- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

Balancing a checkbook, filling out an application for a car loan and purchasing a life insurance policy are necessary skills in the adult world. Educators say these skills also are critical even before entering the real world.

But according to a new study, less than a third of all states include economics or personal finance education in their high school graduation requirements.

Fifteen states, not including Maryland, Virginia or the District, require students to take an economics course to graduate, according to the “Survey of the States: Economic and Personal Finance Education in our Nation’s Schools in 2004.”

“Where we’d like to see more progress is in the number of states that require a high school course to be taken for graduation,” said Joseph Peri, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the National Council on Economic Education, which conducted the survey.

A bright spot in the report is that 49 states and the District require curriculum standards for economics.

Iowa does not require such standards, but does include economics in its social studies curriculum, Mr. Peri said.

Just seven states, which do not include Maryland, Virginia or the District, require a personal finance course for graduation.

Experts say economics and personal finance education is vital to making sound decisions after graduation.

“What kids don’t learn in school in personal finance they’re going to learn the hard way in life, and I think the data shows that,” said Carol Jarvis, executive director of the Maryland Council on Economic Education.

With major financial issues such as Social Security privatization and bankruptcy reform crowding the political landscape, educators say the need for training in economics has never been greater.

“How can we analyze what they’re saying intelligently if we don’t have some basic understanding of economics?” Jarvis asked. “I think we need to have informed opinions rather than just opinions on economic issues.”

Some schools in Baltimore and Montgomery counties offer an Academy of Finance program, which requires additional course requirements and an internship in financial services.

Four Montgomery public schools have the academy, and about 150 students in each school participate, according to Kimberly Jackson, interim curriculum coordinator. The schools include Albert Einstein, Gaithersburg, Paint Branch and Watkins Mill high schools.

Students also can volunteer to work at the Montgomery County Teachers Federal Credit Union, which also allows students to start their own accounts.

The credit union currently has seven in-school branches that rely on volunteer student employees and faculty advisers.

“I think the whole concept of financial education is so critical,” said Joel Sarfati, vice president of marketing for the credit union. “I think it’s one thing that we find among adults that come in and have in terms of managing their money.”

Fairfax County public schools also have career-oriented academies, which offer a “Reality Store Experience” course according to spokeswoman Mary Shaw. She described the program as a “hands-on” experience in which students make hypothetical decisions based on budgets.

Baltimore County is the only school system in Maryland to include economics in its high school graduation requirements.

The course, called “Economics and Public Issues,” counts for a half-credit and covers personal economics, market forces, economic consequences of drug abuse, and national and global decision making, according to Kathy Nye, supervisor of secondary social studies for Baltimore County public schools. The course was introduced in 2001.

“We just think as well-informed, well-rounded people, all citizens need that economic literacy to make good economic decisions,” Ms. Nye said.

Last year, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grismack created a Social Studies Task Force to assess the role of social studies, which includes economics, in schools.

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