Schools offer the best opportunity to reach the greatest number of young people through a wide variety of programs. But as with all subjects, effective financial education must be rigorous, relevant, standards-based and engaging—and must be taught by confident, well-qualified and well-supported teachers.

Backbone in education

Financial education has been around for a long time, though not necessarily identified as “financial literacy” or “financial capability” and other terms we use commonly today. Financial topics were found in math, business, consumer science—called Home Ec. back in the day—and other subject areas.

But those started to disappear in the latter part of the last century, as focus shifted to preparing students for college. A renewed effort to promote and improve financial education in schools took hold in the 1990s. That effort included the formation of the Jump$tart Coalition, where many of the stakeholder organizations committed to working collaboratively toward shared goals.

Updating the curriculum

Over the past two decades, the financial literacy community has developed thoroughly vetted educational programs and resources—many offered free or at a minimal price—to help teachers and budget-strapped school systems integrate financial content with few barriers.

Financial institutions, other corporations, government agencies, associations, non-profit groups and others have contributed their broad expertise and resources to developing educational products and programs to the point where educators have turned to tools, such as the Jump$tart Clearinghouse, to help them narrow down their selections.

"Personal finance lessons are well suited for hands on activities and real-life applications, and are best when adapted to student demographics and local economics."

The National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education, published by Jump$tart since 1998, has helped curriculum developers and educators maintain quality, consistency, comprehensiveness and age appropriateness in classroom financial education and materials.

Notably, these standards focus not only on what students should know, but what they should be able to do to prepare to manage their money effectively throughout their lifetimes.

Modern edition

For the first time, the 2015 edition of these national standards added learning benchmarks for kindergarten students, acknowledging the importance of introducing basic money concepts as young children are forming their thoughts and behaviors. Twelfth grade benchmarks help to ensure that young adults are sufficiently prepared for their lives as independent consumers.

Today, discerning educators look for resources that are timely and relevant and encourage students to think, evaluate and make decisions. Personal finance lessons are well suited for hands on activities and real-life applications, and are best when adapted to student demographics and local economics. Optimally, financial education products intended for classroom use include tools to help teachers assess their students’ progress and measurements of effectiveness beyond simple increases of knowledge.

Keeping teachers educated

In the early years of the financial literacy movement, much of the focus was on the creation of educational resources, because so few existed at the time. In recent years, a good deal of attention has turned toward preparing and supporting teachers who bring financial topics to life in their classrooms every day.

Just as we wouldn’t expect a single lesson to prepare a young person sufficiently for a lifetime of smart money management, neither can we expect cursory training to provide a teacher with adequate background to teach financial content effectively. As our next strategic objective, the financial literacy and education communities must commit to supporting, educating and supplying our teachers to enable them to succeed.

As a distinct educational discipline, financial literacy is still young and evolving. With that recognition, we must accept that having not yet achieved all our goals is not a reason to give up. Rather, it’s a reason to redouble our efforts, because the next generations of American consumers deserve nothing less.