Florida is the first state to adopt standards for teaching kids about personal finance based on the National Standards for Financial Literacy. But the move leaves some educators grappling with how to implement the new standards.
Ann Whitney, Director of Standards at the Bureau of Standards and Instructional Support, says educators and state leaders nationwide are pushing for better personal finance education in public schools.
“Students need this type of instruction in order to be productive, prosperous and financially responsible citizens as they become adults,” she says.
In a recent survey of financial literacy among teenagers worldwide, the U.S ranked ninth out of 18 countries. Another study shows only 17 U.S. states require students to take a personal finance course to graduate from high school, and only six require testing on the subject.
Florida became one of those 17 states last year when the Legislature passed a bill adding financial literacy to high school graduation requirements.
Florida is adding financial literacy standards to an economics course high school students were already required to take. But Florida State University economics professor James Gwartney says combining the two subjects waters them both down.
“What really needs to be done is to have a course on personal finance that’s independent of economics,” he says.
Lawmakers pushed during the last session to make financial literacy a separate course required for graduation, but the proposal failed. Gwartney says many of his students start college without a basic knowledge of personal finance. And with student debt almost tripling since 2004, he says financial literacy could be more important now than 30 or 40 years ago.
“Unless we have both the time, in terms of the class time given, and the training of teachers to cover those national standards and to do it in a way that’s going to make personal finance come alive and students see the relevance of it,” he says, “the mere adoption of national standards doesn’t solve the problem.”
Gwartney says Florida’s new standards cover all the right concepts, but he hopes lawmakers will continue to push to make financial literacy a separate course.
The state is using the National Standards for Financial Literacy as a foundation for what will be taught in the new class. Council for Economic Education Vice President of Programs Christopher Caltabiano says the discussion about developing national standards began about four years ago. To develop them, he says the council turned to federal documents and economics experts.
“It’s about understanding how to make wise decisions,” he says, “and, in particular, what areas or personal finance you may need to be making these decisions in.”
Published in 2013, the national standards cover topics like earning income, using credit and financial investing. Caltabiano says the council hopes more states will begin to adopt their own standards now.
“What we can do is we can put out what we think are high quality standards and advocate for their use,” he says.