Business, College of


Date of this Version

May 2001


Published in American Economic Review 91:2 (May 2001), pp. 452-457. Copyright © 2001 American Economic Association. Used by permission.


Economics instruction in U.S. high schools is basically delivered in two ways. About half of high-school students take a required or elective course in economics, according to transcript data. The great majority of these students (about 95 percent) enroll in a regular course that focuses on basic economic concepts with applications. The remaining small percentage of students take a college-oriented course that is often called “honors” or Advanced Placement (AP) economics. Economics instruction for the other half of high-school students, if it is provided at all, is typically delivered in the context of other courses in the high-school curriculum in what is sometimes called the “infusion” or “integrative” approach. These courses would most likely be required courses taught in the social studies, such as U.S. history or American government, or in elective courses taught in business education.

This study investigates what high-school students know about basic economics given the different types of economics instruction. The primary focus is on the achievement of students who complete a basic course in high school economics. These results are important because they supply insights into what high school students who have received direct instruction in economics know about the subject. For comparison purposes, the achievement of students who have not taken a formal course in economics will be investigated to identify what they know about economics. The comparison of those students with and without instruction in a separate course in economics gives the best estimate of the importance of direct instruction in economics to the economic understanding of most high-school graduates. In addition, similar comparisons between those students with and without direct instruction in economics will be made for two groups of higher-ability students: those who enroll in honors or AP courses in economics and those who enroll in such courses for other social-studies subjects.

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