Economics for (and by) 10th Graders

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It’s a well-documented truth that many Americans are financially and economically illiterate – a handicap that some believe contributed to the recent financial crisis.? A 2008 paper by?Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell and Vilsa Curto found that “[F]ewer than one-third of young adults possess basic knowledge of interest rates, inflation, and risk diversification.”?While experts disagree on the effectiveness of financial education, it seems likely that teaching economics at the middle- and high-school levels are a pretty good idea.

Enter Dan Wise, a humanities teacher at the San Diego charter school High Tech High.?The school, to which admission is determined by a Zip code-based lottery, follows an integrated, project-based learning model, and boasts an impressive college admissions record among its graduates, 35% of whom are “first-generation college students.”

High Tech High’s teachers are told to “teach their passions.”? In Wise’s case, the result of this mantra is Economics Illustrated, a student-produced primer on the kind of basic economic concepts adults and kids alike should understand.

Wise taught his 10th grade students basic economics in class and then divided them into small study groups, where they read a variety of?pop-econ books. He then?assigned each student a specific topic based on their declared interests.? Each student was responsible for producing two pages of the final product, “with the first page defining the economic term and providing examples, and the second page exploring, through an original article, how the term can inform one’s understanding of a current event.”? Students also produced visual examples of their concepts, in conjunction with the school’s art teacher.

The final result is chock full of important economics lessons.? One student wrote about “warm glow preferences,” using volunteers in Haiti as an example: “Many American citizens help, and they aren’t getting anything out of it except the feeling of generosity.” Another student explained the effects of loss aversion on the housing market. Classic topics like externalities, free-riding, expressed vs. revealed preferences, and regression analysis (look for Eric Morris and Emily Oster examples!) are also covered in the book.

For good measure, Wise added one final component to student’s grades:

“It was important to me that the students’ work was intelligible to their peers, so, as a final component, I asked each student to deliver a lesson on his or her term, with the accompanying pages serving as a handout. As a final lesson in incentives, each student’s grade was partially determined by how well his or her peers performed when quizzed on the student’s term.”

Not bad for 10th graders.


Bobby G

Kind of a cool article, something I would have enjoyed had I taken that class in high school.

I do have to say though, that in your first paragraph I'd say the "handicap" was what got Obama elected... Sorry couldn't resist (really though his economic policies are disgusting).

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

We are a Capitalist Society, the Greatest Entrepreneurs in the History of the World, Yet only 2% of the population owns a business where they actually employ one employee in additional to themselves. If we could get 1% more interested in owning and operating a business, that would be a 50% increase in business entrepreneurship.

It is hot. Where are the children's Lemonade Stands of yesterday? Kids need to venture out into the world of business and commerce instead of playing Guitar Hero and watching TV.

Make a Lemonade Stand that sells caffeinated products, cappechino, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. These are tax free and regulatory free business for minors. And it can be fun creating and imagining a successful business.

We need entrepreneurs who venture risks more so than elite athletes and Phds in Lit.

Jim Stapleton

Unfortunately, no part of the American school system has been created or maintained with any kind of economic efficiency in mind. Life skills are not taught. Occupational skills are not taught. Skills that we use in everyday life (goal setting, negotiation, etc.) are not taught. Financial and economic skills are not taught. There's no true financial incentive to be a great teacher, so great teaching is haphazard...if the teacher feels like it AND is capable of it AND is in an environment where it can happen, only THEN it gets done. The teacher unions actively discourage school choice or any other kind of economic incentive. So the likelihood of there being ANY economics taught in an environment where economics are antithetical is really nil.

Jim F

if only more teachers and education systems had this kind of passion, the world would be a much different place. Good for this teacher and school for thinking outside the box

Douglas Warren

Why can't all high school classes be taught this way?

Jennifer

I think this is absolutely great, I am currently a business admin. student and economics is a huge part of everything that I have studied so far. I was fortunate to have a civics and economics class and high school that was taught by a teacher who actually cared if we understood and retained the information. I have used the information that I learned in that class for so many different things, it's hard to think that it is not mandated across the U.S. I think if more students truly understood economics and how it works our nation would be in a better situation. Hat's off to this teacher and the students who participated in the class. Maybe some other teachers will take note and start focusing more on economics as well!

Ghost

Americans are not financially and economically illiterate.
We are mathematically illiterate.
We are grammatically illiterate.
We are just plain illiterate, from start to finish.
But, hey, we have Lady Gaga and we seem to be proud of it.

J.P. Steele

It is not a good thing to inflict this curious form of economics on children before they have the background and context to be able to decide for themselves the veracity of the claims. As is, our dear discipline is a dumping ground of stale dogmas and an ideology of possessive individualism. Give the kids a break.

