Focusing on Finance
All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, so much as downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation."
- John Adams
If the housing bust, Occupy movements and sky-high unemployment rates that have captured the nation’s headlines over the past few years have taught us anything, it is that there is a dire need for our citizens to understand the world of personal finance. For generations, too many U.S. citizens have been plagued by mountains of credit card debt and loans--not necessarily because they were frivolous and lived outside their means--but because they lacked the knowledge of personal finance and budgeting. There is, however, one way to fix this: alter our nation’s habit of spending outside its means. To accomplish this, we need to teach future generations how to manage their personal finance.
Addressing this need has been my passion and thus, I developed a high school class called personal finance. There are others that share my passion. In a recent Visa Inc. survey, 85 percent of parents said they want a course in personal finance to be a high school graduation requirement. My personal finance class was initially an elective. Over the duration of three years, the enrollment grew by over 600 percent. When legislation in Ohio mandated financial literacy, our district adhered to the intention of the legislation by mandating personal finance as a core graduation requirement. What made this requirement so easy to implement is that most of the kids were already taking the course. Just as parents want personal finance to be offered, most students want to be financially educated themselves.
Just as parents want personal finance to be offered, most students want to be financially educated themselves.
The course is designed to empower students with the financial tools they need to manage their money, consistent with what they value. The students are challenged to have a vision of how they want to live their lives, establish goals that will put them on a path to get there and provide them with the money management tools they need to reach their goals. The curriculum and assessments are rigorous enough to determine how well they can apply what they have learned in future challenges when real money is at stake. The environment is engaging and innovative enough to draw interest in the material from everyone in the class so each student can rise to meet high expectations.
In the classroom, my goal is to scaffold lessons flowing through Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. I conclude each unit with a project, game or simulation designed to align future consumer behavior with the course content. This includes implementation of Awesome Island, a game I created to incorporate financial literacy standards into a simulation that rewards appropriate consumer behavior with financial success. When playing the game, students experience the long-term consequences and benefits of short-term decisions. Another example is a project-based learning (PBL) activity I did for our taxes and philanthropy unit. I donated a small portion of my Milken Educator Award winnings to Kiva, a nonprofit organization that fights poverty by accepting loans from individuals and dispersing the money around the world. Then students were instructed to research and lend money to third-world countries. (This lesson is posted on my blog.)
Despite my success, there are still only four states with a stand-alone personal finance course established as a graduation requirement. That is certainly not enough to adequately prepare future generations. It needs to be woven into appropriate K-12 curriculum.
And while the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) reports that 89 percent of K-12 teachers agree that students should either take a financial education course or pass a competency test for high school graduation, fewer than 20 percent of these same teachers feel "very competent" to teach the full coursework of the personal finance class. This could explain why, broadly speaking, students who have taken a personal finance course do not test any better than students who have not.
I find it baffling that our legislators have not invested in financial education for future generations while they continue to clash over how to manage the wreckage from a generation of Americans who lack one. Yes, there are committees, reports, speeches and talking points addressing the issue. But the funding is not there. Even though we currently see an emphasis on the need for education reform, there is little to no mention of financial education reform.
I shoulder my responsibility as an educator with pride and an innate calling to provide my students with the tools they need to make wise financial choices.
I shoulder my responsibility as an educator with pride and an innate calling to provide my students with the tools they need to make wise financial choices. My passion to teach is concurrent with my passion to become a better teacher—especially now—as I was 2011’s first inductee into the Milken family. I am blessed with fellow recipients who are invaluable resources for my development. Additionally, the Milken Foundation has been a partner in helping me champion the need for financial literacy in our schools. I will be forever grateful for this life-changing recognition, and will continue to do everything I can to use the Milken Award to do more good than I could ever do without it.
If you believe that meaningful financial literacy legislation should exist in your state, I encourage you to reach out to local community groups and politicians. A great place to start is your state Jump$tart organization. Contact information can be found at www.jumpstart.org. If you share my passion or would like more specific direction, you can read my blog and follow me on Twitter.
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