Methodology: Getting a Grip on the Problem

Our study of economics textbooks used in Michigan had many obstacles to overcome. First, there is no textbook committee or centralizing force in Michigan that mandates which textbooks should be used. This gives each school district the freedom to choose its own books. This is fine, and in keeping with Michigan’s tradition of local control. But it also makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find out which schools are using which books. Bert Okma, former president of Michigan’s Association of Economics Educators, said there is no research he has ever heard of that lists which high schools use which texts.

Second, different schools have different attitudes with regard to teaching economics. The Mackinac Center conducted a survey in 1993 of the almost 650 high schools in Michigan. On the basis of the number of schools responding to the survey, we estimated that almost half of Michigan schools taught economics. Okma makes a similar estimate. In 1998, we asked about 50 schools that taught an economics course what text they used. Of those, many use a "consumer economics" text that stresses such things as grocery shopping and balancing checkbooks. Those skills are important, of course, but learning them is different from studying an introduction to basic economics. Of those schools that teach an introduction to economics, some do not use a text; others use texts now out of print; and still others are in transition from one text to another.

Okma predicts that more high schools in Michigan will teach economics in the future because an economics component has been added to the state proficiency test, the MEAP (Michigan Education Assessment Program) test, which high school students must take. Okma was on the state committee that put together the new economics component for high school students.

The starting point for doing a study of economics textbooks used in Michigan is the Instructional Materials Center in Ronan Hall at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant. The Instructional Materials Center, headed by Cynthia Whitaker, is the official repository for the State Department of Education’s Textbook Collection. Publishers who want to have their texts used in Michigan are strongly urged to submit them to the Instructional Materials Center. Cynthia Whitaker and her staff work with the publishers to promote the CMU collection and to remind them to send their new texts.

When we went to this central repository, we discovered over 50 economics books on the shelf. Some of these books, however, were on consumer economics, not basic economics. Using the titles, authors, and publishers of only those texts on basic economics, we contacted the publishers. We discovered that many of these titles are now out of print. Several publishers, however, told us they had a new text in economics, which they intended to submit to the library at Central Michigan because they were anxious to see that new text adopted in Michigan.

For our study, then, we examined, first, those texts at the CMU library that were still in print and in use. Second, we included those new texts promoted by the publishers that appeared headed for adoption in Michigan. Before we would include a selection in our study, the book had to strongly indicate to us that its readability and content made it a likely choice for adoption at some schools. Third, in one case we included an older text that was not in the CMU library, because we heard from the author’s wife (the author is deceased) and the publisher, who assured us this book was being used in Michigan.

Working with the CMU library, the publishers, and our own sample of Michigan high schools, we identified a total of sixteen texts that were in print and probably in use or soon to be in use in Michigan. There are certain to be other texts now in use that we have missed—some publishers no doubt have texts used in Michigan, but neglected to send their copies to CMU. Other schools are using texts so long out of print that the CMU library no longer carries them. We hope to update this study and would welcome reports from any Michigan high school that uses an economics text not included in this study.

On the basis of our own sample of Michigan high schools, as well as our discussions with publishers and with textbook authors, we believe that the two most widely used economics texts in Michigan are Roger Miller’s Economics: Today & Tomorrow (which received a grade of "C" in our survey) and Junior Achievement’s Economics Study Guide (a "B+" in the survey), which was used by 20,902 students in Michigan in 1997, according to Ann Fillmore, a Junior Achievement representative.