The Understanding Fiscal Responsibility schools team focused on teaching practices. It assessed current pedagogy and curricula about the federal budget, national debt and budget deficit as enacted in a sample of secondary schools. We interviewed 35 high school social studies teachers and observed 20 high school social studies classrooms in typical US secondary schools located in nine U.S. cities, mostly in the New York metropolitan area. The purpose of our work was to gauge where and how economic and public policy issues, especially fiscal policy, national debt, federal budget and budget deficit, are taught.

This section highlights three findings, based on the limited data available for this project, our teacher interviews and classroom observations:

(1) 85% of the participating teachers (30 out of the 35) do not use in-depth curriculum or pedagogy about the federal budget, national debt and budget deficit. The remaining five teachers in the study employed an in-depth curriculum and pedagogy on these topics.

(2) Related to the first finding, the topics of federal budget, national debt and budget deficit, when taught, are overwhelmingly taught as facts and formula-based subjects leaving little room for interpretation, evaluation of the significance of these issues, or civic engagement with the content.

(3) Lessons on personal finance dominate the economic curriculum in a majority of non-AP economics classes.

We believe that adolescents with a more informed perspective about debt will make more knowledgeable and responsible decisions about their own finances and demand better decisions from their elected leaders about the nation’s finances. It is imperative that educators promote responsibility in matters of personal finance. Likewise, teachers need to stimulate a democratic dialogue among young people about these financial issues, enabling them to grapple with their complexity, as well as the competing agendas and conflicting values that shape public policy. With a deep understanding of these economic issues, students will be empowered to demand capable leadership and effective solutions to fiscal challenges from our public officials.

Marri, A., Ahn, M., Crocco, M., Grolnick, M., Gaudelli, W., & Walker, E. (2011). Teaching the federal budget, national debt, and budget deficit: Findings from high school teachers. The Social Studies, 102 (5), 204-210.