High School Instruction With Problem-Based Economics
Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
This study evaluated the effectiveness of a problem-based instructional approach to high school economics, a required course for high school graduation in some western states.
Problem-Based Economics (PBE) is a high school curriculum designed to increase class participation and content knowledge, especially among students in low-performing schools. With the problem-based curriculum, students confront a realistic dilemma that, through analysis, investigation, research, and discussion, allows for more than one possible solution and motivates students to become engaged with the content.
This study, conducted by WestEd's Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West), addressed the following key research questions:
- Does PBE increase student content learning, motivation to learn economics, and problem-solving skills?
- Does PBE increase teacher knowledge in economics and teacher interest in teaching economics?
Intervention: Intervention group teachers attended a five-day workshop during which they were provided with curriculum materials for PBE and training for using these materials. Workshop leaders were experienced teachers who have used the PBE curriculum extensively. Follow-up support took the form of scheduled web-based coaching seminars and asynchronous email communications.
Design and Sample: The study employed a cluster-randomized experimental design to assess program effects. Teachers assigned to the intervention condition were given the opportunity to participate in the PBE training and to implement the curriculum in their classrooms, while control teachers engaged in their usual instructional practices. Implementation of PBE occured for one academic year.
Approximately 8,000 12th grade high school students and 80 economics teachers who taught in both fall and spring of 2007/08 in Arizona and California participated in the study.
Analysis Plan: Student content knowledge in economics was assessed by the Test of Economic Literacy, administered at the beginning and the end of the course. Motivation to learn economics and problem-solving skills were assessed with validated survey measures. Similarly, teacher knowledge in economics was assessed by the Teacher Test of Economic Literacy (pre/post), while survey measures were used to measure teacher interest in teaching economics.
Multilevel regression models were used to estimate program impacts. For the first research question above, each student post-test outcome was regressed on pre-test measures of the outcome, demographic variables, the experimental condition of the teacher/school, a fixed effect for strata (either the school or a stratum), and a random effect for teachers to account for the nesting of students within each teacher.
For the second research question, each teacher post-test outcome was modeled as a function of pre-test outcomes, treatment status, a fixed effect for each stratum, and teacher-level covariates.
This study found that both high school students and their teachers benefit from Problem- Based Economics.
For students, the results of the study show that those who received instruction based on Problem- Based Economics outscored their peers in the control group who received the more typical textbook- and lecture-driven approach.
Students receiving Problem- Based Economics instruction also scored higher on measures of problem-solving skills and their application to real-world economic challenges. Student performance was measured by both the Test for Economic Literacy, a widely accepted, standards-aligned test used across the United States, and a performance-task assessment that measured measures problem-solving skills.
For teachers, the study results of the study show that those teachers who received training in Problem- Based Economics scored higher in satisfaction with teaching materials and methods than those in the control group. There was no statistically significant difference between the control and intervention groups of teachers in knowledge of economics or pedagogical style.
A number of other REL West experimental studies provide causally valid answers to pressing questions about what works in supporting the development of children of all ages in many types of settings.