Laura Levine worries when she reads reports about students getting poor marks in financial education.
Perhaps kids are getting a bum rap. After all, she said, what teaching materials were used in these classroom? How many hours of instruction did students receive in personal finance? How was the information incorporated into lessons, and what were the qualifications of the teachers?
This is why Levine, president and chief executive of the nonprofit JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, is promoting a new nationwide grass-roots campaign for elementary, middle and high school students designed to increase financial education in public and private schools across the country.
Levine believes financial literacy starts in the home. That's where parents can teach pocketbook lessons and reinforce them with daily behavior.
But there are many reasons why that doesn't always happen: Parents may function as "unbanked" outside of the banking system, they may have made many financial mistakes themselves, and they may not have a good grasp of how to save, spend and invest.
"We are very aware of the number of parents who can't be the best guides for their own kids" when it comes to money matters, Levine said.
That's why she believes schools are the next best place to teach kids the financial skills they will need.
"We need to reach kids," Levine said, "and school is the best place."
Project Groundswell, as the JumpStart program is called, seeks to increase by 25 percent by the year 2025 the number of students in K through 12 who are receiving effective classroom-based financial education. The initiative also seeks to increase by 25 percent the number of teachers who are certified to teach lesson plans about money.
What does Levine mean by "effective?"
It doesn't mean a field trip or one event featuring a speaker. Levine said an effective program in a high school would entail 70 hours of instruction, essentially a semester's worth of teaching. The number is 30 to 40 hours in middle school, and 20 hours at the elementary school level.
The centerpiece of the Project Groundswell campaign is CheckYourSchool.org., an online program designed to empower parents, grandparents, guardians, neighbors, friends, teachers and even students to find out if their school is teaching financial education and if not, to advocate for adding it to the curriculum.
Go to the site, click on your state, and then search to see what your school offers in the form of financial classes.
JumpStart will monitor the CheckYourSchool data, and share it with its state chapters or other partners who will then look for ways to help school districts or individual schools develop or refine their financial education programs.
The organization offers curriculum resources and other tools to help schools get started. JumpStart also has educational resources for parents and for the workplace, and Levine sees this new program as an "add-on" to those efforts.
Levine believes it is critical for this program to be successful.
"Money is the one thing we all deal with every day," she said. "We want people (of all ages) to be able to make the best decisions for themselves and to feel confident in making those choices."
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