In the wake of mounting inflation and concerns over another national economic recession, Detroit high schools are looking ahead toward equipping students with skill sets in line with the new Michigan education mandate for financial literacy.
On June 16, Governor Whitmer signed House Bill 5190, a bill mandating personal finance classes before high school graduation. Michigan became the 14th state in the U.S. to prioritize access to financial literacy for students preparing to take on the financial responsibilities of adulthood.
“As a mom, I want every kid who graduates in Michigan to enter the world with a diverse set of skills and knowledge, and that must include financial literacy,” said Governor Whitmer.
“I am proud to sign this bipartisan bill requiring all public school students to take a personal finance course. Every young Michigander deserves to know how to budget, save and invest their money wisely so they can get off to a great start after high school, whether they go to college, start working or open a small business. Since I took office, we have worked side by side to put Michigan students first, making historic investments in preK-12 education to improve every kid’s in-class experience and school facilities. Today’s bill will bolster the state’s education curriculum and I look forward to signing another balanced budget so we can build on our bipartisan education investments.”
The legislation passed the state’s House of Representatives and Senate with bipartisan support, joining the latest wave of states to pass similar laws, including Florida and Georgia.
According to the 2022 Survey of the States from the Council for Economic Education, there are 23 states that have instituted a requirement for students to take a course in personal finance to graduate. The study shows a steady growth from the initial seven states with requirements in 2000.
The bill includes amendments to Section 380.1278a, which stipulates pupils beginning eighth grade in 2023 will not be awarded a high school diploma unless the pupil “completes a 1/2 credit course in personal finance that aligns with subject area content expectations developed by the department and approved by the state board under section 1278b.”
According to Next Gen Personal Finance’s 2022 State of Financial Education 22 percent (1 in 4 students) of U.S. high school students who graduated have taken a stand-alone personal finance course.
This number of students guaranteed a personal finance course is expected to grow to 33 percent once states that recently passed bills implement their legislation, says the study.
The Detroit Public School Community District is the largest school district in the city, serving about 53,406 students attending traditional public schools in Detroit according to the most recent data available from DPSCD.
About 50,000 school-age children who live in the city attend charter schools, either in the city or the suburbs. Thousands more attend suburban school districts.
“DPSCD is committed to equitable access to excellent personal finance education,” said Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD), in a statement to the Michigan Chronicle.
“That commitment is exemplified by our new partnership with Next Gen Personal Finance and the Jordan Brand, a division of Nike. Next Gen Personal Finance and the Jordan Brand have awarded a 3-year grant to our district to expand access to personal finance curriculum and excellent teacher professional development to all of our high schools. Our district will be implementing Next Gen Personal Finance curriculum in both our Social Studies Personal Finance elective as well as an option as a math credit course.
“DPSCD is steadfast in a curriculum that empowers our students to make financial decisions that are right for them. Additionally, to support our anti-racist resolution, we are committed to providing personal finance materials that address inequities in socioeconomic conditions and provide a way to encourage our students to fight the status quo. After a thorough vetting, our Curriculum & Instruction team is confident that Next Gen Personal Finance is the right curriculum for our district to meet both of the goals listed above.”
When asked if DPSCD is adhering to any benchmarks or education standards to craft the curriculum Dr. Vitti said that based on the Michigan High School Content Expectations in Social Studies, students will engage in an inquiry-based curriculum that explores the impact of scarcity and opportunity costs on personal financial decisions.
“Because the Next Gen Personal Finance curriculum is digital,” said Dr. Vitti, “the curriculum is constantly updated with the latest and greatest materials including units on racial discrimination in finance, cryptocurrency and ethical questions.
“The Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) empowers districts to define coursework that satisfies 4th-year mathematics credit. MMC recognizes Personal Finance as a course that can be offered as a Mathematics 4th year or an elective math credit taught by a teacher having either an Economics endorsement (CA) or a Mathematics endorsement (EX) teacher certification. This course is designed to assist students in understanding how to apply math concepts learned in previous math courses with a focus on mathematical operations, numbers, math logic and money management principles applied to various financial decisions they will be faced with in everyday life. Next Gen Personal Finance curriculum supports a year-long math-focused personal finance course.”
Financial Literacy in Detroit High Schools
Michael Chrzan is the founding secondary math teacher at the School at Marygrove, which opened in 2019 on Marygrove College’s campus.
He said although there are DPSCD schools and some charter schools offering personal finance as an elective, the new mandate will be the first time the course is a requirement. He added it’s unclear if there will be stand-alone education benchmarks for teachers to craft a curriculum for the required personal finance class.
