Aug 16 2007

Two thumbs up for AP Econ

Published by at 9:44 pm under Teaching

12th-Graders Show Strength in Economics – washingtonpost.com

On a recent national economics exam, high school seniors scored higher than they did on similar math and reading exams. Interesting stuff. The article explains:

“Economics courses are becoming increasingly common in high school. A 2005 survey of transcripts found 66 percent of high school graduates had taken an economics class, up from 49 percent in 1982.

Students who took a high-level economics course, such as one labeled Advanced Placement or honors, were more likely to score high on the national test than students who did not take a similar course, according to the governing board.”

For those of you who teach AP Econ, it probably comes as no surprise that AP Econ students score higher on a test designed for a national audience than non AP students. But how about this:

“But high schoolers who took a general economics course did not do any better on the economics test than students who didn’t take a class, which raises questions about the rigor of those basic-level courses. It’s also possible that students are getting some information about economics through other courses.”

That should be of some surprise. Even if kids take a one semester intro to basic economic ideas course, you’d think anything would prepare them to outperform their peers who have not taken any econ. This is a frightening fact, and it basically says that non-AP Econ courses are doing little if anything to enhance students’ understanding of Economics.

Here at SAS, my colleague Harvey, who has taught AP and IB Econ for over a decade, is picking up a survey Econ course this year. His plan is to take the AP syllabus and teach as closely to it as he can. This seems like a good strategy; even though non-AP students should not be held to the same standard as the AP students, the syllabus certainly gives teachers a place to start and something to strive for.

Below Greg Mankiw of Harvard gives his two cents. Mankiw was on the test development committee for the AP for a while, and seems to think the AP course gets the job done pretty well.

Greg Mankiw’s Blog: High School Economics

“I have often worried about the quality of high school economic courses. Over the years, I have met quite a few AP teachers (and even spent some time as a member of the committee that writes the AP exam), and I am confident in the quality of those courses. But the non-AP courses, from reports I have heard, are less consistent in quality. Basic high school courses in economics need to start looking more like the introductory courses taught in college.”

Or, do as Harvey does and teach to the AP syllabus, just lower the bar a bit when it comes to assessments. I’ll ask Harvey to write an article later in the year about how this strategy turns out!

Check out the debate that follows Mankiw’s piece… around 24 comments from readers with all kinds of interesting views, definitely worth reading!

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

16 responses so far

16 Responses to “Two thumbs up for AP Econ”

  1. Charlie.Gaoon 18 Aug 2007 at 4:05 pm

    This is my first blog post so I don't know if I'm doing it right or if I'm supposed to write here. But anyways, I think that this is interesting. I mean, if you think about it, if you take a regular economics class for a year or even one semester, you're exposed to many topics that non-econ students aren't exposed to. This leads you to think that these econ students would have much more background knowledge and be more prepared to take these national tests. But I guess it's not the case.

    However I disagree with the idea that the AP Economics syllabus should be taught to regular economics classes because that defeats the whole purpose of the class being "non-AP". If you're going to teach the class with an AP syllabus but have the tests be easier, you might as well not have a regular course in the first place. The students in AP Econ and regular Econ will be exposed to the same exact material and information, and yet, the difficulty of the test vary. I don't think this is fair to those who take AP's because they're taking the AP course not because the information is more in depth, but because the tests are harder. I believe that they should just remove the regular econ course and just have AP Econ if they want to teach regular econ with an AP Econ syllabus.

    That's just my opinion.

  2. Melanie Chuon 18 Aug 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Like Charlie said, teaching an AP syllabus to a non-AP class pratically defeats the whole purpose of the AP course. I'm in the IB Course, but obviously the AP course is designed to be a much higher much more rigorous course than a normal course. If there is some questions about the quality of normal economics classes, picking up an AP syllabus may be a good place to start, but i feel that there are many other ways to improve a normal econ class that doesnt involve the AP or IB syllabus.

  3. Conrad Liuon 20 Aug 2007 at 8:47 pm

    I'm surprised at the fact that students taking a regular economic course cannot out-perform those who have never taken even one economic class; the whole point of such a course is to further educate one's mind regarding economics, such as why the field was created or what concepts are involved with the course. In short, students are actually supposed to learn something about economics from it, yet they do just as bad/good as students who have never taken even one class.

    Similar to the opinions of Melanie and Charlie, the purpose of having an actual "AP" level economics course is rendered useless if the AP syllabus is going to be used for a non-AP course anyway, except with easier assessments. This makes it unfair for the ones who actually take the AP course, since their tests are harder. If the non-AP economics course is not working out, I believe the solution would be to cut it out completely, leaving only the AP course, or to modify the non-AP economic syllabus in a new way.

  4. Conrad Liuon 21 Aug 2007 at 9:02 pm

    By the way, I think Bush's nickname could be Pinnocheo. Just a random thought.

  5. yunqimokon 24 Aug 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Because Economics is a course that most people have had no contact with, there is no reason to have a non-AP Econ course. Although rigorous and challenging, AP Econs is an introductory course, requiring few prerequisites besides maybe common sense. Like Conrad, I am surprised that non-Econ students do as well as standard level Econ students. If their level is so poor, then there really should be no reason to nurse the pleasant delusion that those econ students are, in fact, econ students.

