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Friday, October 31, 2008

Political bias

I know there have been some debates in the edublogosphere lately about political statements in/around the classroom. Personally, I don't think schools should tell teachers (whether K-12 or higher ed) that they can't wear political pins or have campaign bumper stickers or whatever. At the same time, I take my Obama pin off my bookbag when I'm at school, not because I think faculty shouldn't be allowed to wear such things, but because I don't want it to affect how my students perceive what I'm saying in the classroom. I talk about public policy a lot in all my classes but since I try to hew closely to positive (vs. normative) analysis of any issue, my students usually cannot tell what political party I belong to. I consider this A Good Thing.

Perhaps my students are not as cynical as I am but as soon as I know what a person's political beliefs are, it affects how I perceive what they say about policy issues, particularly if I do not agree with them. That is, I believe it's human nature for us to more readily accept information that is consistent with the world view we already hold, and to distrust information that is inconsistent with that world view. Dismissing information we don't like is easier when it comes from someone we can label as 'biased' (though it is also human nature to believe that people we disagree with are 'biased' while those we agree with are 'neutral').

In an economics class, even positive analysis can be perceived as normative if the conclusions are at odds with a student's worldview. A good example is tax incidence: every (neoclassical) economist in the world will tell you that it doesn't matter who the government collects the tax from (statutory incidence), both the seller and the consumer will pay the tax in the form of changed prices, relative to the price without the tax (economic incidence). But when I tell students that removing the gas tax does not mean the price of gas will fall by the full amount of the tax, they have a hard time believing it - even if they can follow the theory, they simply don't believe it. I worry that if they thought I was a "tax-loving liberal", they would probably be even less inclined to believe the theory itself. You can imagine how this problem would be compounded when we get into topics that are even less clear-cut.

So I bend over backwards to make sure that I am staying as objective as possible. When there are normative judgments to be made, I tend to talk in 'if-then' statements: "If you believe in the ability-to-pay principle, you would be more likely to support a progressive tax system" or "if you believe that the value of the benefit externality is large, then you might feel government intervention is appropriate", etc.

All of which is lead-in to the point of this post: I am considering using this McCain clip as part of a discussion of why we have a progressive income tax system. On the one hand, I think it sums up the basic issue pretty well (i.e., lots of people think it's unfair to tax rich people more, lots of other people think it's OK to ask people to pay more once they reach a 'certain level of comfort'), and I think that the fact that it's coming from John McCain could potentially give it more credibility with students who are Republicans. On the other hand, deep down, there's a part of me that gets some joy from showing those Republican students that the man is saying the exact opposite thing today from what he was saying 7 years ago. Because of that, I probably won't use it. But if it were anyone but McCain, I would, and that's bugging me too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Making" students come to class

For some reason, I wasn't able to use the clickers yesterday. CPS for PowerPoint seemed to be working but when I started the slideshow, I got an error I'd never seen before. Since it didn't go away when I closed and re-started the application, I decided to just get on with the lecture. But I did announce that the clickers weren't working and if anyone wanted to leave (since I knew that some students would), to please leave now so as not to disturb everyone else later. Well, quite a few more students left than I expected (seriously, about one quarter to one third). There were still probably about 250 students who stayed but it's amazing how empty a 500-seat classroom feels when it's only half full!

But what was really striking was how wonderfully quiet the rest of the class was! With over 400 students, there is always a lot of chatter around the room - I try not to let it get too bad but there's only so much I can do so there's always a low-level buzz in the room. I know that this is distracting to other students (I even asked a clicker question about it a couple weeks ago and over 80% of the students answered that yes, they had been 'bothered' by people around them talking). With the room half empty, I couldn't believe how much quieter it was. I still had the clicker questions embedded in my slides so I asked students to respond by just raising their hands. That doesn't work quite as well but in general, I felt like I was connecting better with students. There were a couple students who asked questions who have never spoken up in class before - that could just be that they've never had anything to say but I did wonder if it was partly due to the class feeling smaller somehow.

The thing is, yesterday's experience just reinforces something I've been thinking about for a while, and that is whether I should be "making" my students come to class with extrinsic incentives. Actually, one reason I agreed to pilot the lecture capture was that I wanted to make it as easy as possible for students to NOT come to class but still get the benefit of lectures. But because they get points for answering clicker questions, I still get really good attendance. They do have an option to answer an open-ended question if they miss class, but most students recognize that the easiest way to get the points is to just be in class (and I don't really want to grade open-ended questions for half the class).

