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May 11, 2010

On matters of personal finance, education is a two-way street
By Michelle Singletary, Washington Post | May 9, 2010
The financial teaching grade is in for teachers — and it’s not good.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed K-12 educators and not surprisingly most instructors don’t think they are suitably trained to teach their students the basics of personal finance. The study, “Teachers’ Background & Capacity to Teach Personal Finance,’’ was funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

six areas:

income and careers; planning and money management; credit and debt; financial responsibility and decision-making; saving and investing; and risk management and insurance.

The teachers were asked to assess their instructional competency in six areas: income and careers; planning and money management; credit and debt; financial responsibility and decision-making; saving and investing; and risk management and insurance.

Less than 20 percent of the surveyed educators felt they were “very competent’’ in any of the six areas. No wonder: Barely one-third of them had taken a college course that included personal finance content, the researchers found.

Increasingly, states are pushing economic education. The number of states that require students to take a personal finance course, or instruction as part of an economics class, increased from seven in 2007 to 13 in 2009, according to the Council for Economic Education.

The survey is being used to show that if we teach the teachers, we have a better chance of educating our children in the area of personal finance. This is a worthy goal. It’s vital that we teach children to be better stewards of their money.

In fact, I agree that a core part of any curriculum for grades K through 12 should include mandatory financial literacy classes. A 5-year-old who can beg for a Happy Meal at McDonald’s then whine and cry when he doesn’t get one is more than ready to be schooled in the economics of eating out.

College students shouldn’t be handed a degree without having taken personal finance classes. For example, graduates should know how to create a budget based on their expected salary.

The agenda to educate the educators and mandate that schools add money management to their basic curriculum must acknowledge that we also need to teach the parents.

Since parents are urged to attend school meetings, sports programs, plays, and other activities, school districts could press them to sit alongside their kids for a money management session.

Parents are the only ones who can instill in their children certain core values concerning finances. In my family, it’s the values component that will encourage my three kids to make charitable giving a priority in their budgets.

And no child of mine will leave home without a healthy hatred of debt. A financial class at school might suggest there is such a thing as good debt and bad debt. No way. My children will learn from me to do everything they can to avoid borrowing, except to buy a home.

If we know that children often live out what they learn at home, this is one subject we can’t just put entirely into the hands of educators to teach.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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