The School at Marygrove alternatively offers the Journey program for students interested in financial literacy programming, robotics and computer science.
“I would say a vast majority of financial skills are lacking for students in general,” said Chrzan. “Particularly basic everyday adulting, like understanding taxes, how to deal with their own money and how to save. But then, also more of the systemic financial literacy, like investment. Almost every one of their teachers probably has a retirement account, they need to know how to save up throughout your life toward pensions and also to know how people have lost their pensions.
I think these are the things that would really help set them up not just to be able to live paycheck to paycheck, bit to really thrive financially by being able to understand the systems that they can engage and are not just a product of it.”
According to the state mandate, students also have the option to meet this requirement by completing either a half credit in mathematics, visual arts, performing arts or applied arts, or a half credit of a language other than English. Enrolling in a formal career and technical education program or curriculum also satisfies the personal finance course requisite.
Chrzan said the flexibility to interchange course requirements with other subjects is concerning because it does not allow students to grasp the full experience of each class.
“I’ve heard the legislation is allowing for students to take a half credit of a visual art and a half credit of this (personal finance) and it’s like you’re not really getting much of either half credit of both. I feel like they tried massaging it into other things so as not to overwhelm the schools, but I think that’s gonna detract from the quality of what the curriculum should be for it. “
Teaching Students to Be Financially Informed in Everyday Life
David Henry is the leading personal finance instructor at the School of Marygrove. Along with teaching 11th grade mathematics, Henry teaches “Math and Everyday Life” as an elective for students interested in learning about how to handle their finances.
Henry said he structures his class in a pragmatic fashion, focusing on skills his students need with aspects of adult life they are already engaging.
“About 25 percent of my class curriculum focuses on immediate issues students need to think about,” said Henry, “Student loan debt and talking about careers and where they see themselves. Then I have them research an annual income of their jobs before we learn about expenses and other things that come with it.”
Henry said the younger generation of students are interested in how to make their own money as entrepreneurs.
“For the students that want to be social media influencers,” said Henry, “I tell them to really think about what the starter pay will be if you have no followers. Or the ones wanting to be engineers, we research what kind of skill you need and which college can provide those technical skills. Either way, they need to start thinking about how to pay for the careers they want.”
Henry said he is concerned the mandate will be geared toward academic standardization that focuses too much on assessment of big concepts and not enough tangible skill learning.
He teaches 30 students per semester and his class has become very popular with students preferring the pragmatic skills they learn that they can readily apply.
“I don’t focus too much on formulas like compound interest rates, they can learn that in math class. Once you start talking too much about retirement plans, you lose them. That should be something integrated later on in life. Otherwise, it’s too much to handle.”
Similar to other financial literacy classes, Henry engages his students in exercises that include budgeting, understanding costs of degrees and the return on investment based on the job’s annual income, researching other needs such as housing rates in Detroit, car-related expenses and so on.
“I provide a menu of the things they are going to deal with, like credit card debit and choosing a bank among competitive options. It’s often very eye opening for them.”
Henry said the class discussions are when the students are most engaged.
“Most of my students are at the age where they are getting their driving licenses. One of the first responsibilities they have at this age is paying their [for] own gas. With inflation and the price of gas, I can hear them have very adult conversations like, ‘Did you see the price of gas at so and so station?’ This is a good way for them to understand how things are connected. I nudge them to understanding the supply chain price of gas for trucks delivering food and why food prices are up. They really get it once they can see how it connects to their lives.”
One of the national concerns about the growing movement for a personal finance mandate is the question of diverse equity considerations which largely remains an issue for a curriculum that engages students with an array of cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic situations and life goals.
“How to cash a check was a good talk that a lot of my students related to,” said Henry. “Some of my students work or their parents work and a lot of them go to the corner store to cash their pay. I don’t tell them what to do but to understand their decisions, like the loans and interests available there. So, they can truly understand the cost early on.”
The School at Marygrove is preparing to welcome their first 12th grade class this Fall and will become a full 9-12 high school. Henry said he expects many of these incoming students to be interested in personal finance as they are on the edge of adulthood.
Dr. Vitti emphasized that for both college-bound and career-bound students, a high-quality personal finance education is key to students thriving in our city, our nation, and our world.
“For the future of this (financial literacy) class here or anywhere in Detroit,” said Henry, “I hope it stays relevant to students and makes connections to short term future in what they are doing in their lives so they stay engaged on how things can impact you and be ready for tomorrow.”