I'm not saying that I don't want students to come to class. But what I really want is for students to want to come to class, not just to get points but because they want to learn. The thing is, I've never really kept track of attendence before; I've always told students that if they choose to skip class, that's their choice, though I want them to understand the benefits and costs of that choice. And I've always tried to teach my classes in such a way that they see the benefits of coming on their own. But the clickers create an incentive incompatibility problem: if I don't make the clicker questions 'worth' something, I'm afraid students won't buy/use them, but if I make clicker questions worth points, I'll get students coming who don't really want to be there to learn, and that actually imposes a negative externality on other students. If students are there, I do want them to have and use the clickers because I think they are a valuable teaching tool, and seeing their responses gives me important feedback about their progress (so I want them to take their responses seriously).

So my conundrum is how do I design an incentive structure that a) does not give students an extrinsic incentive to come to class, but b) gives students who do attend class an incentive to bring and use their clickers? I suppose that I could just do away with all clicker-related points entirely (e.g., if I'm going to rely on their intrinsic desire to learn to get them to class, maybe I should rely on that to get them to bring their clickers), but I don't quite trust their intrinsic desire to learn that much. I'm kicking around some ideas in my head but if anyone out there has thoughts, I'd certainly love to hear them!

Losing perspective

Here's my problem with having students do evaluations: I tend to put more weight than I probably should on the negative comments students make. Over 300 students responded to my online evaluation; of those, 120 made comments; of those, about 70 were critical (while the others said they think the class is going well), and of those, probably only 40 were truly critical (with the others more along the lines of "I'd prefer X but I do like Y"). So I've got less than 10% of the class actively being critical (about the same as being actively complimentary), and a not-small proportion of the critical comments overall are the sorts of things you would expect from relatively immature freshmen and sophomores - my favorites are the "you try to trick us with questions where there's more than one right answer" and "you should do X" where X is something I already do (provide study guides, give them questions from last year's exam, etc.) but for whatever reason, they haven't noticed. On top of that, about half of the students who believe I'm going too fast said that they do not consistently listen to the podcast before class or use the lecture slides provided on Blackboard.

I know that it's impossible to please all of the students, all of the time, especially with a class of 500. And I know that in any class, there are going to be some students in the bottom part of the distribution who don't want to take responsibility for being there, and if I try too hard to appease students at the bottom, I risk boring the heck out of the good students. The vast majority of the students seem to feel that the class is going at least OK, so why am I worrying about this unhappy minority?

It's partly that I don't know if this is a representative sample. Among the 200 students who did not respond to the survey at all, are they more likely to be better-than-average or worse-than-average students? My guess is worse-than-average, so my guess is they are more likely to agree with the negative comments than the positive ones. And I know it's partly my personality - I want every student to think this is the best class they've ever taken and to be as fascinated by economics as I am. I don't want them to be there just to get a grade, and to care more about what will be on the test than about learning.

Sigh. Maybe I just need to go back to teaching upper-division Econ majors...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fraud and the financial crisis

In a post a few weeks ago, about some of the assumptions around the financial crisis, I wondered what proportion of foreclosures and mortgage defaults are homeowners who honestly got screwed by greedy brokers and bankers, versus informed buyers who knowingly took risks and simply lost that gamble. I wasn't even really thinking about outright fraud but a recent post on Citizen Economists certainly has me thinking about it now. It's a fascinating post about the increase in mortgage and foreclosure fraud, including a very nice explanation of exactly how such fraud can be perpetrated. In the comments, SteveP claims to have reviewed hundreds of foreclosures in Florida and Georgia and found that over 70% were fraud scenarios. I'd like to see more rigorous and comprehensive analysis but thought this anecdotal data was certainly interesting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mid-semester evaluation

It's Week 8 of our 15-week semester (yes, I keep track, though that's largely because my syllabus is laid out by week), so we're halfway through and this is usually around the time when I ask my students to do a mid-semester evaluation. This year, I'm a bit hesitant because honestly, I don't have the time or energy to make any real changes and my patience has already been stretched so thin by student demands that I'm loath to invite them to tell me what they think is wrong with the class. But I do think it's worth taking some time to reflect on how the semester is going.

