How many states require high school students to take classes in economics?

The answer seems to be twenty, seventeen for personal finance.  Here is a full report on that topic (pdf).  Most of those states are in the South, plus CA, NY, IN, and MI.  Virginia is often considered the national leader with regard to actual substance and quality.

Here is my previous post on economics education in high school.

The pointer is from Carrie Sheffield, founder of the web site Bold.


Any evidence that these requirements produce any benefit?

The personal finance ones might. Not holding out hope on the other three...

I can buy personal finance being useful. There is a lot there that can be simply explained and understood, and that may produce tangible improvements in how people manage their financial lives. But I am highly skeptical that a watered-down Economics 101 will produce any useful improvement in public knowledge or policy. It seems just as likely, or more likely, to produce a baseless certitude on various political issues based on overly-simplistic understandings and models.

All I think we can be sure of is that it would increase demand for college-level economics instruction to provide the teachers to fulfill these requirements. When the policy proposals of our public intellectuals happen to coincide with their financial self-interest, I think it is worth demanding a higher-than-usual level of evidence from them.

Baseless certitude is our default condition as humans. Even watered down knowledge is better than 0 knowledge. Lessons are not about overly-simplistic models, you have universities for that.

Look at one high school "introduction to economics". There are topics a good parent could teach (human capital, savings, how insurance works, how to read a paycheck) and topics that you can say are propaganda (climate change v. economics). You can say it's "liberal propaganda" or "at least they can read a paycheck and understand insurance".

Actually all the studies I find says financial literacy classes dont help. They do help only when subjects are financially indepepdent. Otherwise its in one ear out the other

Thanks. Sorry to hear that.

It would seem like you might be able to play a simulation game that could interest students in personal finance concepts. Is there a good one?

We use a crummy proprietary sims style game in high school in Fairfax county. It is okay on basic personal finance stuff ( you need to rent and later buy a home, take out college loans, car loans, open various bank accounts and later invest in securities, get insurance, etc). Unfortunately, they took out all of the fun/competitive aspects of the game after the beta version (originally, when you advanced to higher levels they included social life. You had to throw parties in order to get invited to other people's parties. Also, if you threw cheap parties, people wouldn't come and you wouldn't get reciprocal invites. The game also used to include things like marriage and children in the later levels, but I suppose that's heteronormative). Anyway, the kids now find it a bore, whereas a few played it obsessively the first year we had it.

Yes, surely there is a dissertation on this somewhere.

I am reminded of the fact that Illinois is the only state that required DAILY physical education in all grades K-12. (only 6 states required physical education K-12). There didn't seem to be any differences in lifespan, obesity rates, etc. relative to other states.

I almost failed to earn my high school diploma (in iIllinois) because I needed four years of P.E. In order to pass, I had to walk on a balance beam. I told my counselor, a former P.E. teacher, that I just wasn't going to do it. It wasn't going to teach me balance; it was going to show that I don't have it. I figured I could get into college without a diploma; my best friend was admitted after 11th grade. The counselor cut a deal to allow me to pass by walking on the low balance beam.

The state required four years of P.E., but only three years of English and two years of math.

In Utah - as the report shows - a personal finance class is required, but econ is not. However, taking AP Econ satisfies the personal finance requirement, so many kids end up taking econ through that route. (I say many because both my kids did, and N = 2 is a pretty good sample, no?) The consensus was that AP Econ sucked (I believe that is a direct quote).

How could it not? It must be hard to get as many as 20 students for a high school econ course, even in a large high school.

That Utah Curriculum was changed in 2013 so it appears you are put of date. Also you allow your children to foul mouth the school so that is another strike against your parenting. From my exexperience, however, AP Econ is mostly pettifoggery although nothing worse than one expects from the Democrat controlled "education" system

So kids should be taught not to speak negatively of classes that are also pettifoggery and not real education? K.

Constructive criticism should be encouraged and even that sort of critical review should be left to knowledgeable adults

Ask the children why it sucks and draw out a logical argument from them. "It sucks because...."

Yes, knowledgeable adults who aren't actually in the classes and aren't actually approaching the material from the ignorance of a teenager.

Again, this comment needs to be deleted.

"critical review should be left to knowledgeable adults"
As long as they are neither teachers nor have any real knowledge of education, of course.

Son, you are commenting too much on this website.

Remember the golden rule: Quantity =/= Quality

Yes, you are right.

I have no opinion about the Utah curriculum and know nothing about it. The moderator needs to clear the sock-puppets out.

'How many states {should} require high school students to take classes in economics?'

Hmmm, government imposed curriculum on free? citizens. That's a good starter for serious economics education.

What flavor of "economics" should be taught?
What basics do all the economists in the world absolutely agree upon?

What will be deleted from current school curriculum or is the school day/year to be extended to make room for economics?

Who should decide what your children learn, and how?

Hmmm, government imposed curriculum on free? citizens.
Down with the government's tyranny! I think 2+2=5. Teach the controversy.