Shay Guy

Compound interest seems easy enough to explain -- "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Eric Jansen

A colleague of mine, Derek Johnson, also came to similar conclusions a few years ago regarding the general financial illiteracy of young adults in the US.

His concern about this state-of-affairs led him to write a book on financial literacy:

You Always Have Options: Guiding Principles for Managing Money

For those not fortunate enough to live in San Diego (or to be selected for High Tech High), this book provides young adults with a (big) step on the road to managing their personal finances. Topics include an the true cost of buying and owning a car, how inflation affects you personally and managing your own money.

Certainly worth a look...

santhosh

I think this is absolutely great, I am currently a business admin. student and economics is a huge part of everything that I have studied so far. I was fortunate to have a civics and economics class and high school that was taught by a teacher who actually cared if we understood and retained the information. I have used the information that I learned in that class for so many different things, it's hard to think that it is not mandated across the U.S. I think if more students truly understood economics and how it works our nation would be in a better situation. Hat's off to this teacher and the students who participated in the class. Maybe some other teachers will take note and start focusing more on economics as well!

Kiel Bowman

I was actually a part of the first graduating class of this high school; they've come a long way since I was a student there. Its nice to see some quality projects coming out of it, finally.

In regards to JP Steele's comment, I'd have to disagree; having been a member of the school myself, I feel fully certain that this teacher would have given them a decent background in the material before attempting this project. It has the ring of a year-end project to it.

In addition, in my senior year at the high school, there was an experiment with offering accredited community college classes on our own high school campus, on topics from Physics to Philosophy to English, etc. The physics course in particular was taught by Professor Noah Finkelstein, who, along with most other professors, accepted the offer to teach to high school students hesitantly, only to find that, at least at our campus, the students' ability to process information as indistinguishable from that of freshmen and sophomore college students. In fact, Prof. Finkelstein was conducting a study on our physics abilities and progress throughout the semester in comparison with such other universities as (if I recall correctly) USC, and found our results favorable.

Don't underestimate the motivated youngster.

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Ida Metiam

I wish more high schools would follow suit. Kudos to these passionate teachers!

Mark Y

In a reaction to Jim's post, I would have to disagree.
As a school teacher in a small rural community, I see the economics of life being taught and used everyday in our school. Our agriculture classes teach essential life and job skills to a population of students whose survival after high school will depend on their ability to efficiently manage a crop farm or dairy farm. The Ag teachers in our building teach nothing but occupational skills! I am not part of our agriculture department, nor had I ever seen Ag taught in a school before this, but how vitally important it is. The life and occupational skills instilled in these student and their economic knowledge of agricultural business allow us to buy and eat the food we do everyday. I believe this argument also largely depends on your school district and state educational standards.

On the topic of financial incentive for teachers, I agree that we need to hold teachers accountable for rigorous curriculum and courses that will prepare our students to lead us in the near future, but I truly do not see how teacher incentives will help accomplish this. There are already incentives in place in many states for teachers who attend workshops, add extra hours of undergrad studies, earn a masters or doctorate degree, etc. These have been in place for years, but the public believes teachers are less effective in recent years. Would adding more incentives (which inevitably would be more money) to the mix in a time of economic pinch in most state's education budgets really help? I doubt it, but I suppose I could be wrong. I can also say that I am not one jaded by the union as I do not belong to nor have I ever belonged to an educational union.

Many people believe schools should be run through the economic policies of the business world to make them more efficient and effective, but if we take an honest look at the educational realm, no matter how much we try to follow a business model, it simply will not work. Students are not numbers; students are not products. They are not pieced together the same way, nor do they function the same way a car or electronic device from an assembly line would. Radios do not have a choice in playing music when you turn them on. Students may choose whether or not to complete assignments and show motivation in a classroom. Economics are rigorously taught at my school and many students take advantage of this privilege. Many more do not. Students largely care about what society is teaching them, not what school is teaching them. Our society says "Make money and spend money." Thus our students want to learn how to make and spend money, with little regard to the best practices of why or how we should spend (or not spend) money.

I applaud the efforts of the educators in this article. I am glad they have the ability and choice to teach in such a creative and unique way. It is important to understand that most of us in the education system do not have the opportunity to do so because of politics and the very economics that we want our students to understand.

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Practical_Econ

My children recently received BA's. One from the number one public University in the USA and another one from a mid tier state land grant University famous for football and corn. They are not business majors. Neither one understands one thing about a mortgage. Nothing. We need some real pratical econmics and finance training at all levles - grade shcool, junior high, high school and college.