By MARTIN CRUTSINGERWASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that increasing the Fed's openness and accountability has been a top priority of his during the eight years he has been leader of the central bank. Bernanke said the central bank, which is marking its centennial this year, was reluctant during its early years to explain its actions or otherwise engage with the public. But he said that began to change in the 1990s and the process has accelerated during his time as chairman. Bernanke's comments came at a town hall meeting the Fed held Wednesday night with teachers gathered in Washington and participating by webcast around the country. It was the third teacher town hall meeting for Bernanke, who will be stepping down as Fed chairman on Jan. 31. "Increasing the Fed's transparency, openness and accountability has been one of my top priorities as chairman," Bernanke said in his remarks. "A more open Fed, in my view, is both a more effective and more democratically legitimate institution." Bernanke has pushed for a number of changes to make the Fed more open, including expanding the information provided in the policy statements it issues after its meetings. Bernanke also started the practice of holding news conferences after four of the eight meetings each year to answer questions about the Fed's policy moves. Bernanke is leaving the Fed when his second four-year term ends. Before coming to the Fed, Bernanke had been a highly regarded economics professor at Princeton. In his comments, Bernanke said that it is important for teachers to educate their students about economic matters, including how the Fed's actions can influence the economy through the central bank's control over interest rates. Bernanke said that to help in that effort, the Fed had prepared a series of three lesson plans that examine the Fed's first 100 years.