The case for a practical math class: Personal Finance

Jun 11, 2018
Advocacy, Personal Finance, Math, Article

The Scoop

Last month, Edsource and The National Council for Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) published an article making the case that high school math instruction needs an overhaul.

In the piece, the NCTM calls for math course offerings that allow students to be “prepared to use math to understand the world around them and [have] an appreciation for the important role math plays in society.”

NCTM President Matt Larson goes on, “we hope students will come to understand the beauty of mathematics and see that it’s no different than history or literature or art. It’s embedded in nearly every aspect of our lives. That’s why it’s essential that people understand it.”

As traditional math instruction currently stands, most students aren’t “understanding the beauty,” NCTM posits.

At Next Gen, we’ve seen this story unfold in real time in our classrooms. As a physics teacher, NGPF team member Melissa Belardi saw first-hand how esoteric and irrelevant math felt to the average high schooler.

“The number of times my physics students talked about math using the dreaded phrase, ‘I’m never going to use this stuff,’ was soul-crushing and innumerable,” Belardi said.

The problem the NCTM highlights in the article: the way students learn about numbers in our schools is not helping them realize paths to success in their post-secondary lives. As a result, many young people disengage from learning about math.

What Do We Do About It?

One hopeful place schools might look for a real-world solution to this problem is required personal finance coursework.

Although the NCTM presents a number of recommendations in the article for how to ameliorate the issue, one of them struck a particular chord here in NGPF Land: that “all high school students take four years of math, including Algebra, Geometry and either advanced math such as Calculus or practical math such as Statistics, Financial Literacy or Data Science.”

Is financial education finally getting a seat at the table with other core subjects like math? Are school systems seeing the value of practical coursework for their students?

Our position here at NGPF: financial education should be a staple of every student’s required coursework. And math can be an excellent place to start that process of implementation.

Our team has also seen what happens when young people, previously disengaged with the world of mathematics, start applying math skills to real world decisions. The world of money - and all the problem-solving it involves - ignites a level of student engagement in mathematics that educators dream of.

Tim Ranzetta founded NGPF after volunteer-teaching a personal finance course to first generation college applicants. He watched as his students dug eagerly into the mathematics of money.

“Personal Finance class is full of those aha moments we all seek as educators - those times when our students’ eyes light up and they say, ‘I will never not be able to use this in my life.’”

How Do We Do It?

It is time to place personal finance on the same par as the required algebra course. But how will this happen?

This is where dedicated teachers come in. Teachers across the country are already advocating for financial capability courses within their math departments and watching as the popularity of their newly founded courses allows them to offer more and more sections. Ultimately, personal finance becomes so popular and exciting that schools end up making it a graduation requirement.

That’s how we change the trajectory of an entire generation of young people: teacher by teacher.

Here are two great examples of educators who are already on the front lines of this mission.

One teacher in Southern California, who recently drove all the way out to NGPF’s FinCamp in Reno NV, is taking the plunge into personal finance this fall after 20 years teaching high school math. He saw over the years that his school needed to make a change in the way it approached mathematics instruction. He proposed that he use two of his class periods to teach two elective sections of personal finance.

The demand for his new elective was so large that he will now be teaching five sections of the course. The impact this veteran math teacher will have on his students once he equips them with the practical decision-making nature of personal finance is incalculable.

Another math teacher, who attended the 2018 NGPF Summit in San Francisco, told us her own story of advocating for personal finance education.

She is a math teacher, but she felt that her remedial math students were disengaged and disinterested in the general math content of her course. She noticed, however, that whenever she worked in any personal finance concepts into her lesson plans, her students sprung to action.

She decided to get her course title changed to “Financial Math,” and then recreated her curriculum so that she could teach a personal finance course in place of this remedial math course. Her students love it! And they’re achieving at much higher level just from this one update alone.

Here at NGPF we want to help! We have an advocacy Toolkit to help you advocate for personal finance at your school. Access it here.

For additional questions, discussion and assistance, email Christian:

Let’s Do This!


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About the Author

Christian Sherrill

Christian comes to NGPF from the world of classroom instruction, where he was a teacher for three years at a public middle school in El Sobrante, California. After leaving the classroom, he joined math tutoring company, Zeal Learning, to help grow their educator-facing sales and marketing efforts. He's no stranger to making a dollar stretch - while living in the Bay Area on his teacher salary he paid down over $40k in student loans in the span of 3 years. He's thrilled to share those lessons with teachers and students around the U.S.