Failing Financial Literacy

June 16, 2008 at 8:58 am | Posted in uncategorized | 3 Comments

Authored by George Flevares
(Each student in GMST 525 has written their own post for our class blog.)

How many times have you heard from a student, “When am I going to use this?” We might be tempted to respond with the statement “I’m not a fortune teller, I can’t read your future.” While it may be true that some of our students will never again have to consider the Kreb’s cycle, electron orbitals, or polar coordinates, all of them should become financially literate. Unfortunately, recent results from the 2008 Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy are not reassuring.

If students are not making the grade when it comes to financial literacy, it is due in large part to an unawareness or unfamiliarity with the vocabulary of personal finance. Some terms, such as compound interest and depreciation, could easily be incorporated into math classes. But this only scratches the surface. Many students come to school with little or no knowledge of personal finance, and many schools do not have courses to cover this vital topic. If students lack financial literacy, they are likely to make unsound decisions and are also good candidates for people to dupe them or pressure them into making poor financial choices. So, what can we, as educators, do to improve students’ abilities to understand the financial tools that they will need for the rest of their lives?



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  1. I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

  2. Yes! Students are lacking in financial literacy. However, I think the problem lays deeper in the fact that students lack any real number sense at all. My colleagues and I are talking all the time about the frustrations that we have because many students simply don’t understand numbers and their meanings.

    For example, I just administered the first Integrated Algebra Regents exam on Tuesday. One of the questions required the students to calculate the mpg (miles per gallon) of two vehicles. While I don’t remember the exact numbers, the question was stated as “One vehicle drove 250 miles on 10 gallons of gas while another vehicle drove 240 miles on 12 gallons of gas. Which vehicle had the better gas mileage?” Most students were able to successfully determine the vehicle A went 25 mpg and the vehicle B went 20 mpg. However, they lost points because they said that vehicle B was better because the mpg was lowest.

    My colleagues and I were flabbergasted at this. We could not comprehend what would make students think this. I believe this financial literacy and number sense issue is something that needs to be rectified early in a student’s education. This article backs up my sentiment that it is most important to develop this number sense early. More importantly, the article states that students will best make connections and develop number sense if/when there are clear connections to the real world. Furthermore, you must have connections that pertain to the age groups you are working with.

  3. In his book, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire (2007), Rafe Esquith explains how he teaches appreciation of economics and financial responsibility in his classroom–the students live it. They acquire “jobs” in the classroom at the beginning of the year (4th or 5th grade), get ‘paid’ for their work (useful/practical positions to maintain the smooth-working of the classroom–including the roles of banker, rent-collector) and must pay ‘rent’ on their desks. Throughout this highly entertaining book, opportunities arise for students to ‘spend’ their earnings on ‘treats’, but they also clearly learn the value of savings. Why couldn’t a similar lesson be expanded upon in the older grades when the mathematics (as mentioned) become more complicated? When the students themselves are the recipients of the ’cause and effect’ for their actions, it would seem to me to be an obvious way to drive the message home.

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