A class on interest is fine; conflict of interest isn’t
For many people, personal finance can be pretty boring. I’ve even had folks planning to attend a financial class tell me they anticipated taking a nap.
Folks like having money. They just don’t like the chore of learning the concepts it takes to manage it well. And if they aren’t learning what they need to know, they probably aren’t able to teach their children.
Many advocates believe teaching students about personal finance should be integral to the Common Core curriculum being implemented nationwide. According to the Council for Economic Education, 17 states now require high schools to provide at least some instruction in personal finance.
But how can teachers make the lessons engaging enough so that they are not lost on the students? And how can educators be assured that the teaching materials they use are free from bias and subtle sales pitches?
Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a guide to help educators scrutinize financialliteracy courses.
“Despite the growing number of states encouraging financialeducation instruction, most educators do not feel wellequipped to meet this need,” the CFPB said.
Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy has
graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their levels of personal finance instruction. Only five states — Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia — got an A.
Twenty-six states received a C, D or F. “Less than half were given grades that you would want your children to bring home from school,” the center said.
The dilemma for many schools has been that, with limited public funds to create or buy financial-education courses and to hire teachers with the training, they often have to rely on free material either funded or produced by financialservice companies. They also have to find space in their schedule to teach the information.
That’s where the CFPB’s new review tool comes in. It’s meant to give financial-education-course developers and educators a framework, said Janneke Ratcliffe, assistant director in the CFPB’s Office of Financial Education. It can be found at
www.consumerfinance.gov; search for “Youth financial education curriculum review tool.”
One key component aims to assess whether courses are unbiased. Although the tool cautions schools to be on the lookout for lessons that include branded products or that promote specific financialservice providers, I would love for it to search for even more potential conflicts of interest.
I go nuts when I see lesson plans that say getting a credit card can help students manage their money. No, it doesn’t. It teaches them the ways of a debtor — even a good one — too early in life.
I’ve been looking for a strongly worded financial proper literacy course that aims to make skeptics out of students. Earlier this year, I wrote about a curriculum developed by the FoolProof Foundation. If you’re an educator looking to vet a program using the CFPB’s tool, I recommend going to
www.foolproofteacher.com. It’s such a complete program for teachers (even the grading is done for them), and it clearly favors the consumer protection of students. Too many of the materials I see don’t note enough of the dangers of debt.
John Chargois, the junior class principal at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., is also a fan of FoolProof. To graduate from a public high school in Oklahoma, students must show competency in 14 areas related to financial literacy. Chargois’ school requires all 3,200 of its students to go through FoolProof’s online curriculum.
“The program is very userfriendly, and one of the benefits we saw was that the material is presented by students,” he told me. “We felt our kids could relate to the message. And throughout the entire program, one of the recurring themes is ‘beware.’ This is one of the most relevant courses we teach.”
Sandra Deiseroth, a business and marketing teacher at Horseheads High School in Horseheads, New York, said FoolProof works hard to ensure that its curriculum meets every state’s standards and Common Core initiatives. “Though I continually review financialliteracy programs each year, it’s been a conscious choice to use FoolProof for the past 10 years,” she said.
I volunteer as a personalfinance teacher at prisons and at my church. After testing out FoolProof myself, I’m planning to adopt its curriculum in my classes.
As schools evaluate financialliteracy programs, they need to be keenly aware that it’s not enough to explain the mechanics of how interest rates, investing, checkbooks, student loans and credit cards work. We need to be sending our children through courses that are free of any conflicts of interest.
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or at email@example.com. Questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.