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3 Reasons to Drop A.P. Classes and Learn About Money

The dismal news about high school Advanced Placement course results keeps rolling in. Eventually, educators and parents will come to understand that most kids would be better served by learning about money than being shoved into an A.P. science or math class.

Sure, those stress-inducing courses look good on a college application -- but only for kids who do well in them. For the many who underperform at this level it doesn't do a thing except make them lose sleep. Those kids would be better off in a class that teaches the basics of compound interest, credit cards and cell-phone plans.

The College Board trumpets the results of A.P. students, noting that a record number of high school students took and passed A.P. courses in 2010. But a more critical look at the data reveals that a rising percentage is scoring at the lowest possible level. In effect, 23% are failing, up from 14% a decade ago. The failure rate is especially pronounced in math and science, two A.P. courses that make for the gaudiest college resume.

Meanwhile, in a survey of A.P. teachers, more than half said "too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads" and that "parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don't belong there."

I've got nothing against qualified students studying above their grade level. But most kids don't even go to college. While we're catering to the minority who do go to college and the even smaller minority who actually thrive in A.P. classes shouldn't we also devote resources to teaching all students basic personal finance? Schools are moving that direction in places like the U.K. and Australia. What about our kids?

Whether a student goes to college or not, out of high school they will quickly need to understand certain financial concepts -- how debt works, the futility of making minimum payments, late fees, car insurance. Yet only 13 states require a personal finance course to graduate from high school. The number of states requiring testing in student knowledge of economics is actually declining, from 23 in 2007 to 19 in 2009.

In crafting a nationally agreed framework this year for a cross-curriculum approach to teaching personal finance in grades K-10, Australian authorities noted that:

· Young people are most vulnerable to financial predators. Those aged 16 to 25 comprise 42% of the least financially literate members of the community. That's generally true in the States too.

· The least financially literate members of the community suffered the worst effects of the global financial crisis in terms of job loss and reduction in working hours. Similar story in the U.S.

· Boosting financial skills for 10% of the population with poor financial know-how would create 15,000 new jobs and increase Australia's gross domestic product by $6.2 billion annually. Gross that up for a U.S. population that is 14 times larger and you get 210,000 new jobs and an annual GDP kick of $87 billion. Seems like it would be a good return no matter the investment.

Photo courtesy Flickr user barkbud
More on MoneyWatch:
· Teach Money to Kids - or More A.P. Classes?
· Race to Nowhere: Homework for Parents
· 3 Steps to Teach School Kids About Money
· 6 Ways Money Skills Give College Students an Edge
· Kids and Money: Is It All Just Common Sense?

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