April 21, 2021

Should All Schools Teach Financial Literacy?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times…

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

How well do you think you manage money? Has anyone ever taught you any money-management skills? In general, how “financially literate” do you think you are? For instance, do you know how to budget and save? How to set up a bank account? Apply for financial aid and college loans?

Does your school teach these skills already? If not, do you wish it did? Should passing a financial-literacy class be a requirement for graduating from high school?

In “Pandemic Helps Stir Interest in Teaching Financial Literacy,” Ann Carrns writes about the growing interest in teaching students personal financial skills in U.S. schools:

As of early 2020, high school students in 21 states were required to take a personal finance course to graduate, according to the Council for Economic Education, which promotes economic and personal finance education for students in kindergarten through high school. That was a net gain of four states since the council’s previous count two years earlier.

“We are making progress,” said Billy J. Hensley, president and chief executive of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a nonprofit group that promotes effective financial education.

“I do think the pandemic is bringing more attention to the topic,” he said, noting that after the financial crisis more than a decade ago there was also a flurry of financial literacy proposals in state legislatures.

An increasing number of studies support the effectiveness of financial literacy education when taught by well-trained teachers, said Nan J. Morrison, chief executive of the Council for Economic Education. And more teachers now say they feel confident teaching the material. A study released in March by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Montana State University found significant increases in teacher participation in professional development.

Still, the rigor of high school financial education varies. Just six states require high school students to complete a semester-long, stand-alone personal finance course, the council’s 2020 report found. Some states permit shorter courses or include the content as part of another class.

In states that don’t require financial instruction, some schools opt to teach it and do an excellent job, but others ignore the subject completely — and they tend to be schools in less affluent districts, Mr. Hensley said.

The article also outlines the specifics on what the curriculum might look like:

Many financial literacy advocates consider a full-semester course the gold standard for personal finance instruction. Rebecca Maxcy, director of the Financial Education Initiative at the University of Chicago, said many courses focused mainly on skills, like writing a check or filing taxes. While those lessons can be helpful, she said, it’s important for courses to include discussions of how personal values and attitudes about money influence behavior, as well as an examination of the financial systems and potential barriers that students will encounter in the world of money.

Questions like “Who benefits when you open a bank account?” can prompt meaningful discussions, she said.

Some curriculum options, however, offer more condensed, basic instruction.

Everfi, a digital instructional company, offers a free seven-session program for high school financial literacy. Students take interactive, self-guided lessons in topics like banking, budgeting and college financing.

Sidney Strause, a freshman at Marshall University in West Virginia, said she had taken Everfi’s course as a junior in high school. The lessons were assigned as part of another course she was taking, and typically took 45 minutes to an hour to complete.

“It taught me how to budget and save,” she said. “It’s crucial to adulthood.” Sometimes she would do the lessons at home and discuss them with her mother, she said, which led her mother to create a budget and set financial goals.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What, if anything, in this article resonates with you and your experiences with learning about money?

  • Do you think schools should offer courses on financial literacy? Should taking them be mandatory for graduation?

  • What topics should financial literacy instruction in schools cover? In what grade should students start learning about it?

  • One of the experts quoted in this piece says that it’s important for courses to include discussions of how personal values and attitudes about money influence behavior. What are your general attitudes toward money, and where do you think you learned these attitudes? For instance, how much does making money factor into your goals for a future career?

  • Why do you think that some people believe the interest in teaching students skills about managing money increased during the pandemic? In this time, did you experience or witness any events that made you wish you had some knowledge of personal finances — or that made you grateful for what you know?

  • Earlier this year, the price of GameStop stock soared when individual traders, including some teenagers, purchased many shares as a way to both make money and retaliate against large hedge funds that forecast the stock losing value. Did you learn about this situation as it happened? Did you participate? Did any of your teachers talk about it, and if so, what did they say? If you have specific thoughts to contribute, answer our Student Opinion question, “Should All Young People Learn How to Invest in the Stock Market?”


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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.