We may indeed have a nation of financially illiterate youths, but despite cries for increased financial education in public high schools, the one program that’s historically addressed this—“checkbook math”—has never enjoyed a reputation as a “real” math class because the actual math skills involved are so basic, and it’s being phased out as most students avoid it because, as one student says, it “doesn’t look good for colleges.”
The problem, writes the Washington Post, is that since higher math classes and “consumer math” classes teach very different skill sets, many students graduate high school competent in higher math but unfamiliar with the sort of basic knowledge used to manage bank accounts, loans, and investments.
“This is actually the one class I think is realistic toward becoming an adult,” said Rountree, 17. “We learn how to balance checkbooks, which is a life need. We’ve learned how to purchase a car on kelleybluebook.com. Consumer math is, I think, the one class that has actually helped me.”
The article looks at how Virginia’s statewide mandate to teach personal finance skills has played out over the past few years, with finance-related topics scattered throughout other programs instead of condensed into a specific course. Personally, we’ve always thought of consumer math as a sort of home economics subject, to be taught alongside “real” math classes, not in place of; you wouldn’t subsitute a history class for an English class just because both require reading comprehension. One professional, however, has another suggestion:
Fennell, of the math teachers council, believes high schools should retool consumer math as a more rigorous course, with exercises rooted in algebra rather than arithmetic, exploring such topics as the complexities of a cellphone plan and the spiraling debt engendered by a credit card.