Financial literacy, and the role of K-12 schools in promoting it, is getting lots of attention these days. To date, some states have developed standards for teaching financial literacy, but where do schools turn for resources to implement those standards and who do they turn to for advice on what aspects of money management they should teach and when?

As a country, our financial literacy skills are dismal. Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, and data from the Federal Reserve show that consumer debt hit an all-time high in early August.

For youth, the outlook is not much better. In 2015, the PISA financial literacy assessment found that 15-year-olds in the U.S. scored below the OECD mean. Clearly, education should be doing more to ensure that students are graduating with financial literacy skills, and while most K-12 teachers understand the importance of teaching financial literacy, as shown in a 2016 survey, only 12 percent teach it.

This article offers suggestions for how to teach financial literacy.

"Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test." #financialliteracy

Where States Stand on Financial Literacy

First, educators need to understand the landscape when it comes to implementing state-wide financial literacy standards. The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy provides this overview of state K-12 efforts:

  • 45 states (+DC) include personal finance in their literacy standards.
  • 37 states (+DC) require the standards be implemented.
  • 22 states (+DC) require a high school class be offered.
  • 17 states (+DC) require a high school class be taken.
  • 7 states (+DC) require a standardized test on personal finance concepts be administered.

In states that do offer financial literacy, implementation of the standards varies widely. At the high school level, financial literacy curriculum is often delivered as a separate course within social studies, consumer science, or business. In elementary and middle schools, there is often debate over which traditional subject should incorporate the standards. However, given the research on the importance of numeracy, a solid math education will go a long way in promoting financial literacy.

(Next page: What to teach and where to find materials for financial literacy)

About the Author:

Beth Tallman is a financial educator, freelance writer and consultant. She developed the personal finance curriculum for Oberlin College. She writes articles on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshop, and develops finance curricula and educational content, including the financial literacy lessons for OppU. Ms. Tallman is the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition Financial Literacy Coalition.


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