Friday, October 4, 2013

Why financial literacy belongs in our schools

On Friday night I was honored to receive the William A. Forbes Public Awareness Award, made possible by the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation to the Council for Economic Education. The award recognizes an individual who have advanced public awareness of the importance of economic and financial education.

I chose to make the most of my opportunity and advocate for the need for financial literacy. Here was my speech...

I am going to be blunt tonight, but truthful. I have mixed feelings about receiving this award. On one hand, I am deeply grateful to CEE, Nan and Mike McDowell of the Kazanjian Foundation for the recognition of my life’s passion and purpose. I am thankful to teach in Reading Community City Schools, a district who shares my passion, while being lucky enough to receive robust professional development support from Dr. Julie Heath and my local Economic Center at the University of Cincinnati. On the other hand, this award only exists because we need champions for a cause that Americans believe should be our educational duty. To be more specific, a recent Harris Survey found that "99% of U.S. Adults Support Personal Finance Teaching in High Schools", yet only four states have required it be taken as a stand-alone semester long high school graduation course. So while countries such as Russia and Great Britain are including it in compulsory education, we continue to pass hallow legislation that is absent many of the recommendations CFPB Director Cordray referenced in his speech on Thursday; that is of course if your state has passed any at all. For a country with our resources, and a culture that derives from a capitalistic spirit, this is unacceptable.

Practically speaking, if Personal Finance is not legislated as a stand-alone semester long graduation requirement taught by a trained teacher, the consistency and quality of the implementation of the course is spotty at best. Legislation should also include the K-12 integration of financial literacy concepts; the addition of personal finance questions into standardized tests; professional development for teachers that stresses learning through hands on experiences; and tools for parents to teach their children about money.

For a moment I’m going to pause and give thanks as a parent to those of you in the crowd who integrate financial literacy in the elementary and middle school grades. I am a father of two elementary children and a middle school child. My children, in particular my oldest two, are drawn to an economic and financial way of thinking. When their teachers integrate financial and economic literacy into their Math and English lessons, they better understand the Math and English content, and are further motivated to learn because it’s relevant to them. And as an educator, I am equally grateful as the concepts you are scaffolding at an early age prepare high school students to better understand the complexities of personal finance; a big thanks to each of you.

For those of you in the crowd who teach high school students, in particular 10th-12th graders, you know first-hand that we are providing a just-in-time financial education. Most of our students are making financial choices, and many have jobs; pay bills, pay taxes, have accounts at financial institutions; make car payments; pay insurance; and most importantly - - are preparing to make a student debt choice. Study after study indicates that the best time to provide financial education is when consumers are closest to making financial choices. For most 10th-12th graders, those opportunities exist now. Not only do we know it’s relevant, they know it’s relevant! For students who are neglected this education, year after year we continue to matriculate them into the University of Hard Knocks.

Before I move on, Mary Blanusa, if you would, please stand and be recognized for the tireless effort you have put into the CEE Advocacy program. 

I began by saying that I had mixed emotions about receiving tonight’s award; and a final reason is because education is a “WE” profession, not a “ME” profession. Our students can only be successful if our efforts are collective, and that includes advocating for financial literacy in our schools. So please use the Advocacy resources on the CEE website to lobby for financial education in your state. Every child deserves a financial education, and by the way, that includes special education children too.

We know young people today are facing financial distress. We know it impacts workers, and is a major factor in divorce. And we know that the 16 million American students currently living in poverty may not have voices yet, but we do. We may not be able to change the financial challenges our students face as children, but we can empower our students to tackle these challenges as adults. We owe it to all children to advocate for their financial education.

Thank you.


  1. I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this post. I'm a pre-service teacher who is going to be certified in political science and economics and I live in a state where personal finance is not a stand-alone requirement, but rather required as part of the economics standards. Not only does this take a large amount of time out of a class already packed with content, but it absolutely doesn't do personal finance justice.

    When I showed the economics standards to a friend of mine who will soon get his bachelors in economics, he commented about how little the two topics have to do with one another in practice and yet how important they both are for understanding and participating happily and successfully in society. I have to admit, my degree in econ has not prepared me for teaching personal finance. I've never actually used a budget; my student loans scare the heck out of me. I'm learning to be financially literate right along with my students.

    I'm very glad to have stumbled upon your blog and all the great resources you offer. I'm also going to send this post to that friend as this is something we have continued to talk about a lot and as I get more experience in teaching these topics, maybe I'll be able to advocate for a real, semester-long personal finance class.

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