Is it time to revamp the “classic” economics course? This researcher thinks so.

In 2012, grade 12 American students who had come of age in the shadow of the 2008 housing bubble and the stock market crash that followed did not show a better understanding of the economic forces that shaped this recession than their peers in 2006, based on their performance on the national economic assessment.. And federal education data suggests the economy continues to be an area struggling to attract more women and students of color.

Harvard economist and equity researcher Raj Chetty believes that updating the organization and teaching of classical economics courses can dramatically improve students’ understanding and engagement, especially for those who are historically under-represented in the field.

Although many states have waived specific course requirements for the Class of 2020 following pandemic-related school closures, half of the states legally require students to take economics classes. get a high school diploma, and over the past year, Chetty and her colleagues at Swarthmore College and Stanford University have successfully piloted a new approach to embed math and theoretical concepts into the subject in a way that helps students learn initiate and apply them immediately.

A pilot project over the past year has dramatically improved the number of women taking economics courses at the college level, and researchers are now working to expand the curriculum for high school students, including an English version. line.

“The traditional economics textbook is called ‘Principles of Economics’, and I think it embodies a traditional approach that I find a little intimidating to me,” Chetty said, “where it’s like, we’re going to teach you 10 principles. , concepts first, and application, and I think that can put off a lot of students.

Instead, the program is organized around a range of current policy issues, from healthcare to tax policy and economic development, where students study existing research papers and develop their own scientific experiments to analyze large datasets. The course covers the same mathematical procedures as a typical economics course, but conceptual and mathematical lessons are built into the lab work. Students were encouraged to apply mathematics more when developing their own hypotheses and projects.

For example, students used the Atlas of Opportunities, a free website based on U.S. Census data that allows students to compare the effects of different indicators of poverty and wealth on children in different neighborhoods.

“They code and they solve problems and analyze issues that are not just things that we invented for a set of problems, but are literally recent study data that informs current policy decisions,” Chetty said, “like how to help low-income families move to better neighborhoods, or how being in a small class versus a large class affects children’s long-term outcomes. They analyze these questions with the methods that we learned in class and they talk about their own personal experiences in the neighborhoods where they grew up in relation to data etc.

An equal number of male and female students took the pilot course, titled “Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems” – in contrast, women made up only 19% to 42% of all other courses. college economy between 2019 and 2020.

Potential for distance learning?

The course can also provide a smoother transition for teachers to distance learning, as students and teachers access lectures, slides, and projects. in line.

Andrew Housiaux, professor of economics at the Phillips Andover Private Academy, one of the high schools testing a short version of the curriculum for high schools, said teachers have seen how easily students can adjust to the learning mathematics, economics and data visualizations. overall across projects rather than as separate units.

“And what [teachers] realized that, you know, some students had a real knack for thinking about infrastructure or other solutions, and other students maybe had [more] practice thinking about how to think of a solution to a public policy problem or how to design an experiment, ”Housiaux said. “The next phase of our work is really going to be … to think about how we can take this approach to problem solving, natural experiences you can discover, and big data models, and make that pedagogy more central. in the way we teach economics.

Maya Shkolnik, an 11th grader who was one of some 100 students in six classes who took the course in Andover this year, said she had never done statistics or economics and was intimidated at the start of the course. But she loved to hear about and share research projects with her classmates. “I really enjoyed using the Atlas and hearing what other people found in their research. Although we have learned more about the graphical aspects of the economy, using the Atlas, for me, has given me a better understanding of the factors that contribute to upward mobility and how the economy can play in the real life.

The researchers presented common aspects of the college class that increased the likelihood of students, and especially women and minority students, to engage in the material:

  • Examine the problems experienced by the student or members of his community;
  • Exposing them to real world problems;
  • Cultivate a sense of scientific research; and
  • By focusing on the ways in which the course would develop skills that would be appreciated both by future employers and by their communities and society as a whole.

“The economy, in particular, is an area that is very dominated by white males, and I think it’s important to show why that shouldn’t be the case,” Shkolnik said. “I think if schools can emphasize the importance of diversity in these areas and the impact that these areas have in society, then more people would be interested in joining them.”

Photos: Above, Harvard economist Raj Chetty presents a topic to students in a pilot economics course. Above: Phillips Andover Academy students participate in a short version of the program.