In my Principles class, my main concern is that the pace of the class is too slow, that we are not "covering" as much material as we should. I'm sort of having a hard time assessing this because I switched around the order in which I'm presenting topics so things are a bit jumbled up. Judging from the responses to clicker questions, students seem to be grasping the material well, which should be a good sign but then it also makes me wonder if I am going "too slow". On the one hand, I am hoping that the better performance on the clicker questions is at least in part because students are actually listening to the podcasts I post before class and thus come to class more prepared; on the other hand, perhaps I have not appropriately compensated for the fact that they are coming to class more prepared so the material I discuss in class is just repetitive and they are bored to death.

Outside of class meetings, the discussion board assignments have bigger-than-expected costs for me, in terms of dealing with confused students, but seem to have big benefits for the students as well. A number of students have left comments along the lines of "I never would have thought about this as being connected to economics," which is exactly the point. Unfortunately, the activity that I think is probably the most useful for students, volunteering with Junior Achievement, has been a bit of a nightmare. I'm not sure if the JA folks were unprepared for the number of students or what, but a number of students were not able to participate because school placements just never happened. I'll have to think carefully about how to handle this in the future.

The Economics for Teachers class has had its ups and downs as well. The class is a mix of teaching economics and talking about teaching. I'm not at all sure that I've got the mix right (and at least one of my students has noted on her blog that I've got it wrong) so I'm already thinking about how to do things differently the next time. But for now, I'm consoling myself with the thought that at least my students are more interested than they would be in a regular economics class so anything they do learn about economics is likely to be a marginal addition to their understanding of the subject (and if any of those students are reading this, feel free to correct me in the comments, or on your own blogs!).

With both classes, I'm constantly reminding myself that teaching is an iterative process and if things don't go exactly as I'd like, I can always make improvements the next time. Of course, the Type A side of my personality still worries that I am shortchanging my current students but the economist in me tries to remember that there are always trade-offs and I can't do everything. Fortunately, there are also plenty of truly bright spots, like the students who come to ask me about switching their major to economics because they are finding my class so interesting. I hate to sound so cliche but in the end, it really is those students who make it all worth it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

DonorsChoose: Start 'em young

I think that for many people, the idea of teaching young children about money feels a bit odd. I can understand that, because at first glance, I think that's how I would feel and I'm an economist saying this! Unfortunately, a lot of people associate money with greed, selfishness and other "bad" values that we generally don't want to pass on to our children. But money itself, and the role it plays in the world, carries none of those values inherently; all of those negative associations arise from people spending money in particular ways. One thing I find interesting is that there are also plenty of values that most people consider "good" that could also be associated with spending money in other ways (such as 'frugal', 'generous', 'good provider') but I don't think that's the first thing that comes to most people's minds.

At any rate, however you feel about money, I think most people would agree that those who have a better understanding of economics are probably more likely to spend their money wisely. Understanding trade-offs and incentives, that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and how to compare costs and benefits are crucial for making good decisions (and not just about money). I'd also argue that understanding markets, both when they work and when they don't, is crucial for being an informed citizen. So I am excited that some teachers, like Mrs. S. at C. Wayne Collier Elementary School in Hope Mills, North Carolina, are trying to expose students to these concepts as early as possible. Ms. S. wants to give her first graders the experience of being producers and consumers in a simulated market where they will make and 'sell' crafts. However, she needs some help with buying the materials. You can help her out by donating on the DonorsChoose website. You can also check out the other economics projects I'm promoting, or search for other worthy projects.

Friday Fun, econ-style

Awhile back, Freakonomics posted a bleg from an econ grad student looking for jokes to impress his professor. Although I had heard many of them before, this one had me laughing out loud (which either tells you something about me, about economists, or about how punchy I can be after teaching):
A therapist, a priest and an economist go golfing. The group ahead of them is extremely slow, leading to some frustration among the three. Their complaints are overheard, and a man from the group ahead walks over to them. He introduces himself as an aide because the group of golfers he is with is blind! The aide thanks the three in appreciation for their patience for the blind golfers. The priest goes, “Oh no, all my life I’ve preached for all to be better to my fellow man and here I am complaining about the blind!”. The therapist says, “I’ve been trained my whole life to help others and here I am complaining about the blind, shame on me!” The economist says, “Oh no! They should be playing at night.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Is 'rich' a normative concept?

