By Jedidiah Collins, CFP®️
We’ve all seen the disheartening statistics: American households are more than $17 trillion in debt, only half of them have an adequate emergency fund, and low earnings are leaving lasting damage on millions of people. This all begs the question: Why don’t we put significant resources into reversing some of these trends by teaching students personal finance in schools, and fostering a generation of financially literate, confident consumers?
Recent data shows that only around 30% of Americans would call themselves financially literate with a high degree of confidence. With that in mind, it seems like a no-brainer: The U.S. needs a national financial financial literacy curriculum that can align to to different standards in each state, integrate with existing school technologies and systems, adequately prepare teachers and educators for delivering the material, and, perhaps above all, work within the confines of a district’s budget.
Fortunately, we’re seeing some process on this front. Almost thirty states now have some form of personal finance education at the high school level in public schools. And there are solutions to help schools across the country implement those curriculums and modules as well — though, some leave a lot to be desired. Accordingly, there are five major challenges facing schools who are looking to adopt a financial literacy curriculum that administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community stakeholders need to be aware of.
The 5 challenges to creating a national financial literacy curriculum
Education technology, perhaps given an unexpected and rough test ride during the pandemic, is opening up new avenues for school districts and administrators. Technology is currently leading to disruption in the education space, which, while it may be a painful evolution, is leading to positive possible outcomes. Even so, there are five main challenges for a nationwide financial literacy curriculum entering schools:
- Aligning to state standards
- Integrating with existing school technologies and systems
- Training the educators
- Focusing on target audience
- Budgeting for resources
Despite those challenges, the nationwide movement to instill financial literacy education as a part of the core curriculum is gaining momentum, as discussed. And there are ways to meet these challenges head on,
1. Meeting state standards
In recent years, there have been two main resources for developing financial literacy standards: the Council for Economic Education, and the Jump$tart Coalition. These two organizations have provided what needs to be covered regarding subjects and criteria, but fall short of providing how the standards will be covered. A nation-wide program will need to be further developed by educational experts and subject matter experts, and also meet what the standards lay out and deliver it directly to schools.
In this day and age, it should be easy to connect software platforms or devices. But it’s often still quite difficult. Accordingly, a curriculum being utilized by hundreds or thousands of schools and districts will need to have top-notch and seamless integration methods. There is also students’ personal information — typically, a minor’s information — to worry about. A program will need to integrate with learning management systems or student information systems without collecting personal data.
3. Educator training
Another issue to consider is that many teachers being charged with teaching financial literacy have financial struggles of their own, or at least a lack of knowledge. A nationwide program would need to focus its attention on educators first. This process begins and ends with professional development, providing opportunities to learn this new subject, resources that help deliver this subject, and support that will save teachers time throughout the school year.
A teacher success team, or similar, will need to be on-demand and delivered virtually as there is no way to allocate the workforce nor the scheduling with schools to achieve the level of training needed in person.
4. Target audience
Why would anyone create financial education for people who cannot buy financial products from them, such as minors and high school students? This has been a core reason for not developing materials targeted at high school aged students, the other being the challenge of creating content that will engage students. These days, video — short, dense, and impactful video — is the way to go. The program will need to be founded on video content covering the curriculum, provide an audible version of the material, and develop a conversation in the classroom instead of a lecture on reading.
A nationwide program will need to translate the language of money through stories and analogies that engage students while also delivering actionable lessons that they can take with their first paycheck. The entire curriculum must be developed for the screen.
School’s struggle to maintain a budget, and most don’t have the resources to train their teachers, retain their teachers, or purchase outside teaching materials. A nationwide program would need to enable the community to help subsidize the cost of a program. This can be achieved through corporate sponsorship, non-profit collaboration, and securing government grants. For years, many have said how they wish they had had access to personal finance education at a younger age — this allows them to put their money where their mouth is.
Creating a sustainable FinLit curriculum
With more and more states manding financial education, the time is now for a national financial literacy curriculum that is adaptable, malleable, and engaging. There are plenty of hurdles for schools to overcome when integrating such a curriculum, but the data lays it out: It’s desperately needed.
For too long people have wondered why we don’t teach financial literacy in schools, or at least to an impactful degree. Today, that question is being answered with dozens and dozens of states now requiring it. Administrators nationwide are figuring out what can be covered, but it will be up to educators and entrepreneurs to figure out how to deliver it.
If we can balance curriculum and creativity, be open to new forms of delivery, and welcome the community of support, it is possible that we will see a financially literate and confident generation grow up before our eyes.