ERIC Identifier: ED428031
Publication Date: 1999-03-00
Author: VanFossen, Phillip J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
The National Voluntary Content Standards in Economics. ERIC
Students in today's classrooms face a wide range of economic decisions. If
they would be wise consumers, prudent savers, and knowledgeable investors, they
need pertinent knowledge and skills. So the school curriculum should help
facilitate the acquisition of basic economic concepts and decision-making
skills. Given this rationale, the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE)
developed the "Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics" (NCEE 1997)
for American students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.
IMPETUS FOR THE "VOLUNTARY NATIONAL CONTENT STANDARDS IN ECONOMICS"
Economics has been a late entry into the national content
standards field. The late appearance of economics in the national standards
field is due, in part, to the existence of an implicit set of content standards
found in the various iterations of the National Council on Economic Education's "Framework for Teaching the Basic Concepts" (Saunders and Gilliard 1995). The
"Framework" document -- in publication in various forms for nearly twenty years
-- outlined a concept-based approach to economic literacy and focused on
development of twenty-one basic economic concepts from scarcity and markets to
international trade and economic stability. Because the "Framework" document was
a collection of implicit concept understandings, however, many economic
educators believed a set of standards based on principles of economics was
Furthermore, economics has tended to be neglected by social studies
educators. Despite its importance in education for democratic citizenship
(Miller 1988, 4) and evidence that students who have had a discrete, single
semester high school course in economics demonstrate significantly greater
economic knowledge than students without such a course (Walstad and Soper 1991),
many schools have omitted economics from the curriculum. The schools that have
chosen to teach economics often use an infusion approach, which includes cursory
treatment of economics concepts within other social studies courses, such as
U.S. history (Meszaros 1997).
With the inclusion of economics as a core subject in the "Goals 2000: Educate
America Act" in 1994, however, it became increasingly clear to the National
Council on Economic Education (NCEE) that a set of explicit content standards
needed to be developed. It was in response to these issues, and concerns about
the "Framework" document, that led the NCEE to convene a coalition of groups
interested in developing standards in economics.
OVERVIEW OF THE "VOLUNTARY NATIONAL CONTENT STANDARDS IN ECONOMICS"
The NCEE's "Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics" (hereafter,
"Standards") were developed to guide school districts, curriculum developers,
and ultimately teachers in determining what content in economics should be
taught as well as when it should be taught (Meszaros 1997, 324). The standards
document outlined twenty content standards drawn from widely agreed upon
principles of economics that constituted the most important and enduring
knowledge in the discipline. Each standard included a statement of an "essential
principle of economics that an economically literate student should know" and a
statement "of what the student should be able to do with the knowledge upon
graduating from high school" (Meszaros and Siegfried 1997, vii).
Each of the twenty standards included a lucid rationale for that standard's
inclusion written in language that was relatively jargon-free. The "Standards"
also included a set of "benchmarks" -- at the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade
level -- for each of the twenty standards that focused on the application of
economic knowledge and the development of economic skills. It was the inclusion
of these outcome-based benchmarks that differentiated these "Standards" from
others in the social studies field.
The "Standards" document cross-referenced each of the twenty standards and
their associated benchmarks with existing NCEE curriculum materials and teaching
guides. Thus, a teacher could use the "Standards" document to identify and
access teaching materials designed specifically for developing the economic
knowledge associated with a particular standard.
CONTENT STANDARD 8
To illustrate the features of the "Standards" described above, let us examine "Content Standard 8" (NCEE 1997,
15). The standard states: "Students will understand that: Prices send signals
and provide incentives to buyers and sellers. When supply or demand changes,
market prices adjust, affecting incentives. Students will be able to use this
knowledge to: Predict how prices change when the number of buyers or sellers in
a market changes and explain how the incentives facing individual buyers and
sellers are affected."
The "Standards" document provides benchmark statements for each of grades
four, eight, and twelve; due to space limitations, only a sample of the grade
eight benchmarks are provided here. "At the completion of GRADE 8, students will
know the Grade 4 benchmarks for this standard and also that: 1. An increase in
the price of a good or service encourages people to look for substitutes,
causing the quantity demanded to decrease, and vice versa. This relationship
between price and quantity demanded, known as the law of demand, exists as long
as other factors influencing demand do not change." (Three other Grade 8
benchmark statements follow.) "At the completion of GRADE 8, students will use
this knowledge to: 1. Survey students in other classes at school regarding how
many glasses of orange juice students would be willing and able to buy at
various prices. Analyze the data to show the relationship between price and
quantity demanded. Identify substitutes students use when the price is higher."
(Three other Grade 8 benchmark statements follow.)
The "Standards" document also identifies five lesson plans from three
different NCEE publications which might be used to teach for the "Content
Standard Eight" benchmarks described above. Readers who would like more
information about the twenty content standards and their associated benchmarks
can log on to the NCEE website (http://www.economicsamerica.org/nctext.html).
LACK OF ECONOMICS IN OTHER SOCIAL STUDIES STANDARDS
the authors of the "Standards" document argued that one of the most important
and practical reasons for developing the "Standards" lay in the poor treatment
of economic concepts found in standards for other social studies disciplines:
"[V]oluntary national standards increase the probability that economics is
included in the school curricula" (Siegfried and Meszaros 1997, 140). Indeed,
Buckles and Watts (1998) conducted a content analysis of the national standards
documents in history, geography, civics and government, and social studies and
found serious gaps in the economic content coverage of each. Buckles and Watts
(1998, 165) found "few errors of commission but many major omissions, which
demonstrate the need for a separate economics course." Buckles and Watts also
pointed to an almost overt bias in these standards documents toward
"wide-ranging government intervention and planning" and "a general failure to
recognize the range and efficiency of market functions." Buckles and Watts
(1998, 166) concluded that the development of the "Voluntary National Content
Standards in Economics" represented a unique opportunity to go beyond the
treatment of important economic concepts in "broad, sweeping brush strokes" and
"to reduce competition for classroom time" by concentrating economics coverage
in a discrete economics course.
The release of the "Voluntary National Content
Standards in Economics" represented an integral and important step in the
development of economic literacy in the United States. With publication of the
"Standards" document, the National Council on Economic Education has responded
to the call for standards-based reform first sounded with "A Nation at Risk"
(National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). In fact, "A Nation at
Risk" pointed specifically to the need to prepare students to compete in the
global economy of the twenty-first century. To achieve this goal, the United
States needed to establish world class standards in many disciplines, including
economics. As Meszaros and Engstrom (1998, 12) noted, recent "emphasis on
standards-based instruction in core disciplines means, for many, the
introduction of new content" in economics, and the "Voluntary National Content
Standards in Economics" will "provide the guidance teachers need" to develop and
carry out successful instruction in economics.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
Buckles, Stephen, and Michael
Watts. "National Standards in Economics, History, Social Studies, Civics and
Geography: Complementaries, Competition or Peaceful Coexistence?" JOURNAL OF
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Gardner, David P., and Others. A NATION AT RISK: THE IMPERATIVE FOR
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Meszaros, Bonnie. "Economic Standards: A Guide for Curriculum Planners."
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in Economics: 20 Enduring Concepts and Benchmarks for Beleaguered Teachers."
SOCIAL STUDIES AND THE YOUNG LEARNER (November/December 1998): 7-12.
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Walstad, William and John Soper. "Economic Literacy in Senior High Schools,"
in Walstad and Soper, Eds. EFFECTIVE ECONOMIC EDUCATION IN THE SCHOOLS. New
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