The Personal Finance Classroom Priority

We live in a world dominated by test scores and school report cards. We have standards to follow that drive the assessments which measure what students learn and in most states the evaluation score of a teacher. There are some who believe the weight of this process is appropriate… in Ohio, 50% of our evaluation is dictated by the growth shown on one test. There are others who believe that standardized test scores should never be used in the teacher evaluation process. What I know to be true is that using one test score in a personal finance class to gauge success falls well short of the bar we should set for ourselves.

As an example, credit scores matter more than test scores. Certainly, our responsibility is to provide our students with the knowledge to excel on a unit test over credit, but we must also teach our students the behavior tricks needed to pass the real world test of restraint when grappling with the impulse of making an unplanned purchase. Recently, Dr. Thaler won a Nobel Prize for his revolutionary work in behavioral economics. For teachers, behavioral economics shouldn’t be new, it’s simply metacognition with numbers and financial choices. It’s not hard to incorporate such strategies in the classroom. Take purchasing a car for instance…

NGPF has a terrific lesson on auto loans. I do something similar in my class and also include a lesson using social and emotional based learning based on our GFLEC micro-credential. I will now follow it up with a go-to metacognition method, a Fishbowl Debate; here is mine: Should a teen borrow money to buy a car? The aim is to target behavior because credit basics are easy to understand and car buying strategies are easily found with a quick google search. What’s hard for a teen is overcoming the desire that comes with owning a car they can’t afford without borrowing money (from Mom and Dad) or having them cosign for a loan when they turn 18.

Another great example is addressing student loans. The NGPF Paying for College is full of engaging lessons and interactives such as Time for Payback. If you teach personal finance I highly recommend it as your go-to resource. Making an informed college choice is a must, and so is the restraint sometimes necessary to select a college that’s a good fit over another one with the dream campus but at twice the cost. That’s a tough choice for any teen with access to credit who is on a college visit and can experience what it would be like to attend a dream school now, without experiencing the heavy burden in the ten years that follow. So with the help of an awesome friend, I wrote this case study with that in mind.

Obviously, there is a multitude of strategies to help students think about their own thinking (metacognition), and understand how to control their own emotions. Reflection and relevancy are beneficial by blogging, or commenting as I have my students do on my blog. Using simulations such as Budget Challenge can be ideal resources to teach behavior strategies. And so is exposing students to the field of behavioral economics using resources such as the documentary Thinking Money.

So what’s my point? My point is that requiring students to think and show what they know about our content on a test is not enough, we must also teach them how to manage the emotions and social pressures that accompany financial decisions, because we all love our students and we all agree that our students are much more than a test score.


About the blogger: Brian Page loves to teach personal finance at Reading Community City Schools in Ohio, where he was named the ’11 Milken National Educator Recipient and CNN Money Hero. He served on the Working Group for President Obama’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability and has proudly helped NGPF from the beginning. Brian spends most of his free time with his family, hiking, and following Ohio State football. Follow him on Twitter at @FinEdChat.

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