Since its inception, the partnership has trained more than 350 teachers from over 150 schools in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Each year, these instructors teach more than 10,000 high school students in the Third District with their own courses modeled after the Keys curriculum.

Through the Keys program, trained educators give students the knowledge, skills, and processes required to make sound financial decisions and manage their own personal finances as adults. The 52-lesson curriculum is divided into nine themes: goals and decision-making, careers and planning, budgeting, saving and investing, credit, banking services, transportation issues, housing issues, and risk protection.1

During the past 14 years, the Keys partners have learned a number of important lessons about the successful implementation of personal finance programs in K–12 schools:

  • Classroom teachers are the foundation of K–12 education. Equipping classroom teachers to better teach personal finance results in a significant multiplier effect. In addition to the Keys program for high school educators, since 2002 the Philadelphia Fed has offered numerous other programs2 that train teachers from all grades to better teach personal finance and economics. Investing in educators is essential because each teacher trained will, on average, reach 75 students per academic year. This multiplier effect results in significant economies of scale and efficiency in program delivery. In contrast, although personal finance programs that rely on classroom visits from business people and civic leaders do provide a level of outside knowledge and experience, these programs often result in less instruction time per student. And, without large cadres of volunteers, personal finance programs that rely on direct education usually reach far fewer students than do programs that rely on teachers to deliver the content. Finally, with significant talent for, specialized training in, and experience with pedagogical methods, teachers have a comparative advantage over nonteachers in educating young people in all academic fields.
  • The field of K–12 personal financial education, particularly since the financial crisis of 2007–2009, has exploded with a myriad of curriculum resources and programs, nearly all available free of charge to teachers and schools. There is little need for the development of new personal finance curriculum resources except to fill gaps resulting from the emergence of new financial products and issues. Rather, the focus of K–12 personal financial education in the U.S. increasingly should turn to equipping teachers and schools with proven materials. The Keys curriculum brings together proven, existing materials, such as Financial Fitness for Life, Second Edition3; Learning, Earning, and Investing4; and Practical Money Skills,5 to give teachers a coherent, organized curriculum for teaching their own high school personal finance courses at very low cost.
  • Most K–12 teachers in the United States have little or no training in personal finance content or how to teach it but are eager to be better equipped through in-service professional development. Training teachers matters. In-service professional development training is essential to ensure that first-time personal finance teachers receive adequate content and pedagogical preparation and that experienced personal finance teachers receive ongoing refresher programs. During a one-week course offered each summer, the Keys program provides 30 hours of professional development to teachers before they teach the curriculum to their students. There is also a three-hour refresher program offered each year after school.
  • Personal finance in K–12 schools in the United States has no “home.” In most states, personal financial education is not assigned to any particular subject area. Teachers from many different areas, including social studies, family and consumer sciences, business, and mathematics, are often equally likely to be assigned to teach personal finance in their schools. Because the program is so versatile, teachers from all these areas have been trained to teach the Keys program. Successful K–12 personal finance programs need to be adaptable to different academic departments within schools.
  • Very few personal finance programs are evaluated; even fewer are evaluated well. Given the many personal finance programs and curriculum resources available to schools in the U.S., evaluation of program success is essential so that teachers and administrators can make informed curriculum and program choices. To date, relatively few studies have been published on the effectiveness of K–12 personal finance programs in the United States. Also, much of that existing research has been conducted without the use of the best research methods.6 Asarta, Hill, and Meszaros reported the findings of a recent study into the effectiveness of the Keys program.7 They found that high school students who took a one-semester Keys to Financial Success personal finance course from a trained teacher increased their knowledge of personal finance concepts, as measured by pre- and posttests, by more than 60 percent.
  • Many K–12 personal finance programs are likely too brief to make a difference. While most schools offer at least some personal financial education to their students, few offer complete high school courses like the Keys to Financial Success program. And the personal finance that is being taught is often concentrated in specific grades, particularly the high school grades, rather than presented at each grade level in the K–12 progression. For this reason, in addition to the Keys programs, the Philadelphia Fed offers numerous professional development programs for teachers of all grade levels. Although these programs are not as involved as the Keys program, they are designed to provide teachers with the knowledge, skills, and curriculum materials necessary to introduce students to economics and personal finance in the classroom so that students become familiar with financial concepts such as saving, investing, budgeting, and decision-making well before graduation from high school. Some studies have shown that personal financial education has little or no effect on the long-run personal finance knowledge and capabilities of young people; this may be because nearly all those studies examined relatively brief programs, such as classroom visits by business leaders, lessons or units of instruction infused into existing classes, or assembly programs. The study by Asarta, Hill, and Meszaros, which focuses on the more in-depth program, provides some evidence that longer, stand-alone high school personal finance courses taught by trained teachers can have a significant impact on student knowledge.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.

[1]For more information about the Keys to Financial Success program, visit or watch a short YouTube video. This year, the Keys program will be held on July 6–10.

[2]Some recent economic and personal finance teacher-training programs offered by the Philadelphia Fed include Making Sense of Money and Banking I and II, High School Personal Finance, High School Economics, Entrepreneurship and You, Personal Finance for the Middle School Classroom, Federal Reserve Financial Education Day, and World History and Economics.

[3]Barbara Flowers and Sharon Laux, Financial Fitness for Life, Second Edition. New York: Council for Economic Education, 2010. See for more information about the Financial Fitness for Life program.

[4]Jean Caldwell, James E. Davis, and Suzanne M. Gallagher, Learning, Earning, and Investing. New York: Council for Economic Education, 2004. See for more information about the Learning, Earning, and Investing program.

[5]VISA, Practical Money Skills. San Francisco: VISA, U.S.A., Inc., 2000. See for more information about the VISA Practical Money Skills program.

[6]See Carlos Asarta, Andrew Hill, and Bonnie Meszaros, “The Features and Effectiveness of the Keys to Financial Success Curriculum,” International Review of Economics Education, 16:A (May 2014), pp. 6–24 for a discussion of research methods for evaluating program effectiveness.

[7]See Asarta, Hill, and Meszaros, May 2014.