Even voluntary Economics classes may be against the courts findings in McCollum v. Board Of Education. :-)

I think we should redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily mean we must do that thing. Sorry, Sorry, but that’s just how I feel…

As I commented to Cowen's prior post on this subject, state-mandated courses today in "economics" are much like the state-mandated courses 50 years ago in "problems of American democracy": what students are expected to learn, and teachers are expected to teach, is ideology not knowledge. I appreciate that for many readers they are one and the same, but they aren't. The individual who taught me "problems in American democracy" did his best but he couldn't find any, even though at least one, an all-white classroom, was hard to miss. Such efforts almost always prove counter-productive: when faced with a choice between propaganda and their lying eyes, students, the best students anyway, will choose their lying eyes. Lesser lights, unfortunately, may not be so fortunate.

Personal finance, final exam: Consider trading the family cow for three magic beans: is this a good deal?

The value of magic beans is going to be impacted by the risk premium assigned to potential death by giants and the expected price of golden eggs at the time of purchase.

Hahaha. Yeah of course, we don't even have prays or burn homosexuals in public schools. I really don't know how we would be able to properly teach economics this way at highschool level. Also I am not sure how successful the Democrats (or the gay Illuminatis or whoever you think is making mold grow on your bread and radio transmitting voices to your head) having at making femine "queers" out of the public school students. If deliquence rates are anything to go by, not very successful at all (is there anything Democrats can get right?).

I took Economics in 10th grade in MA.
I loved it.
The entire course was built around The Worldly Philosophers.

Mine was in 12th grade, in California. It was good for simple models, and I recall the teacher spent a lot of time talking up Alan Greenspan. Not surprising given the time period (2001-2002), but a lot of the course's value was gained through hindsight...

Has a less old-fashioned leftist counterpart to Heilbroner's "Worldly Philosophers" come along in the last 40 years?

Many of the southern states,like Tennessee passed laws in the 1950s requiring economics classes as anti-communist moves. The objective of those classes was and is ( ?) to brainwash the students to believe in capitalism and oppose communism. .

They teach little of what we consider principles of economics.

I took high school economics in TN in the 1980's and later got a degree in Finance. I did not encounter any kind of right wing brain washing as you seem to have experienced. I assume you are talking first hand experience?

Some details: It was only one semester. Most of the emphasis was on personal finances. How to balance a check book. How loan interest works. For that matter, it taught what interest was. A lot of 15 year old's don't actually know what the word interest actually means. If you talk about paying interest they just assume it's some sort of fee. We also covered the supply and demand curve in the most basic sense. But still most students had never been exposed to the idea of supply vs demand until that point.

Overall, it ranked higher in long term educational value than a lot of high school courses did.

In the early 1950s my father was a teacher/principal in a six teacher -- including him -- nine grade school in rural Georgia. This type of school was very widespread in rural Georgia at that time.

He taught the 9th grade and since he thought that would be the last year of school for many of his students he dropped much of the standard curriculum and taught them life skills, like how to balance a check book or apply for a job.

I work for a social textbook publisher. We have an economics textbook for high school, but I'm not sure it's particularly worthwhile. Trying to teach economics without a certain baseline of mathematics is somewhat futile. You probably can get away without calculus but a solid understanding of what American high schools call pre-calculus is absolutely necessary.

If it were up to me there'd only be AP/IB economics with pre-calculus as prerequisite. Which in turn means as a practical matter it could only be offered to seniors in most schools.

Personal finance is a different matter, and I don't see why it shouldn't be mandatory for all students.

Make that: "social studies textbook publisher".

Do you really need anything higher than Algebra to understand basic Economics?

You need to be able to understand and work with graphs -- things like a supply and demand curve. IME those kind of skills aren't taught in algebra (which tends to take place in 9th grade) but rather in the 11th grade class. Depending on the state that's sometimes called algebra II or college algebra, but often it is called pre-calculus, particularly when it is taught to students that will go on to take calculus in their senior year.

Something like elasticity of demand is all but hopeless if you don't have at least pre-calculus. And even in that case you are basically teaching a specialized applications of derivatives in your economics class instead of in your math class.

"You need to be able to understand and work with graphs "

That makes sense. But my class order was, Algebra (8th) Geometry (9th), Algebra 2 (10th), Trigonometry (11th), and Calculus (12th).

I would assume that seniors on a similar tract could handle Basic Economics. Of course there's also the question of what other class would be replaced.

I took econ as part of required curriculum in Indiana. It was more of an economic history course, comparing different economic systems. Major concepts were sunk costs, opportunity costs, capital, externalities, and free riding. It touched very briefly on the basics of supply/demand, comparative advantage, and markets. Nothing about models, regression analysis, etc.

Trying to figure out how they compiled the list of states where econ is a required course. In Minnesota, where I've taught economics for nearly 10 years to high school students, it is a grad requirement (, but the referenced document says it isn't. There have been several students through the years where failing my econ course was the only thing between them and graduation.

