At the present time there are only 4 states that require a course on personal finance for high school students — courses which have as their only function teaching the tenets of money management and also being mandatory for graduation. Because of the recent recession, educators are realizing that lack of knowledge and skills in the area of finance must be addressed in classrooms.
According to Pamela M. Prah of Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline, finding ways to fund finance classes is one of the major roadblocks to the dissemination of crucial economic knowledge. Corporations like Visa are helping out by designing, and sharing with schools, games and videos which will engage and teach the fundamentals of money skills.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has pledged $60 million to improve financial literacy, including partnering with Knowledge@Wharton High School to roll out a series of teacher training seminars and developing a set of 18 ready-to-use free modules for grades 3-12.
Discover Financial Services has promised to provide $10 million in grants to high schools to cover the cost of implementing a financial education curriculum.
Nonprofits, such as the Council for Economic Education, provide lesson plans and their own online games.
A website called Money as You Learn offers educators tools to integrate personal finance into the teaching and has won the endorsement of several education groups.
Another barrier to having finance courses added to school curricula is that, although most state legislators agree that financial education is important, school districts do not relish being told how they should design and achieve the goals of these courses, according to Dan Winters of WHO in Des Moines. The gauntlet has been laid down, however, in Oklahoma where high schools will begin mandatory money management classes this spring.
According to Paula Burkes, reporter for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma students must,by this May, demonstrate an understanding in banking, taxes, investing, loans, insurance, identity theft and eight other areas to graduate. Teachers are required to certify students’ working knowledge in each area.
Teachers say the problem in Oklahoma is that the curriculum is wide open — instructors may use the State Department of Education course outline or they may use whatever course tools they choose. Also, in most cases the money management course work is going to be added to the subject matter in existing courses like history, math, even home economics classes.
The Council on Economic Education of Oklahoma feels that integrating money management skills is more useful than teaching them solely on the computer. The integrity of this mandate, they feel, is only established when there is teacher-student interaction.
These innovative changes in teaching financial responsibility are not without their critics. Loyola Law School professor Lauren Willis says that it would be a mistake to make students believe that by taking courses in how to take care of their personal finances they are equipped to manage their income in a stellar fashion. This false bravado might then lead to the idea that they do not need assistance in managing their finances. This, in turn, could result in making bad choices.
Ms. Willis thinks that parents should establish sound financial planning skills with their children and the government should invest in ensuring that financial products are secure.