Economic Education in the High Schools: Post-Communist Romania and the United States

Article excerpt

An understanding of basic economic principles is important for students to become functioning members of free societies. Economic education is especially important in the emerging market economies of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. Because the transition to market systems has been drawn out and painful in many cases, it is vital for students in formerly communist countries to understand and believe in the long-run benefits of free markets. This is nowhere more true than in Romania, which suffered through a horrific and repressive totalitarian regime under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu. Although Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in 1989, former communists remained in power in Romania through 1996, resulting in a slow and troubled transition. Romania is classified as "mostly unfree" in the 2001 Index of Economic Freedom, with problems relating to property rights, regulation, black markets, fiscal burden of government, banking and finance, and monetary policy (O'Driscoll, et al, 2001).

Along with economic reforms, Romania is faced with problems of reforming education, including economic education. A 1994 World Bank loan aided in this process, and in 1997 the Ministry of National Education (MNE) specified that the reforms should address "the accommodation of the contents and organization of education within a society based on a market economy, the rule of law and the proclamation of individual freedom" (OECD, 2000). Due in part to the World Bank funding and the recognition by the MNE that education reforms must be designed to function in a market economy, economic education reforms are progressing quite well in Romania. This paper reports on the current state of high school economic education in Romania. To provide benchmarks for comparison, comparable information is provided about the current state of economic education in the United States.

The status and content of high school economic education

During the communist era in Romania, high school students were required to study economics in the eleventh grade for two hours per week. The required textbook contained only Marxist views of economics accompanied by readings by Ceausescu and other Romanian Communist leaders (Lopus and Stoicescu). The course was intended to indoctrinate students in the ideals of communism and the evils of capitalism. Although much has changed in Romania in the past decade, many of the structural aspects of economic education remain the same today. High school students are required to take an economics course for two hours a week in eleventh grade, and the curriculum is mandated by MNE. However, a look at the content of the existing national economics curriculum in Table 1-A reveals a notable lack of Marxism (or philosophy in general) and an apparent emphasis on markets, productivity, profit, and international trade.

It is interesting to contrast the situation in Romania with that in existence in the United States. Although economics is not required in all U.S. high schools, sixteen states currently mandate the economics courses be offered to high school students, and thirteen of these states require the course for high school graduation (NCEE, 2001). Probably the most common format for high school social science courses in the U.S. is that the course meets one hour a day, five days per week for an eighteen-week semester in the twelfth grade. This means that U.S. students taking high school economics classes average ninety hours of instruction, compared with eighty hours in Romania (two hours per week times forty weeks).

Although the economics curriculum in the U.S. is not mandated at the national level, there are voluntary national content standards whose stated purpose is to "help raise the quality of economic education in America's schools" through providing a resource for those responsible for school curricula (NCEE, 2000). Although the national standards are technically voluntary, a growing number of states have curriculum standards or proficiencies in economics that are not. …