Could improving students' math skills boost financial literacy? Some policymakers think so.
New data show American teens' money smarts are, at best, middling. Among the 18 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's assessment, the U.S. ranked at best eighth and at worst 12th, based on the range of scores from its 1,133 students tested. Worse, 17.8 percent of the 15-year-olds tested didn't meet proficiency standards—meaning they're unable to apply basic concepts such as value for money.
"The sobering news here is that we're average," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told attendees at a Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to release the data. "We're at the middle of the pack."
Data from the OECD study shows a correlation between students' math skills and their performance in financial literacy, said Andreas Schleicher, director of education at OECD. In most countries, students who performed well at math had even higher financial literacy scores.
In some cases, it's clear that it's the math, and not exposure to personal finance. Shanghai-China, for example, topped the personal finance assessment despite not exposing students to dedicated coursework in the subject. "All the teaching and learning in Shanghai focuses on conceptual understanding," Schleicher said.