The way that most intro classes present the concepts of positive and normative is to say that normative statements are about the way the world "should" be while positive statements are about the way the world "is". I don't really like this because it's too narrow and students aren't able to see the bigger picture - if a sentence doesn't happen to contain the words "should" or "is", they get confused. So instead, I talk about normative statements as being based on values and opinion while positive statements can be empirically proven or disproven (they don't have to be true, you just have to be able to prove that they are true or not). I find that this gets them thinking beyond just whether a sentence is descriptive or prescriptive, and into actual analysis.

So on the first midterm for my Principles class, I gave my students several sentences that they were supposed to identify as being either positive or normative. The one that tripped up the most students was:

"There is a huge income gap between rich and poor households in the U.S."

The correct answer is that this is normative because although one could empirically measure the difference in income between households of different incomes, it is still a matter of opinion whether that difference is 'huge'. The Presidential campaign has also given me some good examples of how the words 'rich' and 'poor' might also be normative - to Barack Obama, 'rich' is anyone making over $250,000 and to John McCain, it's anyone making over $5 million. Could you really use empirical data to convince either one that they are wrong?

Along similar lines, a recent post on Get Rich Slowly asks what does it mean to be rich? J.D. ponders:

Kris and Rhonda tried to decide: Does being rich mean having a large income? Does it mean having a certain net worth? Are the rich selfish? Is being rich only a state of mind? Or is it something else entirely?

Are two people with equal $100,000/year incomes rich? What if one has $100,000 in credit card debt? Is he still rich? What if one has higher expenses because she has four children? Is she still rich?

I think most of us would agree that a person with a $20,000 income and three kids is poor. But what if somebody earns $20,000 a year, lives a frugal lifestyle, and is able to save $5,000 each year in a Roth IRA? If you have a small income but you’re a good saver, does that make you rich? Is this a bad thing?

“All this makes me think that money isn’t the answer,” I said after Kris told me her story. “It makes me think that being ‘rich’ doesn’t have anything to do with how much money you have. But what then does it mean to be rich?

Given the fuss that politicans make over "the rich" and "the poor", I think it's an excellent question to ponder.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Because this is an economics blog...

I have to serve up the requisite post about Paul Krugman being awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (note that there isn't technically a 'Nobel Prize' in economics - it was established after the others). The award might surprise many non-economists who only know Krugman for his somewhat liberal op-ed column in the New York Times but politics aside, Krugman is widely known in the profession for his work on 'new trade theory'. I'm not a macro person so my grasp on his work is somewhat dim but The Financial Times sums it up nicely:
Earlier trade theories suggested that a country would trade with partners that were different – rich would trade with poor, and capital-intensive would trade with labour-intensive. In practice, rich countries tend to trade with other rich countries. Mr Krugman’s analysis showed why this was to be expected: many products were most efficiently produced by large companies, but consumers wanted variety and would buy products from foreign giants as well as the dominant domestic corporations.
There's been so much written about him in the last 24 hours, by people far better qualified than I, that I really don't have much to add but here are a few of my favorite bits:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Murder, mayhem and economics

I can't remember when I first found Marshall Jevons' (a.k.a. William Breit and Kenneth Elzinga) detective stories but as a budding economist, I got a huge kick out of the very thought of using economic analysis to solve a murder mystery. For those not familiar with these books, the protagonist is Henry Spearman, a professor of economics at Harvard who solves murder cases by applying economic reasoning. Even if you don't have the slightest interest in economics, they are fun and easy to read, which is part of what makes them such great tools for exposing students to economic thinking. They really make the point that thinking like an economist is about so much more than just money and markets.

Which is why I was excited to see that Ms.Y at Osborne High School in Marietta, Georgia wants to have her AP Econ students read Jevons' first book, Murder at the Margin. This is one of the projects I'm promoting for the DonorsChoose Blogger Challenge and Ms. Y seems like the kind of econ teacher that I wish I'd had in high school. Osborne is a high-poverty, high-minority school but as Ms. Y points out:
...our students are committed to learning. Every year our advanced placement classes grow in numbers with new students who want to go to college and see these classes as a way to challenge themselves and increase their chances of acceptance to college/university. Unfortunately funding for materials in these classes has a much greater demand than supply so some classes often find themselves going without the academic materials that would greatly assist their students.

