While entrepreneurship education may now be common at the university level, the topic is still not included in K-12 curriculums in the majority of states, according to a recent report by the National Council on Economic Education.
"Survey of the States: Economic and Personal Finance Education in Our Nation's Schools in 2007," a biennial report of states' academic standards and course offerings, found just over a third of states include entrepreneurship in their K-12 education standards. Only two, New York and California, require that high school students receive some instruction in the subject before they graduate.
While entrepreneurship instruction in high schools is usually included as part of economics courses, the NCEE listed entrepreneurship as a separate category in the survey for the first time this year. "We have committed ourselves to advancing entrepreneurship in schools as part of our mission," said Robert Duvall, president and CEO of the NCEE, a New York, N.Y.-based non-profit dedicated to promoting economic education in schools. "We know that small-business enterprise is absolutely fundamental to the American economy."
Entrepreneurship education links into all subject matters, from math to history, according to Steve Mariotti, the founder and president of the National Federation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. "I think that entrepreneurship education is the highest technology," said Mariotti, whose New York City-based organization provides programs in entrepreneurship for low-income students. "Over the next decade, we have to find a way to put this on the national agenda."
Some schools, however, now offer entrepreneurship courses even without state requirements. Trevor Shephard, a high school senior from Boise, Idaho, used a project from his entrepreneurship class to start his own shaved ice business. "It gave me a jumpstart," Shephard said of the class. "It opened my eyes to the business world and helped me realize the points needed to start a business."
Shephard's business plan for the Super Shavers Sno Shack won first place in the national Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) competition for the Entrepreneur Participation category and made him a finalist in the National Federation of Independent Business Youth Entrepreneur Foundation and Visa USA Young Entrepreneur Awards.
For Duvall, high school courses in entrepreneurship and other economic topics are "not so much about teaching how to start a business, but making good decisions." A 2005 poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the NCEE found only 40 percent of high school students know what an annuity is. "How are you going to privatize Social Security if they don't know what an annuity is?" Duvall asked.
In this aspect, the NCEE may be making progress. The other two categories in the survey -- economics and personal finance -- both showed increases from 2004 in the number of states that require implementation of education standards in those subjects and in the number that require students to take economics and personal finance courses.
One area where Duvall said the NCEE may be losing ground is in state-mandated academic testing. The survey found 22 states now require testing of economics, down from 25 in 2004 and 27 in 2002. "I think that's an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind's emphasis on reading and math," Duvall said. "Testing there is tending to push other subject matters to the margin."
Although Duvall was pleased with the overall results of the survey, he conceded the organization's work is far from over. "I'm going to tighten my belt and charge out there because we need to do a lot more."