THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 14, Fall 1997

William A. McEachern, Editor

Voluntary Standards

The popularity of economics at the college level may run hot and cold, but economics at the primary and secondary levels is growing. What goes on there may seem remote to you now, but the background that students bring to college will affect what you teach and how you teach it. Economics is one of nine disciplines identified in Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994, which was proposed by President Clinton and approved by Congress. The U.S. Department of Education asked the National Council of Economic Education to develop the standards in economics. After many drafts, a committee chaired by John Siegfried of Vanderbilt University produced the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics. These standards offer guidance to educators about what economic principles primary and secondary school children should know and when they should know them. Note that the word "Voluntary," which appears first in the title, is there to reduce concerns about the federal imposition of national standards.

According to developers of the standards, by the time students graduate from high school, they should have achieved three objectives. "First, they should understand basic economic concepts, and be able to reason logically about key economic issues that affect their lives as workers, consumers, and citizens, so they can avoid errors that are common among persons who do not understand economics. Second, they should know some pertinent facts about the American economy, including its size and the current rates of unemployment, inflation, and interest. Third, they should understand that economists hold differing views on some economic issues. This is especially true for topics such as the appropriate size of government in the market economy, how and why the federal government should try to fight unemployment and inflation, and how and when the federal government should try to promote economic growth. Nevertheless, there is widespread agreement among economists on many issues and in their basic methods of analysis."

To put flesh on these objectives, the committee developed twenty "content standards" and accompanied each standard with (1) an explanation of what students can do with the knowledge, (2) why that knowledge is important, and (3) learning benchmarks, or expected achievement levels, for grades 4, 8, and 12. For your reference, The Evidence File lists the twenty standards. More details about the standards can be found at the Internet site.

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