What Should High School Students Know About the Federal Budget?

By Catherine Gewertz — May 02, 2012 2 min read
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High school students rarely, if ever, learn anything about the federal budget and how taxes are collected and spent, an oversight that doesn’t serve their development as informed, engaged citizens. That’s the argument that Teachers College is advancing as it announces that it has developed a curriculum to fill that gap.

The “Understanding Fiscal Responsibility” curriculum consists of 24 lesson plans that cover, among other things, information about taxation, debt, and deficit, and aims to help students explore the questions raised by their country’s fiscal policies. It will be available for free to all high schools.

Tonight’s announcement at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York, is to include a panel discussion featuring former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag and Teachers College President Susan H. Fuhrman, among others. Teachers from a Bronx high school that piloted the curriculum are slated to share videos from their classroom work. The curriculum also has been piloted in Texas.

“Despite fiercely partisan debates in Washington about the federal budget over the past four years, most Americans do not have a thorough understanding of how the federal government raises and spends money,” says a release from Teachers College. “The new curriculum was created after research by Teachers College found that, although the federal budget is mentioned in the core curriculum adopted by most states, it gets little or no attention in most high schools across the country.”

Teachers College has arranged for the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching to conduct an evaluation of the curriculum.

The first 10 lessons are available in hard copy and will be mailed to every high school in the country, according to the college. Digital versions of those, and an online glossary of terms used in the curriculum, are available at the project’s website, The rest of the lessons will follow in the coming weeks.

The lessons fall into five topic areas. Some examples: “What costs and trade-offs are we willing to accept to ensure the benefits of income security to Social Security recipients?"(economics); “What responsibility does the federal government have to ensure the elderly a secure and stable standard of living?” (civics); “Social Security Act of 1935: Did the creation of federally administered old-age pension program support or threaten American values and traditions?” (U.S. History); “Should developing nations accept loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?” (world history); and “Should we raise income taxes to reduce the budget deficit and pay down the national debt?” (mathematics).

The website also has a list of those who advised the shaping of the curriculum and the research findings that led to its creation.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.