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High school students are studying up on calculus, advanced chemistry and world history, but most aren't learning fundamental money lessons to help them navigate the real financial world.

Such is the case with Jessica Pollack's son Adam, an 18-year-old who graduated in May from Los Alamitos High School in Orange County, Calif. Much to Jessica's chagrin, the school doesn't require its students to take a personal-finance class to graduate. "It's a top-rated school, but there is no personal-finance requirement, which is just astonishing to me," Pollack says. "There's a technology requirement that's statewide. As a technology teacher, I appreciate that, but these kids are exposed to computers and technology all the time. Yet when it comes to buying the computer and financing it, they're clueless."

Odds are your children will also graduate from high school without being taught basic money lessons, including how to create a budget or write a check. Though the recession has raised awareness about economic issues, it appears those heightened concerns have prompted few states to require a personal-finance class. Only 13 states currently require high school students to take a personal-finance class to graduate, according a survey released in March by the nonprofit Council for Economic Education (CEE).

Interest is there, opportunity is not

An interest in personal finance among high school students doesn't appear to be the issue. A recent poll by Sallie Mae found that 84% of high school students desire more financial education. Among 16- to 18-year-olds, 86% said they would rather learn about money management in the classroom than make financial mistakes in the real world, according to a 2011 survey by brokerage firm Charles Schwab.

Parents also have expressed concerns over their children's lack of financial knowledge. According to an August survey by MasterCard, 64% of parents of college-bound children are worried about their children's ability to manage money.

Many high schools appear to be doing the bare minimum to educate students about personal finance, says Ted Beck, the chairman of the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, which trains teachers on how to instruct classes on personal finance. Beck also heads up the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a nonprofit that provides personal-finance training tools to teachers and financial-education resources to the public on its website. He says many schools bring in guest speakers, but that such efforts aren’t enough. "You can't learn a language in two hours, so having a two-hour visitor coming in to talk about money really doesn't provide the students with what they need," he says.

Nan Morrison, the president and chief executive of the CEE, says state governments are so focused on teaching the core subjects of math and English that personal finance often gets overlooked. "If you can't read and you can't count, all bets are off," she says. She adds that many cash-strapped states lack the funding to institute personal-finance instruction.

Conflicting viewpoints within a state's bureaucracy can also be an obstacle, says Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot. Franchot was the key proponent behind a petition drive for the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill in 2012 that would require all Maryland high school students to complete a stand-alone course in financial literacy to graduate. He says the state's current approach, which involves incorporating personal finance into other courses, is ineffective. "Embedding of financial literacy in classes is just a sop to avoid this issue, and it's developed by the education bureaucracy as a way to control their turf. That's why I haven't been able to get it through the legislature," he says. "Ultimately we will have it in Maryland, but you kind of have to drag the bureaucracy into it kicking and screaming."

Beck sees the same tug-of-war in states throughout the country. "You can't wave a wand and say, 'Every school must teach this now,'" he says.

Franchot adds that many state officials who oppose the bill cite funding costs as their biggest concern. However, he points out that Maryland's Carroll County, which chose independently to implement a stand-alone financial literacy course for all eight of its high schools, did so with just $37,700. The only recurring cost is $325 per teacher for a one-time training course, Franchot says. "The idea that you have to hire a bunch of new teachers and incur all sorts of new textbook costs and other sorts of expenses just isn't true," he says.

Discomfort among teachers and parents

Although Carroll County's training course was a minimal expense, Beck says getting teachers to feel comfortable teaching the subject may be a bigger challenge. If teachers provide students with misinformation about personal finance, it can have serious implications. Approximately 64% of Wisconsin teachers surveyed by the University of Wisconsin in Madison said they felt unqualified to address the state's financial literacy standards, and few felt "very competent" lecturing a class on topics such as risk management and debt. But more than 70% of teachers polled in a nationwide NEFE survey said they are willing to receive formal financial-education training to teach a financial literacy class.

Many parents are also uncomfortable with teaching their kids about money management. David Bruzzese, who co-authored the book "The Teen's Guide to Personal Finance: Basic Concepts in Personal Finance that Every Teen Should Know" with Joshua Holmberg, chalks it up to parents lacking confidence in their own financial knowledge. He says many parents haven't learned critical financial values themselves, so teaching their children may do more harm than good. "Parents may be passing along bad financial habits to their kids because that's all they know," Bruzzese says.

Morrison of the CEE agrees: "To say it's a parent's responsibility seems unfair -- unfair to the parents and unfair to the kids. You can't ask people to be responsible for teaching something if they haven't received the education themselves."

Consequently, money is among the lowest priorities in conversations between parents and their children; it ranks below talks about the importance of good manners and the benefits of good eating habits, according to a survey by Harris Interactive released in August.

So what role should parents play in teaching their children about money? Bruzzese says parents don't necessarily need to impart financial lessons to their children, but they should encourage discussions about the topic. Beck of NEFE agrees: "This should be a discussion, not a lecture," he says. "You want to make sure it's a comfortable thing to talk about around the dinner table."

While parents may not need to teach their children about advanced subjects such as 401k's and mutual funds, they can teach the basics, such as the difference between wants and needs. Another important concept is learning how to apply the time value of money. "Not spending $1.50 a day on a soda can have a big impact on a person's financial future, and that's something that young kids need to understand," Bruzzese says.

Tamsen Butler, the author of "The Complete Guide to Personal Finance For Teenagers & College Students," says parents need to be financial role models. "If you're buying a luxury car when you can't even afford to buy groceries without a credit card, you're setting a bad example for your kids," she says.

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