CHANGING THE GRADE

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K-12 Committee Recommendations

Background:
Under state standards, Vermont schools are required to teach certain personal finance concepts to all students, but progress has been slow and an increased emphasis on implementation is needed. We believe that financial education is important at all K-12 levels and note that numerous excellent resources already exist that can be integrated into social studies, math, economics, business education, and other areas of the curriculum.

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K-12 FINANCIAL LITERACY

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We applaud the passionate teachers who are working on a class-by-class basis to teach personal finance, however, this approach does not reach the entire student population, and the integration of these materials is not occurring at a pace sufficient to address the lack of financial literacy in our schools.

Where opportunities for personal finance instruction exist, teachers report that students are very engaged and positive. For example, 135 schools in the state use Reading is an Investment (an elementary school program), between 30 and 40 schools play the “Stock Market Game,” the State Treasurer’s Office draws a number of high school teams to its annual “Treasury Cup” economic competition, and there is an online personal finance high school course through the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative. The Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy also plays a key role in preparing educators to teach financial literacy (a topic not currently taught in teacher education programs in the state).

These “success stories” are overshadowed by the fact that only seven out of 65 Vermont high schools currently have graduation requirements for financial literacy (Burlington, Fair Haven Union, Missisquoi Valley, Mount Abraham Union, Spaulding, U-32 and Vergennes Union). Many more offer electives but, based on survey data, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of graduating seniors do not enroll in a financial literacy class for a variety of scheduling reasons.

Keeping in mind our commitment to be practical, impactful and realistic, a careful review of the current education landscape in Vermont led to these understandings:

· The current environment of budget cuts and consideration of major changes in school financing including consolidation, Common Core implementation, multiple new standards, and Personal Learning Plans under Act 77 have resulted in extraordinary pressures on schools;

· Vermont’s long tradition of independent school districts means there is no appetite for state-mandated graduation requirements for coursework on financial literacy; and

· Successful school districts with financial literacy graduation requirements have provided these course offerings with existing educators at modest or no cost to the school district.

There are, however, some clear opportunities to move forward. Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities has not been updated since the year 2000 and financial literacy could be an integral part of a review on social sciences standards. There are also opportunities for competency-based approaches. Personal Learning Plans could include the goal of preparing students for further education and work. Finally, the excellent information from other state and national efforts around financial literacy could be tailored by Vermont educators to advance curriculum, lesson plans and assessment at the local level.

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Recommendations:

We believe there is an urgent need to change this picture and recommend a multi-pronged approach to systematically advance the level of personal finance proficiency for students graduating from Vermont schools. Through improvement in the current personal finance education standards, universal and easy access to these topics for all Vermont students, and the provision of appropriate tools, schools and educators will have the resources they need to succeed in implementing personal finance education.

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1. Vermont’s existing personal economics and career choices education standards should be updated to reflect highly regarded national and international financial literacy standards.

Current Vermont standards are not very specific. By comparison, the educational standards for the topic of sustainability are three times more detailed than those for personal economics and twice as detailed as the standards for career choices. As noted, financial literacy topics in Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities have not been revised in more than 14 years. We recommend that the Vermont Agency of Education convene a group of experts to propose revisions to these standards; make recommendations on how personal finance topics may be incorporated into each student’s Personal Learning Plan; and identify how personal finance topics could be imbedded into a supervisory union’s comprehensive student learning assessment system. We strongly encourage all school boards to ask school administrators how current K-12 personal finance education obligations are being implemented in their supervisory union. In addition, parents, local media, and other interested citizens should raise this question with their school board.

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 2. All Vermont high school students should have access to a personal finance course.

Today, approximately 10 percent of public and historic academy high schools in Vermont have adopted a personal finance graduation requirement. Although many high schools in the state offer a personal finance course as an elective, a survey indicates that even where the elective is offered, two-thirds of graduating students fail to achieve competence in financial literacy topics. At a minimum, all high school students should have access to a personal finance elective, either in the school building or through an easily accessible online alternative. For smaller supervisory unions, the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative could be the solution.  It currently offers a personal finance course that is available online to all Vermont high school students. Students and parents should be made aware of this online offering by highlighting its existence in the school’s course catalogue.

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 3. Provide personal finance training opportunities to K-12 educators.

Based on national surveys, we know that educators are often not confident in their ability to teach personal finance topics. We also know that when educators receive robust training, confidence levels increase dramatically. We recommend that the Vermont Agency of Education, school boards, professional organizations, superintendents and principals ensure that educators are offered financial literacy training opportunities. We also recommend that colleges in Vermont that are preparing our future educators offer courses in personal finance training.

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 4. Create an online clearinghouse of vetted and trusted financial literacy resources for Vermont K-12 educators.

We recommend that the Vermont Agency of Education sponsor the creation of an online financial literacy resource tool for educators with grade-appropriate curriculum, lesson plans, videos, games, applications, activities, projects, case studies, books, articles, and volunteer speakers. The tool should be created with input from educators who currently and successfully teach these topics and draw on the extensive national curriculum resources that already exist through government, nonprofit and business sources.

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 5. Establish financial literacy grants for K-12 schools and supervisory unions to launch new or enhanced financial literacy education programs.

We recommend that the Vermont State Treasurer establish a financial literacy grant committee made up of financial literacy experts, educators and advocates from the private, public and nonprofit sectors. The committee will help obtain grant funds, and determine a formal application process to award grants for professional development and other personal-finance-education-related initiatives. All funds raised for this purpose would be placed in the existing Vermont Financial Literacy Trust Fund administered by the Treasurer’s Office and would be used exclusively for these grants.