do everything we can to provide our young people with the highest quality educational curriculum to prepare them for bright futures in college and careers. However, we’re also mindful that the best lesson plans won’t be as effective for students who aren’t healthy.
This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.
Written on: September 20th, 2013 in Helping Our Neighbors
We have not done nearly enough to give Americans control over their financial destinies. It’s time to start educating Americans about personal finance.
Many of today’s economic proposals from cities, states, and the White House focus on growing the middle class, and for good reason. But we are not paying enough attention to one of the major barriers to joining the middle class: personal finance know-how.
Helping people understand their finances is absolutely essential in today’s economy. In an era when wages are pressured by global competition and technological change, having a command of personal finance basics can make all the difference to America’s working families. All Americans need to feel comfortable planning for retirement, managing their rent payments, and keeping up with their student loans.
We have not done nearly enough to give Americans control over their financial destinies. Indeed, half of all Americans say they could not pull together $2,000 in 30 days to fix a car or pay an unanticipated medical bill, according to a previous study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. When faced with such events, millions fall into the clutches of predatory financial institutions, trapped by exorbitant rates charged by payday lenders or unscrupulous creditors. Too many families find themselves locked in a debt cycle they were never taught to avoid. Emotional stress, depression, and divorce too often follow. The most recent Census Bureau data shows that half of all U.S. households earn less than $52,000 a year. These families often face unexpected expenses that can quickly turn into crises.
In a national Harris Interactive survey released this week, nearly a third of U.S. adults admit their lack of knowledge has led to poor financial decisions and more than 40% acknowledge they’ve missed out on good financial opportunities as a result.
How do we address these problems? We need to provide financial education and support. The private and public sector — businesses, governments, educators and non-profits — must work together to achieve this goal.
To be sure, knowing how to put together a personal budget or how a credit score works won’t raise a person’s income. But it can make a paycheck go further and show families how to avoid decisions that cause long-term harm. While some of today’s financial stressors will persist until the economy improves, a better grasp of the financial basics can make a huge difference to millions right now.
In Delaware, we have partnered with United Way of Delaware since 2011 to offer citizens of our state access to personal financial coaching. That program, “Stand By Me,” provides information about non-predatory financial products, as well as help with financial issues related to post-secondary education, including financial aid and student loan debt.
Staff is trained to be objective, non-judgmental, and confidential. Our businesses offer financial coaching onsite as an employee benefit and our community college offers it to their students. We’re testing a new curriculum for K-12 students as well. Our coaches are not simply number crunchers — they help people plan and provide moral support to carry out their goals.
Of the almost 3,000 Delawareans who have worked with a coach since 2011, 82% reviewed their credit for the first time, 53% worked on household budgets, and added savings to their budget, 42% took action to improve their credit. But ours is just one promising approach and we need more help from every corner, including the private sector.
In Delaware, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo have supported the “Stand By Me” personal financial empowerment program. And beyond Delaware, Bank of America is focused on making complex financial concepts easy to understand for people of all ages and recently joined with K-12 education innovator Khan Academy to create free web-based financial lessons accessible to everyone at bettermoneyhabits.com. Khan Academy has become the face of K-12 online education in America, teaching more than six million students every month.
While many financial institutions and other companies have taken action to educate their customers about financial literacy, government and business leaders must do more. Delaware is home to many of this country’s leading financial institutions, and I’ll be reaching out to leaders of these companies to bring their best ideas to the table.
I look forward to enlisting state, local, and federal level officials and private sector leaders. Together, we must empower Americans to be effective stewards of their own economic destinies.
Government and business leaders must stop thinking of financial literacy as courses and brochures and start thinking about it as an essential service for the success of their employees and constituents. Delaware’s “Stand By Me” partnership has shown that this investment can be affordable through public-private partnerships and collaboration. Costs can be shared. And just as society saves money when people receive health services that prevent them from getting sick in the first place, it will be less expensive if we help individuals and families avoid personal financial crises.
This blog was originally published in Fortune Magazine.
Written on: September 10th, 2013 in Education
Delaware is one of many states investing in strengthening its education system by, among other things, implementing the Common Core standards. But the impact of all K-12 education policies will be limited unless students are prepared to learn on day one.
Despite positive rhetoric from leaders across the political spectrum, we are still not investing enough in early childhood education across the country. We just learned that policies in Washington have shut 57,000 children out of Head Start. We are moving in the wrong direction.
Those in Washington who fight additional investment have not considered the economic consequences of failing to act. When some Congressional Republicans say that “throwing more money into the nation’s education system is not the right answer to the challenges facing our classrooms,” they should examine the empirical research on early learning. Few uses of taxpayer money produce a higher public return than investments in early education when you consider the massive savings in future education, health care, and criminal justice system costs.
Off of Capitol Hill there here have been bipartisan calls for action. Governors from both parties are investing in early learning and it was the topic of a recent event co-hosted by two groups that would seem to have little in common: the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
President Obama has already made this issue a priority with his Early Learning Challenge, showing how Washington can leverage a small amount of competitive funding to great effect by encouraging innovative state-run programs. In Delaware, the design and growth of our pre-kindergarten efforts were helped by this federal investment.
But while the President continues to do what he can, the politics of Washington are a major roadblock to further federal action. Although we continue to welcome federal help, states must pick up the baton and work toward the goal of ensuring early learning opportunities for every American child.
That doesn’t mean simply enrolling all of our children in preschool. It’s the quality of care that matters. Study after study shows that children receiving quality early care are more likely to be successful in school, become better citizens, and earn more. Getting results requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on learning environment, health, and the capabilities of the professionals caring for children.
In Delaware, as in other leading states, we have a roadmap for what works:
Learning Environment: Like many states, Delaware assigns ratings to early childhood programs. An effective system uses clear metrics that help educate families on the best options for their children. That means evaluating curriculum, teacher qualifications and development, family and community partnerships, and leadership and administration.
Of course, we want every center to reach the highest level, but, historically, disadvantaged children have attended lower-rated programs that lack financial resources to improve. In Delaware, we’ve leveled the playing field for our kids. Higher rated centers receive more state aid to support enrollment of low-income children, making quality programs available to children who need them the most.
Health: Fewer than half of children with developmental delays are identified before they start school and services for Medicaid-funded screenings for low-income children are often overlooked. We must increase screenings that identify physical and behavioral health concerns, and provide appropriate referral and follow up services. Meanwhile, early childhood centers need to promote healthy eating and physical activity, while working with parents to support these practices at home.
In Delaware, we’re also reaching out to pediatricians and parents to ensure children receive all of these services and we’re sending Health Ambassadors to the neediest communities for events like community baby showers, where pregnant women learn about health resources.
Workforce: All of our efforts are only as good as the people who execute them, but many of the people in our early childhood workforce cannot afford to increase their qualifications. In Delaware, we offer scholarships to early learning staff to support additional education, and we’re training more licensed behavioral health specialists. In addition, by basing the ratings and support for early childhood centers in part on the credentials of their teachers, we help increase professional development.
Early childhood investments have never been more important. Recent studies have offered new insight into the challenges faced by disadvantaged children, finding that parents’ income and education levels correlate to their children’s brain development. However, research also shows we know how to overcome that challenge through a positive learning environment in a child’s first five years, when 90 percent of brain development takes place.
Fredrick Douglass famously said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” States are taking us to the next level, moving beyond rhetoric, and implementing practical solutions. It is time for Congressional Republicans to follow.
This blog post was originally published on Politico.