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American students are bad with money, and no one knows how to fix it

A changing financial world for students: Girl Scouts now accept credit cards for cookie sales.
A changing financial world for students: Girl Scouts now accept credit cards for cookie sales.
The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Results from a new test of American 15-year-olds' financial literacy scores are in, and the US is about average. Students here fared worse on questions relating to money in everyday life than students in Poland, Australia, or Shanghai, but much better than students in France and Italy.

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The results are from the Programme for International Student Assessment, the same testing regimen used to measure how American students stack up in reading and math against their peers in other rich countries. So the report is bound to get a lot of attention.

The problem is it's even less clear what to do about improving financial literacy than it is to determine how to improve reading and math scores. The OECD report implies that teaching financial literacy in schools should be encouraged.

But it also acknowledges that we don't really know if financial literacy courses work. If there's an effective way to teach financial literacy in the US, research suggests that Americans haven't found it yet.

The hope is that these international tests — the next is in 2015 — will provide data that help researchers figure out which approaches work.

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