Saturday, January 29, 2011

Personal Financial Literacy in Worthington Schools

At the January 21, 2011 work session of the Worthington Board of Education, we had an in depth discussion about Personal Financial Literacy. At the heart of the discussion was whether or not Worthington should require a semester class in Personal Financial Literacy as a graduation requirement.

There is little doubt that the lack of personal financial literacy is a societal problem. Surveys show that kids graduating high school lack the skills and knowledge necessary to make good decisions with regard to personal finance at the very time in their lives when they need to start making those decisions.

Ohio requires the study of economics and financial literacy,  however, the law was non-specific as to what had to be taught and how much of it had to be taught. These decisions were to be left to local school districts, however, a committee was formed to recommend guidelines. Worthington elected to fulfill the requirements by modifying the graded course of study for American History and teaching the content standards over the course of a week or two at the end of the school year.

Instituting a new local graduation requirement is unusual, but not unheard of. Worthington requires one semester of speech, for example, even though it is not required by the state of Ohio. No one doubts the importance of personal financial literacy, the question is whether it rises to the level of importance given to other required classes.

According to the Jump$tart coalition, 4 states already require a semester of personal financial literacy with others considering such a policy. The third recommendation of the Ohio Financial Literacy Commission was to require a class.

What is the downside of requiring a semester of personal financial literacy. In Worthington, our high school students have a rich variety of electives that can spark an interest in all kinds of subjects. Mandating a semester of personal financial literacy would remove the opportunity to have selected one of those electives. Arguably, some students already know the subject matter and would therefore be wasting their time in the class. A Time magazine article suggested that students who have taken such a class are no better off than those that have not.

After considering all the data, I am leaning in favor of Worthington Schools modifying our graduation requirement to include a semester of personal financial literacy.  I believe that we must do all we can to arm our graduates with the knowledge necessary to make good financial choices as they start college or enter the workforce. The requirement would be able to be satisfied in a number of different ways, including economics classes, a business class or even our new mathematics class titled "Financial Algebra". Thanks to Ohio's new Credit Flexibility law, students that already have the knowledge would be able to test out of the requirement  and students would also have the ability to satisfy the requirement through independent study, online courses or internships.

Agree?  Disagree?  Discussion?


  1. For the purposes of clarification. ODE does require content for financial literacy. Our Grades 7, 8 and US History and Government (all required) Social Studies teachers have enhanced their curriculum to provided that content and more. We have a very strong economics strand throughour our Grade 2-11 curriculum. It is important to also note that we have made some changes in our content and delivery in response to the requirement and the spirit of the requirement.
    Jennifer Wene
    Director of Academic Achievement and Professional Development

  2. Marc:

    Our curriculum dept has put forward a recommendation for changes in graduation requirements which includes a one semester elective in Financial Literacy, described as follows:

    "The financial literacy elective requirement can be fulfilled by taking one of the following courses: Careers & Money Management, Financial Independence, Personal Finance, College Fundamentals, or Principles of Entrepreneurship.

    I'm not clear why all those options are offered, or how they differ in content, but that's what we have.

    If I were designing the content for a required personal finance course, I think I'd include:

    - Budgeting: where your money comes from and where it goes.
    - Reading a bank statement and balancing your checkbook
    - Reading a credit card agreement (knowing what you're signing up for), and credit card statement.
    - Immediate gratification via credit purchases vs saving and paying cash
    - Buying a car: Car loan, lease, or pay cash. New or used?
    - Paying for college: savings, loans, scholarships, and grants. What is the cost of borrowing?
    - After college: starting life with a load of college debt, how will that affect my life?

    The theme, which you can probably pick out, is to help the next generation of Americans stay out of the borrow-and-spend trap that just about took our country down.


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