Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs in the world of financial literacy. For example, Lusardi points out that the Organisation for Economic, Co-operation and Development in 2012 started measuring financial literacy among students around the world, The results will be released in July.
"That can provide more evidence" of the need for financial education, "and I think more stimulus," she said.
Lusardi is also enthusiastic about some new financial literacy initiatives, like a program from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide financial education through public libraries. Since libraries now provide broader community services, like job hunting and resume assistance, financial education materials are a kind of natural extension.
A few existing initiatives have also shown promise. One, a curriculum developed by the Council for Economic Education, was implemented in Tennessee in 2010. Before the start of the program, students were asked a serious of questions to gauge their financial literacy, and just 3 percent of middle school students got 70 percent or more correct. After the curriculum, that figure rose to 40 percent.
Fidelity Investments is now partnering with the council to extend the reach of the curriculum, which is called Financial Fitness for Life. Fidelity's Blank says a small group of Fidelity volunteers can have an impact on a large number of students by training a group of teachers who then take financial literacy lessons back to their students.
Fidelity won't disclose the resources it has committed to this financial education effort, but whatever its size, Lusardi says partnerships like this are necessary. "When public resources are very limited, these partnerships with institutions in the private sector are very important."
Maybe they will even tilt the marketing-education scales a bit.
—By CNBC's Kelley Holland.