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Economic literacy in U.S. high schools

Kenneth Craig Rebeck, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Growing recognition of economic illiteracy in the United States has led to policies aimed at increasing enrollment in high school economics in the 1970s and 1980s and to efforts by national organizations to increase the quality of precollege economics instruction. As a consequence, enrollment in high school economics has doubled over the last few decades, and researchers who have studied the high school economics course have identified the availability of instructional materials and better prepared instructors as evidence that high school economics instruction has improved. ^ This study examines the current state of economic literacy and economics instruction in U.S. high schools. Two general questions are addressed. First, how much more do students who take a separate course in economics know about the subject than students who do not take such a course? Second, what factors in addition to course type, such as student and teacher characteristics, are associated with greater knowledge of economics? This study contributes to the literature on high school economic literacy through its use of a new national data set and recent developments in the statistical analysis of multilevel data.^ The 1999–2000 norming of the third edition of the Test of Economic Literacy provided the first national data set of high school economics achievement in over a decade. Average scores were compared across course type to identify the effectiveness of a separate course in economics. Multilevel regression analysis was employed to control for student, teacher and course factors that might otherwise explain differences in average scores across course type. This also provided information regarding the influence of these other factors on economics achievement. ^ The results of this study are both negative and positive. On the negative side, high school students continue to show a deficient knowledge of basic economics, even if they have taken a separate course. On the positive side, the separate course in economics is effective in increasing student understanding of economics. Teacher preparation was found to positively influence economics achievement in social studies courses. ^

Subject Area

Economics, General|Education, Social Sciences

Recommended Citation

Rebeck, Kenneth Craig, "Economic literacy in U.S. high schools" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3070134.