Published Online: June 15, 2007
Published in Print: June 20, 2007, as Report Finds Lack of Economics Instruction
Includes correction(s): December 13, 2011

Report Finds Lack of Economics Instruction

Courses are mandated in a minority of states, though progress cited.

Even as state policymakers stress the importance of preparing students to compete in a global economy, fewer than half the states require students to take even a basic course in economics. What’s more, the number of states that test students on the concepts of economics is declining.

That’s according to the latest national report card on the state of economics and personal-finance education, released last week by the National Council on Economic Education Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

“It is vital that we teach these concepts, and it’s becoming more important because of the way our society is changing, with all of the globalization we’re seeing,” said Joseph A. Peri, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York City-based council. “States are continuing to make progress, but we’re still not there.”

The goal, Mr. Peri said, is for all states to require an economics course for graduation. Also important is that states test students in the subject, he said, “because if it’s going to be tested, it’s more likely to be emphasized.”

Econ 101

Nationwide, 17 states require students to take an economics course in high school.

There are signs of progress: Forty-one states are requiring economics to be included in statewide academic standards, up from 28 states in 1998, and 17 states now require students to take economics, up from 13 in 1998. On the flip side, according to the report card, the number of states that require students to be tested on economics concepts has declined to 22, down from 27 in 2002.

What’s becoming more popular in states is the teaching of personal or consumer finance. Seven years ago, just one state required students to take a personal finance course—now, that number has grown to seven, with Oklahoma the latest to require it. ("Teacher Pay, Charters Top Oklahoma Action," June 13, 2007.)

“Too many young people lack understanding of the simplest personal finances, and that void can have serious repercussions later on in life,” Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, said in a statement when he signed legislation in May mandating such a course.

The six other states that require a personal- finance course are Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and South Dakota.

Not Just Checkbooks

Supporters of economics education say the coursework is crucial for students who eventually will have to manage their money, open retirement accounts, or buy a house. But supporters also say studying economics and personal finance isn’t just about learning how to open a checking account. It’s also, they say, key to understanding the basic principles of globalization, capitalism, and supply and demand—which can help students understand real-world realities, such as high gas prices.

“These are skills students are going to be able to use the rest of their lives,” said Alan B. Krueger, the council’s chief economist and a professor at Princeton University.

According to the economics education council, which conducts the survey periodically, some states do better than others in teaching students about economics. The last such survey was released in 2005.

Rhode Island was the only state without academic standards for economics. Also faring poorly on the most recent survey were Alaska, North Dakota, and Washington, which have academic standards for economics, but don’t require them to be implemented or tested. Nor do those states require their students to take either an economics or a personal-finance course.

States that are expanding their economics requirements include Mississippi, which in 2008 will require high school students to take economics before they graduate.

This fall, results from the first National Assessment of Educational Progress in economics will be released, but it will provide only national-level results of academic achievement in the subject.

One of the biggest hurdles to including more economics lessons in school, supporters say, is a packed curriculum that stresses mathematics, English, and science. Most of that is driven by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its emphasis on those subjects. In addition, state policymakers are pushing to get more students interested in science, math, engineering, and technology.

While economics educators agree those subjects are critically important, Mr. Petri said, “economics and the broader social studies are being marginalized a little bit because of this great emphasis on math and reading.”

Vol. 26, Issue 42, Page 6

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Correction: 
An earlier version of this story misstated the scope of the results from the first National Assessment of Educational Progress economics test.

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