The assessment of high school students’ knowledge of economics made a big splash in the news recently. See Matthew Yglesias or, for that matter, today’s Washington Post.

I was more interested in the standards being used than in the results. I found my way to this background paper.

The project committees believe that the essential parts of economic literacy are the abilities to use and apply economic concepts and analysis, which do not necessarily include the ability to name the concepts in all cases. The emphasis throughout the assessment should be on assessing how well students understand the meaning of concepts and can use application and reasoning skills, not how well they can define technical and economic-specific language.

Overall, the background paper suggests a very nice curriculum. I have great difficulty believing that 42 percent of high school students truly are proficient at it, as claimed by the national report card. Honestly, I do not think that 42 percent of the students who took Ec 10 at Harvard last year would be proficient, at least if I were making up the test.The background paper lists twenty topics, grouped into three categories (some topics are included in more than one category): the market economy; the national economy; and the international economy.

Choices and costs (including opportunity cost)
Resource allocation
Voluntary exchange
Effective decision-making (including marginal analysis)
Benefits of trade
Interest rates
Investment, productivity, and growth
Competition (includes entrepreneurial innovation)
Economic role for government
Government decision-making (public choice theory, although not that term)
Income (determinants of income, including human capital, although not that term)
Institutions (including property rights)
Gross domestic product
Unemployment and inflation
Fiscal and monetary policies

I don’t think that there is an introductory course at any college in America where students really walk out capable of showing proficiency in all of these topics.

The only way to truly obtain proficiency is to read blogs. 😉