The leading entity in economics education training for K-12 teachers in Virginia is the Center for Economic Education at James Madison University, run since 1989 by Bill Wood, with the center receiving high national ratings and recognition, and Bill himself the first recipient of the Kenneth Elzinga Good Teaching award, presented by the Southern Economic Association annually.

"Everyone is the best at "something" that contributes to society at large and therefore 'nobody is dispensable'" [under a theory of comparative advantage on which Aquinas and Ricardo might agree]: commenter JH, May 7, 2010.

I went to high school in California. Theoretically I had a semester of economics and a semester of American government. In practice, they were taught by the same teacher, and he didn't like economics, so I got one minute of economics and two semesters minus one minute of American government.

I went to high school in Louisiana, graduating from arguably the top high school in the state, Baton Rouge High (c/o 2000), and had to take a semester of free enterprise. Maybe there was a day on demand and supply curves that weren't understood by the teacher? There was random enrichment from Junior Achievement volunteers. It was my most worthless high school class, though the teacher was also subpar.

Econ 101 (Intro to Micro Economics) at Rice U. in 1976 was a tough course, as was Econ 102 (Intro to Macro). After that, however, the next seven courses to complete the Econ major were quite easy: just applying the 101 and 102 principles to various topics. (Since then, they've added a lot of math to qualify for a major in Econ.)

The difficulty of Econ 101/102 gave Econ majors a fair amount of undeserved respect from the STEM majors at Rice, who assumed, incorrectly, that if 101/102 were hard, the higher level courses must be really, really hard.

So, that raises the question of whether intro econ can be simplified enough for a mass number of high school students, or whether it's best reserved for elite students at elite high schools. The average freshman SAT score at Rice U. in 1976 was about 1300 out of 1600, which would be about 1400 in the easier scoring system introduced in 1995.

Personally, I would have loved to have had Arnold Kling teach econ to my sons when they were in high school, but in terms of mass secondary education ... I don't know.

It's an unnecessary distraction. Only a minority of youths of 15 should be in academic programs and if they're not in a British-style specialized program, you need to be teaching them history, geography, and mathematics before you even think about economics.

My general guess is that microeconomics can be profitably taught to students logical enough to master, say, Algebra 2.

But macroeconomics is just too hard for almost everybody with an IQ lower than Tyler's. You may notice, for example, that I have very few opinions on macro questions. I had a lot of opinions on macro 35 years ago, but over the decades I haven't seen much evidence that I have much of a knack for understanding macro, so I've shut up about it.

The problem, even for capable students, is that the material is somewhat counter-intuitive to begin with. I knew a professor, now at a state college in North Carolina, who started his teaching career with a visiting position at a liberal arts college with a certain amount of cachet, one that drew its students from the top 12% of 17 year old youth. "Oh, we use that [introductory micro] as a weed-out course". They did not use calculus with their introductory micro either. Economics is not for everyone.

My required economics class was probably the easiest A that I ever made in high school. It had to be. While all my other classes were of the more advanced variety, the economics class had to adapt to the lowest common denominator given that it was a requirement for all students to graduate. Nothing made me fell more above average that taking that class.

Waste of time and resources.

In va, students must now pass the "wise financial literacy test" to graduate from high school. It seems very basic and mostly common sense. One issue we have (not a major issue as the vast majority of students pass the test) is that the curriculum created by state is only coincidentally aligned with the test which is produced by some 501c in New York I believe.

what would Taleb think?

Just so you understand what personal financial education means.

I teach an Intro to Econ course at a community college in Florida. The intro course is primarily taken by dual enrollment (high school) students to satisfy both their high school and AA degree requirements. The following was added to our Course Objectives Stated in Performance Terms a couple of years ago:

The student will demonstrate knowledge of personal financial planning by
a) identifying short-term and long-term personal financial goals;
b) identifying anticipated and unanticipated income and expenses;
c) examining components and purposes of a personal net worth statement;
d) developing a personal budget;
e) investigating the effects of government actions and economic conditions on personal financial planning; and
f) explaining how economics influences a personal financial plan.

The expectation was that we would cover this in two 75 minute class periods.

We have had two daughters in Virginia high schools (Prince William County). One graduated two years ago, one is now a senior (applying to some school named George Mason). One had to prepare a household budget and a college education budget. Another had to pick a job and do a household budget based on the job's salary. It was not economics. Perhaps home economics would be a better name for it. Both were very brief projects. So it seems deceptive for the report to say "economics" is required to be taken in Virginia. One wonders how accurate the rest of the report is.

For many years, I have asked my graduate public finance class members whether they took a high school course taught by the football or basketball coach at their school. I have never had less than 50 percent of the class (excluding students from China) respond positively. Try it yourself next semester.

Does studying economics make you more selfish? And if so, what should we do about it?

In my view learning is must for all; it should be spread as much as possible. I do Forex trading and this business too requires a lot of education, if we knowledge and experience then we can win any battle with ease. I work with OctaFX broker where I get massive benefit and that’s especially to do with their educational setup that guides me so very well and also keeps thing straight forward for me which allows me to be successful.

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