Are High School Economics Teachers the Same as Other Social Studies Teachers? the Results of a National Survey

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Economics in the Curriculum and Economics Teachers

Economics has assumed an important role in the social studies curriculum. In a 2007 survey, the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE) reported the following: (1)

* Economics is included, at least to some extent, in the educational standards of all states.

* Seventeen states require students to take an economics course as a high school graduation requirement (up from 14 in 2004 and 13 in 1998).

* Twenty-three states require the testing of student knowledge in economics, two fewer than in 2004.

Personal finance, the application of economics to household decision-making, appears to be of growing importance. The same NCEE survey found that:

* Courses in personal finance are now included, at least to some extent, in the educational standards of 40 states (up from 34 in 2004 and 21 in 1998).

* Twenty-eight states (up from 20 in 2004 and 14 in 1998) now require these standards to be implemented.

* Seven states require students to take a personal finance course as a high school graduation requirement (up from six in 2004 and one in 1998).

* Nine states require the testing of student knowledge in personal finance (up from eight states in 2004 and one in 1998).

Previous studies have focused on how well students are learning economics, how teachers are trained, and other outcomes associated with improved understanding of economics. (2) However, almost nothing is reported in the research literature on economics teachers' views of the curriculum, how they teach their subject, their views on public issues and professional development. To improve our understanding of the teaching of economics we surveyed 300 economics teachers as part of a larger survey we commissioned of 1,201 social studies teachers.

Why Do Economics Teachers Think Economics is Important in the Curriculum?

When asked about specific reasons why economics should be included in the school curriculum, a large majority of economics teachers (87 percent) emphasized that economics enables students to better understand important current economic issues. This suggests that macroeconomic content and international trade issues are a high priority to economics teachers. Economics teachers also agreed that economics helps students become well-adjusted, productive members of society (80 percent), and enables students to understand the basic concepts and generalizations of the discipline (79 percent). However, they do not find it as important to teach students how to be activists supporting economic policies using market-oriented solutions (45 percent) or to teach students how to be activists supporting economic policies that use the power of government (41 percent).

A somewhat different pattern emerged when economics teachers were asked to rate the reasons for including economics in the curriculum in order of importance (most important and second most important). Encouraging these teachers to assign priorities to goals adds insight into what economics teachers actually think. Most economics teachers appear to regard economics content as an important tool in developing critical thinking skills. On the importance of critical thinking, they seem to be similar to the other social studies teachers who participated in the overall study, although somewhat less enthusiastic. Table 1 shows that when asked which of the reasons is the most important to include economics in the curriculum, economics teachers choose the objective of forming critically-minded, reflective citizens (48 percent). Both U.S. history teachers and civics teachers ranked critical thinking as most important, but rated it higher at 60 percent and 62 percent respectively.

Predictably, economics teachers stress the importance of mastering basic economic concepts. They ranked developing an understanding of basic economic concepts as the second most important reason (42 percent) to include economics in the school curriculum. …