Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Assessing Economic Understanding in the Early Grades

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Assessing Economic Understanding in the Early Grades

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In contemporary society, it is becoming increasingly important for students to have a working understanding of the economic principles guiding the market. More often than not, educational institutions tend to focus economic teachings on secondary school students, who are closer to entering the market as independent consumers and/or producers. However, the foundation for an understanding in economics should begin much earlier than this; specifically the basic principles of economics should be implemented into curriculum for students as young as kindergarten. By introducing economics in these very early grades, students will be able to build on the principles they learn throughout their school years and more readily identify with these principles in their own experiences outside the classroom. However, educating elementary students in economics is not the norm; rather it is often ignored for many reasons, including a perceived lack of need for economic education, time constraints in the classroom, and inadequacy of teachers in the field.

Why is economic in the early years needed? According to Mark C. Schug, editor of Economics in the School Curriculum, teaching economics is laying the foundation for learning which policies are best, which economic alternative should be accepted, and for understanding the possible consequences of the resulting action (Schug, p. 21). Economics plays a direct role in our everyday lives, for we act as both consumers and producers; furthermore, it has great influences on local, state, and federal policy (Voluntary National Content Standards, Introduction). In our economy, where so much depends on the votes of the citizens in regards to economic policy, it is of major importance that voters be educated so they can make intelligent voting decisions (Schug, p. 32). Therefore, a better understanding of economic principles will benefit our democratic society, for "a democratic market economy" works better when its inhabitants are more knowledgeable in the area of economics (Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics, Introduction). It is an education which should begin in elementary school.

The reasons for economic education beginning as early as kindergarten seem very apparent. The argument for early childhood economic education is summarized in a statement made by William L. Goodwin and Laura A Driscoll in their book Handbook for Measurement and Evaluation in Early Childhood Education, where they speak of the early years of childhood as "the foundation for later competence and development" (Goodwin & Driscoll, p. 3). Why then is this type of education more often than not overlooked when teachers are planning their curriculum? There are two main reasons for neglecting to convey very valuable economic lessons to students.

The first of these concerns time. Teachers often find themselves constrained by time in the classroom, because they think their main responsibility lies in the teaching of those basic traditional subjects that are required, whereas economics is not. For example, according to Schug, elementary teachers generally spend about twenty minutes a day on social studies courses, with only one-fifth of this time devoted to economic principles. This translates into a mere twenty-five minutes a week (Schug, p. 15). This is simply not enough time to convey economic principles effectively.

Secondly, teachers suffer from an inadequacy when it comes to the area of economics. Data show that about fifty percent of elementary educators have no background in economics, and only twenty-five percent have had just one course in the subject. Therefore, most teachers interviewed in the survey said they experience a severe lack of confidence in their abilities to teach economics well (Schug, p. 10).

The National Council on Economic Education has taken great strides to change this trend. The Council has developed several elementary school publications which are designed to aid teachers in implementing economics education in the classroom. …

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