Economists Do It With Models

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They Start ‘Em Young Nowadays…

August 8th, 2007 · 23 Comments
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An article in the NYT reports on the economics knowledge of high school students: “The nation’s high school seniors performed significantly better on the first nationwide economics test than they did on other recent national exams in history and science, and demonstrated a better understanding of basic market forces like supply and demand than officials expected.”

I am happy about this for a number of reasons, but not entirely surprised- even teenagers buy stuff and have jobs of various sorts nowadays, so it stands to reason that they would have an intuitive understanding of market forces. But I digress…back to why I am happy: First, I am obviously happy that high school students have at least a basic understanding of economics, since this knowledge is necessary to participate effectively in a capitalist society, understand public policy (how can people vote intelligently if they don’t understand policy consequences?), and so on. Second, I am happy they they are, at least in some cases, having it taught to them rather than having to figure it out on their own or wait until college. If I remember correctly, only something around 50 percent of college-age Americans are graduating from 4-year colleges/universities, so a lot of people get left out if economics is not addressed at a lower level. The article states that about one-third of states require economics for graduation, which is actually higher than what I would have guessed. (As a sidenote, a particular Harvard professor said once that it would be hard to teach good economics at the high school level since the average high school teacher barely scored 1000 on the SAT. This statement did not make me happy of course, but unfortunately isn’t entirely factually inaccurate- according to the data I found, the mean SAT score for high school teachers is somewhere between 1000 and 1100…disappointing!) Third, I am happy that the effects of teaching economics is being studied, since it’s hard to learn what is effective without a feedback mechanism. Apparently educators have a lot of work to do on the curriculum side: “The test scores of students who had taken economics courses were not necessarily higher than those who had not. On average, students who had taken Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or honors courses in economics scored marginally higher than students who had taken no economics at all. But students who had taken ‘consumer economics’ or business courses tended to score lower.”

Based on the questions that the student could and could not answer, I hazard a guess that, like me, they are much better at micro than macro. 🙂

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