The economic illiteracy of students is a major concern in our society. According to data from a nationally normed test of economic understanding:
** only 34% of high school students could identify profits as revenues minus costs;
** only 45% realized that government deficits result when spending exceeds revenues; and
** only 17% knew who was hurt most by inflation (Brenneke, 1992).
Society is at risk when today's high school students, the next generation of consumers, workers and citizens, display these kinds of misunderstandings and ignorance about our economic system. These results immediately raise questions not only about the economic literacy of our nations' students, but about the quality of the economic education they receive. Ultimately, these concerns activate more economic instruction at both elementary and secondary levels; integrating economics across the K-12 curriculum, integrating economics into subjects like consumer education, general business and U.S. History, and using separate economic courses.
The goal of economic education is more responsible and effective citizenship through helping students acquire the ability to use economics as independent decision makers confronting problems, personal and social, rather than merely helping them gain knowledge of the facts, concepts and assumptions that comprise part of the discipline. It empowers students to understand their world, make reasoned decisions, and act appropriately on personal and social issues of significance (miller, 1991, 37).
Fundamentally, economics is a way of thinking. At the most basic level, the economic way of thinking is best characterized by the saying, "there is no such thing as a free lunch". Due to unlimited human needs and wants, and the universal inability to satisfy those needs and wants with limited resources, all people are forced to make choices. Economic decision-making, then, is a necessary skill for individuals to develop in every society. If economic literacy is the goal, economic education is the process, the delivery system through which economic literacy is achieved, and the students in today's K-12 classroom are the target audience for attaining this goal. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to collect data on current economic education programs, as a baseline for evaluating and delivering economic education in the future.
"Requiring formal instruction in economics in our schools by teachers well prepared in the discipline would be a major step to correct ... problems" (Hermanowicz, 1991, 77) with economic illiteracy. A change in the primary way we prepare teachers is needed. Economic concepts should be infused throughout undergraduate teacher preparation programs. In addition, it is imperative that "practicing teachers ... be given assistance with economic concepts, knowledge, instructional procedures, and materials as part of their in-service education" (Hermanowicz, 1991, 78). In a study of Missouri's teachers, over 60% indicated a desire to receive in-service training on how to teach economics (Hallows & Solomon, 1991). The individual teacher who is well-trained will more likely take an active role in providing economic education across the curriculum.
In conjunction with enhanced teacher training in economic education, instructional methods which concentrate on the achievement of a fundamental understanding of economic concepts and their applications in daily life, should be developed. Traditional methods of instruction include lectures, written resources and classroom discussion. Teachers should consider the integration of technology, games and simulations, business and community resources and audio-visuals as alternative teaching methods. Ultimately, the success of any economic education program "lies with a firm understanding of when and how to use specific education methodologies" (Sisco, 1991, 301). …