For students learning economics, especially advanced placement level classes, real world application can be a struggle as they attempt to process new concepts and theories. To combat this problem, many teachers use non textbook readings to supplement these ideas and give students the opportunity to view economics in a non academic light...

Your help will ensure that my students get the opportunity to further develop their reasoning skills, understanding of economics and the economy and their application abilities which will serve them well in college or the work force.
You can help Ms. Y get these books for her students by donating on the DonorsChoose website. You can also check out the other economics projects I'm promoting, or search for other worthy projects.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Challenging assumptions about the financial crisis

This started out as a quick response to Jim's comment on a previous post but it started getting long and I decided I'd just make it a full post (and to give fair warning, it's quite a big longer than usual).

First, a mini-econ lesson for anyone who hasn't taken econ in a while: "moral hazard" arises when people do not face the full costs or benefits of their actions and end up acting in disagreeable ways (that is, disagreeable to the people who DO face the full costs). The most common example is when people do not face the full costs of risky action (like because of insurance) and thus take more risks than they otherwise would. As I stress to my students, the name notwithstanding, moral hazard does not necessarily mean people are acting unethically (though it may) - it does mean they are responding to the incentives they face. The other important thing to know is that economists typically do not attach judgment when they see people acting in self-interested ways (and as I also stress to my students, self-interested is not the same thing as selfish). That doesn't mean that, as a human being, I don't frown on people acting like jerks, and I'm not talking about fraud or other illegal activity, but I generally fully expect people to act in their own self interest.

Let me also say loud and clear that my understanding of the whole financial situation is pretty tenuous and this is not my area of expertise at all. But the way I see it is that there are a lot of layers - you've got commercial banks making loans (mortgages) to homebuyers, and then selling those mortgage contracts to investment banks, who bought them with money from various investors, who bought insurance for those purchases from companies like AIG. So moral hazard problem #1 is that the people making the loans (commercial banks) were never going to be on the hook if the homebuyers defaulted. This presumably led them to make riskier loans than they otherwise would have. Moral hazard problem #2 is that since investors were insured, they had less incentive to monitor what the investment banks were doing with their money and the investment banks had less to worry about if the mortgage-backed investments ended up being crap. This presumably led them to hold more of these risky assets than they otherwise would have. Then throw in that when the mortgages were sold to the investment banks, they were packaged in such a way that it wasn't easy to assess their true value (since some 'good' loans were grouped with some 'not so good' loans in order to mitigate risk), and especially hard once the housing market started to tank. And as I understand it, the big problem now (and the main focus of the bailout) is that we've gotten to a point where no one knows which mortgage-backed securities are OK and which are crap so they don't want to buy any of them, even the good ones. That means their value to the banks holding them is essentially zero (i.e., if you can't sell an asset when you want to, it basically becomes worthless to you).

OK, so that's all preamble. Jim's comment was: While I agree that the average home buyer shares some culpability, I find it disingenuous to imply that a banker, presumably educated, experienced, and well paid, whose life's work it is to know how to assess and manage risk, should be compared to the average home buyer, who trusts his broker and the system to provide reliable information and recommendations.

I don't necessarily disagree with Jim but there are some assumptions embedded in what he wrote that I think are important to point out - namely, the assumption that the "average banker" should have known better than to take such risks but that the "average homeowner" didn't understand the risks he/she was taking. This seems to be a pretty common assumption, and it may even be accurate, but my guess is that those making this assumption don't actually know if it's right or not. That is, many people seem to assume that the majority of the risky mortgages were issued to 'deserving' homebuyers - their credit might have been terrible or their income shaky or they simply were in over their heads but since the bank/broker told them they could afford it, who were they to disagree? At the same time, many people seem to assume that the majority of the bankers were greedily buying up too many of these crap mortgage-backed securities, knowing that they were crap.

But what about the homebuyers who knew they were accepting a risky mortgage (for example, people who fully planned to re-finance or flip the house)? Are they any less to blame than the greedy bankers? And what about the 'honest' bankers who saw these mortgages as risky assets but believed they were fairly valued (i.e., the price and return reflected the risk)? Or the ones who are holding securities that are probably OK (i.e., not backed by crap mortgages) but no one will buy them simply because everyone is panicked? Are these bankers any more to blame than the deserving homebuyers?

