Are Teachers Making the Grade in Personal Finance Education?

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New Study Reveals Need for Greater Focus on Teacher Training

We have an opportunity to dramatically affect the quality of K-12 financial education by providing teachers with the subject matter expertise they need.

While 89 percent of K-12 teachers agree that students should take a financial education course or pass a competency test for high school graduation, relatively few teachers believe they are adequately prepared to teach personal finance topics.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Wendy Way, Ph.D., and Karen Holden, Ph.D., recently surveyed more than 1,200 K-12 teachers, students currently enrolled in teacher education programs, and university teacher education faculty to better understand their training and education in personal finance and their capacity to teach these topics. The new study was funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®).

“This study reinforces the need to incorporate money management topics into educational opportunities for teachers and those studying to become teachers,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. “We have an opportunity to dramatically affect the quality of K-12 financial education by providing teachers with the subject matter expertise they need.”

Teachers’ Background
Only 37 percent of K-12 teachers had taken a college course offering personal finance content. The study found that having taken a college course in personal finance is a major predictor of teachers feeling competent to teach personal finance.

Because a certification or specific training to teach financial education currently does not exist in most regions, teachers of family living, business education, and social studies, (where personal finance traditionally is taught) are the ones most commonly teaching it today. However, math teachers, who are less likely than teachers in these fields to have taken personal finance courses, are also incorporating financial examples in their teaching. Most teachers engaged in providing financial education report that they integrate financial education topics into regularly offered credit courses, rather than offering separate, stand-alone courses.

The study showed that K-12 teachers and prospective teachers are acquiring very little additional formal education in personal finance, either through credit-based courses or non-credit offerings. In addition, only a few teachers and a handful of prospective teachers had completed any formal course work in educational methods for teaching financial education. Only 11 percent of K-12 teachers had taken a workshop on teaching personal finance.

“Our research shows that teachers are open to integrating financial education into their curriculum. But they need help with tailoring the content to their discipline,” says Holden. “Helping teachers learn how to include financial literacy concepts into other disciplines—such as math, consumer education, or language arts—is a way to expand financial education throughout the curriculum.”

State Standards
Today, 44 states have adopted personal financial education standards or guidelines (according to the Council on Economic Education 2009 Survey of the States). Given this growth in support for financial education, researchers Way and Holden expected that these educational policies would have some influence on whether teachers had taken or taught a course related to financial education, or felt competent to teach these topic areas.

However, the study found no influence of state mandates on whether a teacher had taken a course in personal finance, taught a course, or felt competent to teach a course. In fact, over 60 percent of teachers and prospective teachers said they do not feel qualified to teach their state’s financial education standards. And teacher education faculty in those states were no more familiar with state financial education standards than K-12 teachers themselves.

“This lack of influence of state mandates on teacher education implies that there are a lot of opportunities for improvement in the financial education we provide both pre-service and in-service teachers to meet their personal and professional needs,” says Way.

As states increasingly call for more attention to curricula and/or testing in personal finance, the data suggest that much work needs to be done to ensure that these standards are incorporated into the curriculum for prospective teachers and that K-12 teachers get the training they need to use the standards.

For an executive summary or to read the complete Teachers’ Background & Capacity to Teach Personal Finance study, click here.

The National Endowment for Financial Education is an independent nonprofit organization committed to educating Americans about personal finance and empowering them to make positive and sound decisions to reach financial goals. For more information, visit http://www.nefe.org.

Contacts:
Paul Golden (National Endowment for Financial Education)
303-224-3514 pdg(at)nefe(dot)org

Wendy Way, Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
608-262-1963 wlway(at)wisc(dot)edu

Karen Holden, Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
608-263-9283 kcholden(at)wisc(dot)edu

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Paul Golden

Wendy Way, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
608-262-1963
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