Exploring Opportunity redesigned Phillips Academy’s economics courses toward a more problem-based approach by using Harvard University’s Opportunity Atlas to explore subjects related to equity.

Students in AP Statistics use data from Opportunity Insights to research and submit posters to the American Statistical Association Data Visualization Contest. Past topics include:

  • How Much Does Childhood Economic Status Affect the Future?
  • How Does Opportunity Differ Based on Neighborhood and Race in Atlanta?
  • Impact of Covid-19 Response on Small Businesses
  • Is a Location’s Average Income a Good Predictor of Life Expectancy?
  • Higher Education and Income Across Generational Lines
  • Advantageous Circumstances: How College Tier and Parents’ Income Relate to Projected Income
  • Alma Wager: Linking Parents’ College Education and their Children’s Financial Success


Exploring Opportunity made economics courses a more engaging entry point for learning about subjects that build quantitative and qualitative skills. By rooting the study of data-related topics in real world problems, students are more likely to adopt an ongoing interest in economics.

For students of statistics, using big data and drawing conclusions from their research was both challenging and empowering. Their experiences were authentic forays into uncovering patterns in the data and making meaningful conclusions.


Tedd Parker reports that many students believe that the field of economics is relegated to Wall Street and investment banking. To overcome this perception and to illustrate that economics often deals with real societal problems by bringing to bear interdisciplinary subjects, Exploring Opportunity designed courses to illustrate how economics goes beyond finance.

It takes powerful coding practices and data visualization tools to use big data from Opportunity Insights. Students used their project analysis to expand their knowledge of the R coding language in addition to the statistical concepts applied.

Takeaways & Best Practices

Students build capacity to use qualitative and quantitative data in solving real world problems rather than simply deploying theory.

Exploring Opportunity courses make economics more relatable for students and drive ongoing interest in the subject.

Exploring Opportunity continues the Tang Institute’s mission of partnering with thought leaders on solving pressing issues in education.

Bottom Line

Exploring Opportunity has advanced pedagogy at Phillips Academy by centering problem-based learning in economics curricula. It has exposed students to real data and inspired deep questions and analysis to make the study of statistics more relevant.

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