I think most people are willing to believe that there are some greedy
folks among the homeowners and some honest folks among the bankers but I'd wager that no one knows for sure what the proportions are in either group. To be honest, as a fairly liberal idealist, I'm certainly inclined to believe there are many homeowners honestly got screwed. But I'm also hesitant to assume that there was a lot of overt fraud going on, and an economist, I've been trained to be super-conscious of what assumptions or biases might be underlying any analysis. So my point is that I simply wonder why so many people believe that among homebuyers with bad mortgages, the deserving homebuyers dominate the informed homebuyers, but we believe that among bankers, the greedy bankers dominate the honest bankers? If anyone has data on the actual numbers, I would love to see them. And if I'm over-simplifying this to the point of being totally inaccurate, feel free to tell me!

UPDATE: In case this wasn't long enough, the San Jose Mercury News has a nice little article about the risk-taking that was going on at each of the levels, starting with the homebuyers and on up to the investors.

Friday Fun

One upside to the financial crisis is that it's generating some very funny bits. A few of my favorites:

- Japanese Banking: In the last 7 hours Origami Bank has folded, Sumo Bank has gone belly up and Bonsai Bank announced plans to cut some of its branches. Yesterday, it was announced that Karaoke Bank is up for sale and will likely go for a song, while today shares in Kamikaze Bank were suspended after they nose-dived. Samurai Bank is soldiering on following sharp cutbacks and Ninja Bank is reported to have taken a hit, but they remain in the black. Furthermore, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop and analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff may get a raw deal. Shinto bank doesn’t have a prayer and it’s probably goodbye to Sayonara Banking too.

- PhD Comics Economics Meltdown

- Investment tips for 2008 (via email): With all the turmoil in the market today and the collapse of Lehman Bros and acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America, this might be some good advice. For those of you with any money left, be aware of the next expected mergers so that you can get in on the ground floor and make some BIG bucks. Watch for these consolidations later this year:

1.) Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W R. Grace Co. will merge and become: Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace.

2.) Polygram Records, Warner Bros., and Zesta Crackers join forces and become: Poly, Warner, Cracker.

3.) 3M will merge with Goodyear and become: MMMGood.

4. Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Dofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become: ZipAudiDoDa .

5. FedEx is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become: FedUP.

6. Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become: Fairwell Honeychild.

7. Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to become: Poupon Pants.

8. Knotts Berry Farm and the National Organization of Women will become: Knott NOW!

And finally...

9. Victoria 's Secret and Smith &Wesson will merge under the new name: TittyTittyBangBang

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cool website: EconomPic Data

This is a great site for teachers. The author, Jake, creates charts and graphs of various economic data - or as the tagline says, "Darn nice economic eye candy". There's always the usual economic indicators but also random data related to current events. The amount of commentary or explanation varies a lot but there is a post this week that I thought was a really excellent, very simple explanation of how the Bailout Can Work and At No Cost to Taxpayers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

DonorsChoose.org Blogger Challenge

As someone who does research on school finance, particularly in California, I am all too aware that many of our public schools are seriously under-funded (I say 'many', not all, because there are also quite a few that are just fine, thanks to inequities in the way schools are financed, but that's a whole other discussion). While my research focuses on the systemic funding, I've always been most heart-broken by the stories about the impact on individual classrooms. We've all heard horror stories about teachers buying school supplies with their own money simply to make sure their students have basic items like paper and pencils. But even in situations where the school and students are relatively well-off, teachers will often reach into their own pockets in order to buy little things that can vastly improve their teaching - to use a simple example of my own, just last week I bought a bunch of candy to use for a classroom exercise on gains from trade and allocation of resources. This was not a huge expense for me but for public school teachers, such little things add up.

This is why organizations like DonorsChoose.org are so great. They create a way for people to donate to specific teachers for specific projects. You can donate any amount, you can search for schools in your local area or for classes in a particular subject. I am participating in their Blogger Challenge this month and encourage you to get involved as well! You can visit the Economics for Teachers giving page to donate to econ-specific projects, or search through hundreds of other projects. This is a great cause and a neat way to help teachers directly. Please check it out!

p.s. If any teachers (whether economics or anything else) want me to add your project to my giving page, just let me know! I'll be highlighting different projects in this over the coming weeks.