Economics, Common Core State Standards, and the Fourth R

Article excerpt

For all of his intellectual limitations, Gump was a fount of unexpected wisdom, and with that homespun observation he could have been talking about chocolate's immense range of possibilities as a teaching tool. Whether it is through fiction (Curious George or Roald Dahl's Charlie and that fantastic chocolate factory) or history (the Mayans and Aztecs) or contemporary social studies (the emerging market for luxury chocolate), a chocolate-coated curriculum is one of the more appetizing ways to integrate the new Common Core State Standards into K-12 instruction. And because virtually every aspect of chocolate is infused with economics-from the early use of cocoa beans as a currency to its more contemporary role in global trade-it is also, as we discuss later in this article, an ideal way to teach economics to students K-12.

The value of including economics in school curricula has been gaining recognition, even before the introduction of the Common Core. The latest Council for Economic Education (CEE) Survey of the States reported that 21 states required economics for high school graduation, an increase from 13 in 1998. While that still represents a minority of the states, precollege academic content standards in more than 45 states now include economics concepts (Watts & Walstad, 2006). Furthermore, more students are signing up voluntarily for economics courses. In 2009, 58 percent of high school graduates took an economics course, up from about 45 percent from 1990 to 2005 (Walstad & Rebeck, 2012).

We believe that the teaching of economics can be a valuable way to promote the new Common Core standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History and Social Studies. The standards seek to foster the establishment of "a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance"; proficiency "in new areas through research and study"; an appreciation of different disciplines, technologies and media; and an understanding of "other perspectives and cultures" (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012). The standards place a heightened emphasis on the ability to acquire information, conduct research, evaluate and synthesize information, think critiWe cally, weigh conflicting viewpoints, and solve problems and formulate conclusions.

Rational decision making is at the heart of these skill sets-and instruction in economics, with its focus on rational actions, is an optimal means of nurturing that behavior. The ability to make rational decisions is also at the heart of students' preparation for college and career, and collegeand career-readiness are explicit goals of the Common Core. Thus economics as a classroom subject is particularly well-suited to furthering the Common Core.

A secondary but related benefit of the study of economics is that it instills what we at CEE call the fourth "R"-a real-world understanding of the economy as well as personal finance. The value of the fourth "R," like the other three "Rs," is not limited to the individual student's classroom performance or even to his or her individual success. Rather, it underpins our very way of life. As adults, we should all be grounded in an understanding of the real world if we are to function meaningfully as members of a democracy and, beyond that, as participants in the global economy.

Benjamin Friedman, William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University, has asserted that "gaining an understanding of how the economy works is essential for our own well-being as well as for our ability to make informed choices as citizens." In other words, Friedman is saying, understanding economics underlies sound decision making. And economist Henry J. Kaufman has observed that "early training in economics and finance will go a long way towards the creation of a stable society in the future." While economists are admittedly invested in their subject, their view is increasingly shared by the public at large; a CEE study in 2005 found that over 95 percent of adults thought economics should be taught in high school. …