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Research Questions

  1. Based on the literature, what are the most effective financial education curricula?
  2. What set of criteria for assessing the content, utility, quality, and efficacy of financial education curricula emerge from the research?

Financial education during elementary and secondary school years can provide a solid foundation of skills and knowledge that students will need for financial decisionmaking later in life. Financial education during the K–12 years can help build students' knowledge of consumer financial products, money management basics, knowledge of where and how to seek balanced or unbiased information, and skills at carrying out financial tasks. There are numerous financial education materials targeted at K–12 students. However, little exists in the way of guidelines or criteria that would allow educators to assess the content, utility, quality, and efficacy of these curricula. In addition, school district leaders and teachers have limited time and other resources to make informed decisions about the adoption and use of appropriate curricula. The Office of Financial Empowerment at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau contracted with RAND to develop criteria that can be used to assess K–12 financial education curricula. This report documents the current state of the literature and advances a set of criteria — based on the literature and discussions with financial curriculum experts, teachers, and financial education curriculum developers — for assessing financial education curricula on multiple dimensions.

Key Findings

Evidence regarding which curricula are effective in delivering financial education to K–12 students is inconclusive

  • While many studies have documented a positive association between general or specific curricula and financial knowledge, few studies have been sufficiently rigorous to make causal inferences.
  • Studies of individual curricula generally find positive relationships between financial education and financial knowledge, behavior, and/or attitudes. However, studies of financial education in general find less-clear associations, with many papers finding no effect.
  • While some of the literature on long-term effects of financial education suggests that financial education in high school can have a lasting effect on financial knowledge and behavior into adulthood, other studies find no such relationship.

Criteria for assessing financial education curricula are numerous

  • Based on the literature, we arrived at six major content standard topic areas on which financial education curriculum frequently focus: earning, income, and careers; saving and investing; spending; credit; financial responsibility, money management, and financial decisionmaking; and risk management and insurance.
  • For materials to be useful, they should help develop teachers' financial education knowledge and provide assessments that help teachers gauge students' understanding of concepts and skills.
  • The quality of financial education curricula should be objective and free from branding or other biases, accurate and up to date, and readily accessible and available.
  • A curriculum might be considered to have evidence of effects if, for example, there was at least one study reporting positive effects and the study compared outcomes for students who did participate in the curriculum with those who did not, and accounted for differences in the two groups.


  • While many evaluations have suggested a positive correlation between a particular program and financial knowledge and behavior, very few have used sufficiently rigorous evaluation designs to draw causal inferences. Moreover, evaluations of specific curricula often measure knowledge or behavior gains shortly after program completion, raising questions about how long these effects might persist. More-rigorous studies and evaluations are needed to confidently assess the curricula.
  • Teachers report being unprepared to teach financial education, particularly in regard to more-advanced financial education subjects, such as risk management, insurance, and savings. There is a need for financial education teacher training, underscored by the fact that financial education is often embedded in other subjects, which are the teachers' primary area of specialization.

This research was sponsored by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and conducted within the Center for Financial and Economic Decision Making within RAND Labor and Population, as well as RAND Education.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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