  6. calebliaoon 24 Aug 2007 at 10:47 pm

    I think that most people that have taken history courses (pretty much everyone) learn economic concepts. To understand, one has to understand the factors that went into a historical incident, and many of those incidents have factors that include economics. In APUSH I learned that merchantalism was one of the driving forces behind the age of discovery. The desire for increased resources so that needs and wants could be satisfied were concepts that I learned in APUSH and not economics class. I also learned in regular world history that one of them main motives for the Japanese to invade much of Asia, was to gain natural resources. There was a supply in China, and a demand for those resources in Japan, and so they attacked because the opportunity costs of losing soldiers was outweighed by the marginal benefits of gaining a resource with "one" payment. The problem with those people that learned economics in regular economics courses is that they didn't learn more than what they had already learned from outside courses.

  7. kxc.024on 25 Aug 2007 at 1:54 pm

    I think it's horrible that the students who take regular Econ classes cannot out-perform those that have never taken any Econ classes. How is that possible? That just goes to show that the regular classes might be too easy.

    Contrary to previous comments, I actually think it's a good idea if the normal classes take on a somewhat AP-like syllabus. If using their own syllabus proved to be inefficient, why not crank up the speed? On the other hand, I don't think that the regular classes should follow the AP syllabus exactly. The whole point of the non-AP Econ classes is so that the students may be more immersed in the subject. With AP, we speed past the subjects very quickly, but with non-AP courses, the students get a chance to understand Econ in a deeper way.

    So to make my long comment short, I believe that the regular classes should become a bit harder but not to the level of AP, because that would just be unfair to the people who take the AP courses then the 6 hour exam.

  8. emilyyehon 26 Aug 2007 at 7:04 pm

    If students taking regular econ classes do no better than the students who have never taken an econ class, what is the point of taking regular econ? For instance, a student taking perhaps 5 APs in one year is discouraged by their counselor, and decides to lower the level of one of their classes. So instead of being given the opportunity to actually spend a year learning economics, they're spending the same time studying… nothing. The opportunity cost of giving up AP Econ is pretty ridiculous in this case, having given up a year of actually learning useful material to maintaining the same level of economics knowledge still having to do homework and prepare for tests.

  9. judychenon 27 Aug 2007 at 1:21 pm

    i think it's better to take a AP econs course than just a general econs course. i don't think that there's any difference between those two – like one just has 2 alphabet extra in it – "AP". for AP econs, there's an introductory section in which we'll learn much more on econs later. the difference is just that general econs = macroecons teaching whille AP econs = both macro and microecons teaching.

  10. Cassy Changon 28 Aug 2007 at 11:43 pm

    The fact that an AP course is said to be introductory college material gets students to take it more seriously. The course has an ultimate goal at the end of the year—to score well on the external exam; so it is more standardized and people tend to work harder to meet the expectations. I do like the idea of teaching up to AP standards but lowering the bar when it comes to assessments, I'm not sure if that is "economically efficient" though…

  11. andyxuon 29 Aug 2007 at 10:36 am

    Could the lack of performance in non-AP economics students be associated with the lack of competition? or failing to understand the concept of economics, that is to think economically. I think that using the AP syllabus for teach non-AP econ courses is a start. I also think that insightful thinking in economics is probably more important than scoring a high grade on the AP exam.

  12. Kathie Leeon 29 Aug 2007 at 5:59 pm

    I can't come up with a good reason why students taking a regular economics course aren't able to outshine students that haven't taken an economics course before. Perhaps some of the introduction to economics is common sense or the common concepts are developed in other history courses or business classes. However, I believe that the central reason would be that a general economics course only cover a shallow layer of this subject. As Mr. Walker has brought up in class, a general economics course only cover very few graphs compared to AP economics.

    Mr. Lerner's approach to hopefully solving this issue is clever, and I hope that teachers in the US and around the world would consider altering the syllabus.

    All I can say is that, I'm glad I'm in AP Economics rather than a general economics course.

  13. soyeon yoonon 29 Aug 2007 at 9:04 pm

    I think the reason that general ecnon students cannot perform better than non-econ students is that general econ course contains very few contents and concepts to develop during the course. Since our AP course contains two branches of economics; micro and macro so the students in this course have to work hard to get two branches of economics in the course of one year. It might be a good strategy for general econ teacher to abide by AP econ syllabus because he can control the difficulties of the lecture by varying the depth of the lecture, while instill the basic economic concepts into the students.

  14. Jeewon Ohon 30 Aug 2007 at 12:07 am

    This is a little shocking, because it shows how low in quality the general economics courses are in most high schools. Advanced Placement is for students who are willing and able to learn something more challenging. However, not all students can handle the rigorous course of AP Economics, and it is a big problem that only the students who take AP Economics is guaranteed a full understanding of the subject. I think Mr. Harvey's idea is brilliant, to use the syllabus of AP Economics for a survey Economics course. Overall, I am glad that I have chosen to take AP Economics.

  15. Sunny Kimon 31 Aug 2007 at 2:53 am

    According to the article, students who took higher level economics class, such as advanced placement economics or for our school, ib higher level economics, performed better in exams than people who didn't take the course. However, students who took normal economics course did same as those who did not even take economics course. First of all, this article shocked me very much. I have a friend who's taking a normal class and preparing to take an AP exam. I think I should tell him to read this article. The reason why people who took normal economics did so poor on their exam is maybe because the normal courses doesn't teach as much as higher courses and probably skills of teachers arn't that high. I feel pround and lucky that I am taking AP economics.

    By the way… are there any normal-economics class in our school???

  16. welkerjasonon 31 Aug 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Conrad, that wouldn't be very fair to Pinnochio, would it?