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Readers: Financial literacy is a school’s responsibility


"Someday very soon, these high school students will be adults in your community," said one reader.

In a time where budget cuts are the norm, student loan debt has reached an all-time high, and the economy shows slow improvement, a recent report reveals that few K-12 schools nationwide teach economics or financial literacy.

According to the Council for Economic Education report, titled “Survey of the States: Economic and Personal Finance Education in Our Nation’s Schools 2011,” fewer than half of states require high school students to take an economics class, and fewer states now require high schools to offer financial literacy classes than in 2009, even though another report concluded that two-thirds of college students don’t understand the terms of their loans.

Many financial experts say that by not teaching financial literacy or even basic economics to high schoolers, schools are not preparing them for adulthood—and our readers seem to agree.

According to a 2010 study that surveyed approximately 16,000 college students, titled “Financial Capabilities of College Students from States with Varying Financial Education Policies,” by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), students from states that required a financial education class were “more likely to display positive financial behaviors.” When compared to their peers, these students were more likely to save money, less likely to max out their credit cards, less likely to make late credit card payments, and less likely to be compulsive buyers.

“The financial crisis has put economic news on the front pages of newspapers daily, requiring individuals not just to be abreast of concepts such as deficit, national debt, and interest rate spread, but also to evaluate the economic reforms that political leaders are proposing,” wrote Annamaria Lusard, an economics professor at George Washington University School of Business, in the Council on Economic Education report.

“Just as it was not possible to live in an industrialized society without print literacy—the ability to read and write—so it is not possible to live in today’s world without being financially literate. To fully participate in society today, financial literacy is critical.”

In a recent eSchool News “Question of the Week,” we asked readers: “Should financial literacy be included in high school education? Why or why not?”

Almost every response we received said “yes” to teaching financial literacy in schools, including reasons such as promoting responsible citizenship and securing our economic future. Some readers also gave advice on how to incorporate financial literacy education into the curriculum without putting more of a strain on school and teacher resources.

(Responses are edited for brevity.)

Financial literacy is more important than Shakespeare

“School is for learning the skills students need for life, and I can’t think of one topic that students need any more than financial literacy. Long after Shakespeare and algebra will only be a memory, how people handle money will be the one skill that, if mastered early, will matter for a lifetime.” —Becky L. Maracich, district literacy and tutoring program coordinator, Salt River Community Schools, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Poor financial skills affect communities … and schools

“I think it is the responsibility of the schools to prepare kids to manage their money as part of preparing them to hold jobs and be responsible citizens. Here’s the schools’ motivation to do it: Someday very soon, these high school students will be adults in your community. They will be looking for jobs, housing, food, and clothing. If they cannot manage these tasks themselves, they will have to move out of the community or go on welfare. Either way, if they fail, they are not feeding their taxes into the school system, the city, county, and state where they live. So if the ‘moral responsibility to prepare kids for life’ argument doesn’t hold water, have them run the numbers! Look at where school funding comes from! My high school required all seniors to either take Financial Rights or Economics for graduation. These classes taught topics like how to balance a checkbook, create a budget, evaluate the information in newspapers about investments, and track stocks over time to see long-term versus short-term outcomes. No surprise, the town I lived in is known for its affluence and its reputation for passing every single school bond measure put to vote.” —Jenny Matteson

Teach financial literacy to help the future economy

“In an era of tightening budgets, where schools are facing tough choices and bottom lines, I respect the pushback when it comes to schools offering financial literacy courses. Ideally, perhaps, teaching financial literacy should be a parental responsibility, but school is a venue for learning, and financial literacy is critically important when it comes to preparing for life after school. Financial literacy does not need to be a year-long, or even semester-long, course. A few choice seminars spread over the course of a year, or a child’s school career, are a start. Standardized test scores don’t measure the impact of financial literacy courses, which is a shame considering individual long-term financial health is dependent on smart decisions. Respectfully, schools should take pride in the idea of offering a financial literacy course; it’s a course whose potential return on investment may be measured in the future economic health of American society.” —Tarsi Dunlop

Student loan debt and bankruptcy are serious problems

“As a university professor for 30-plus years, I strongly believe that students should be taught about personal finance matters. Too many young people get into college and are bombarded with offers of credit cards and financial aid that they do not understand. My own son looks on financial aid as ‘free money.’ Despite the fact that he is now 26 years old, he still applies for and receives financial aid as if it were a gift from the government. He is working on a MBA in accounting and has a full tuition grant. I have repeatedly reminded him that all of that ‘free money’ will ultimately have to be paid back, but he does not seem to fathom just how much he will owe, or how much the monthly payments will be. It took him just four months in college to declare bankruptcy due to a credit card with a higher limit than I have ever had in my life. My hope is that someday soon he will wake up, as bankruptcy is not an option on student loans.” —James R. Anthos, MBA, MS/CIS, South University – Columbia, Asst. Professor & IT Program Director, Columbia, S.C.

