Evaluation Criteria: Objectivity or Ideology?

Overview: The purpose of this study is to help interested school board members, administrators, teachers, and parents make better choices in the books they choose to educate students about economics. Textbooks can and do vary widely, but, to do a good job of teaching the fundamentals of economics, they must do certain things and do them well.

The role of the price system, competition, capitalism, incentives, government regulation, private property, taxation, labor unions, trade, money and banking are among the key issues that should be explored in economics textbooks. In the course of the discussion of any point, the book should teach students the economic way of thinking—that is, equip them with the "mental toolkit" of the economist so they will be able to do their own thinking about economic questions in the future.

For a text to receive a high rating in this report, it was not necessary for it to expound an explicitly "market-oriented" or "free market" message. But it could not ignore the preponderance of evidence that strongly suggests that markets perform many functions well, including the production and allocation of goods and services. A text needs improvement if it avoids discussing failures of central planning, ignores successes of market economies, fails to provide the student with modern scholarship, judges market performance according to results while judging government performance according to intentions, uses class warfare rhetoric, or repeats discredited myths about economic history.

In economics, there are many settled propositions. Some examples: people seek maximum value for minimum cost; people differ in their evaluations of the same product, service or other good; changes in prices lead to changes in consumer and producer behavior; scarce goods must somehow be rationed. There are many others. A good economics text will show the student how to apply these propositions—the laws of economics—to any issue or controversy. There are many issues and controversies in economics, and a good text will analyze them by using the economic way of thinking. Good textbooks do not propound particular philosophies, but concentrate on teaching students how to think.

The following section describes the twelve criteria selected for the evaluation of high school economics textbooks. These are certainly not the only topics that an economics text should address. But if they are not handled well, the book will fail to give students the basic understanding they need.