Monday, April 13, 2009

Redefining High School Economics

Many states require some study of economics as part of the high school graduation requirements. A bill being considered by the California legislature would redefine what that means:
Existing law provides that no pupil shall receive a diploma of graduation from high school who, while in grades 9 to 12, inclusive, has not completed a one-semester course in economics. This bill would require 1/2 of that course to focus on personal finance and financial literacy.

A reader writes in:

I am a high school economics teacher, and a board member of the non-profit CCEE (California Council on Economic Education) whose mission it is to support economic education at all levels throughout our state. As you might expect, we (CCEE) are against this legislation. Whereas personal finance is one important application of the core economic principles, it should not replace economic curriculum -- which is what this legislation would result in. We believe that students' understanding of cost/benefit analysis, opportunity cost, how markets works, etc., is more important for the high school class (i.e. it should be the core concepts of an introductory college econ class).

Any thoughts or help? Your voice, especially as a former member of AP test development committee, would be powerful. (And if you're wondering, yes, I do use your textbook, which my students have found incredibly helpful!)

I agree with this teacher that this law would be a step in the wrong direction. The legislation is akin to requiring high school biology teachers to spend half their class time on issues of personal health and nutrition. Personal finance is a useful life skill, but students need a more thorough grounding in other basic economic principles than what can be learned in the other half of a single semester course. They need a framework to think about such as topics as market outcomes, price controls, taxes, international trade, environmental regulation, monetary and fiscal policy, and so on. The goal of high school economics should be to produce not just smarter decision makers at a personal level but better informed voters on election day.