Economics is not financial literacy

This should be taught in high school as a required class, and it should not be circumvented by taking advanced classes like Economics—as some schools allow—unless there is a specific unit built into that advanced class. Understanding how money works, the real cost of credit (both financially and through credit reports), the importance of saving, making a budget, insurance as a form of risk mitigation, and investing for the future would benefit every student, no matter their economic status or academic ability. In lieu of taking the class, students may be allowed to test out with a specific assessment that addresses these areas, including some math problems for figuring interest, budgeting, and keeping a checking account, plus some basics on tipping in a restaurant and making change.” —Trina Priese, Business Education, LaSalle Spring Middle School (formerly taught “Everyday Money Management” in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade)

Young people don’t know how to save

So many young people go to college without the basic understanding of the value of saving versus spending. Credit card companies prey upon these vulnerable ‘adults;’ lending companies that charge 100+% interest get away with their predatory habits [owing] to the lack of financial literacy. … [This is] why we are in debt nationally and globally. This skill and understanding has to be addressed and should be part of the graduation requirements for high school. I am addressing this from having done the paperwork for B, C, and D mortgage loans and decided that teaching before the train wreck was more productive.” —Angie Brummett

It’s the responsibility of mathematics teachers and parents

“As a part of the high school curriculum, no, financial literacy should not be set apart as a dedicated course. So much of it naturally arises from general math and can be covered through real-life applications included in the core mathematics. Students just need to have the connections pointed out to them, and practiced in textbook or supplemental exercises. I do support in-school investment clubs as an extra-curricular activity. A better choice would be to raise mathematics requirements, and adopt textbooks that offer financial literacy as one part of a concept. Ideally, families need to spend more time with their children, and involve them in budgeting and bill paying, insurance shopping, investments, tax filing, etc., and use correct terminology with their children. Excellent parent resources, provided by government and not-for-profit agencies, abound. Insofar as the financial ramifications of student loans, that could be more legitimately handled as part of extra-curricular college orientation and pre-planning sessions.” —Jay Matthews

Parents aren’t responsible, so schools have to be

“I agree that financial literacy should be taught in schools. Yes, there was a time when financial education took place in the home and in the community. We can say those times are, for all intention purposes, gone! If anything, the recent economic events in the nation have proven several points: A great many people are unfit to give this training to their children. The evolution of the community and the economic partners that surround these people are the very people who will make money from the mistakes that these children will make in their ignorance. You can say that it is in this way that they will learn, as we did. … In the end, all of us will suffer the repercussions of this lack of experience and instruction.  I would encourage teachers to make time, and take time, for this important piece of our students’ education.” —Barbara Podbielski, curriculum consultant, Columbiana County Educational Service Center, Lisbon, Ohio

It takes a village to teach financial literacy

“That we are even having this debate underscores the problem of disciplinary parochialism and deniability—if I can claim something is ‘not my job,’ I can avoid responsibility. Now I know that most teachers take on more, not less, responsibility; I also understand the frustration that comes when teachers are asked to do more, often with even fewer resources of time, staff, or funding. On the other hand, life is like that, too—and while I believe we should ask students to envision better, more ideal social norms and communities, we also need to equip them to live in the real world. So even though I teach college English, I will regularly incorporate other disciplines into our discussions of essay writing, argument and persuasion, and literature. I choose articles which cover personal finance as well as many other topics for journal response writing, and students have written very perceptive responses to some of these articles indicating that they had never stopped to think about financial realities, about what a reasonable estimate of their own future earnings might be, or even about the possible need to scale down their personal consumption, particularly to economize for a specific need or goal.

“But the burden must not fall entirely on schools. Parents should be teaching their children the realities of income vs. expenditures, budgeting, saving, borrowing and repayment, investing, retirement and health account funds, and personal credit. Community organizations and business should find it in their best interests to develop these skills and concepts in the public at large by providing free classes in public libraries, community centers, even their own places of business–classes for adults who never received this training but also classes for students at different levels.” —Deborah S. DeCiantis, Ph.D., associate professor of English, adviser to The Mountain Laurel North Greenville University

Many teachers aren’t prepared to teach the subject

Part of the problem is that many teachers do not feel competent to teach these subjects. The Kansas Council on Economic Education (KCEE), the other state councils, and the Council for Economic Education (our international affiliate) are striving to address these issues. We train teachers, provide standards-based curriculum materials, and provide programs and competitions that engage students with practical applications of knowledge. While we advocate for dedicated courses in economics and personal finance at the high school level, we emphasize that concepts from these subjects must be infused into other subjects starting in kindergarten. Concepts from economics and personal finance can be integrated into math, social studies, family and consumer sciences, language arts, and other subjects. Information about the Council for Economic Education (CEE) is available through its website at www.councilforeconed.org.” —James J. Graham, president and CEO, Kansas Council on Economic Education (www.kcee.wichita.edu), Wichita State University

Offer online courses in financial literacy

If the high schools do not have the time or programs to do so, they should find a vendor who does have the time and the programs.  E-cademyLearning Center is one of those vendors that have the programs online to address this issue. I believe that these programs can best be used in a blended learning environment—that is to say that the students would have the responsibility to view the financial literacy program at home as homework and then come to discuss the issues at school.” —Alfonso Garcia, senior vice president, sales and marketing, E-cademy Learning Center

Integrate financial literacy with other classes to reduce extra stress

“Should financial literacy be added to high school curriculum? Yes, but public school districts face the same issues as colleges: less money and not enough time. What would high schools take out to make room for this requirement? Maybe financial literacy could be added to already required … economics classes? In Colorado, we are already asking students to start planning for college in 7th and 8th grade; why not have them look at what it will cost and how to pay for it? Or will that discourage some of our kids from even attempting to go to college?” —Katherine Dockerty, teacher-librarian, Mandalay Middle School

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