Kirabo Jackson

Professor of Human Development and Social Policy


Jackson is a labor economist who studies education and social policy issues. He has analyzed several important aspects of education policy such as the importance of public school funding on student outcomes through adulthood, the effects of college-preparatory programs on students’ college and labor market outcomes, the effects of educational tracking on students’ academic achievement, and the effects of single-sex education on students’ academic performance. The bulk of Jackson’s work, however, has focused on better understanding teacher labor markets: His extensive work on teachers analyzes the role of peer learning in teacher effectiveness, how student demographics directly affect the distribution of teacher quality across schools, how a teacher’s effectiveness depends on the schooling context within which they operate, how best to measure teacher quality, and other related topics.   

Jackson’s scholarly articles have appeared in leading economics journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Journal, Journal of Labor Economics, The Review of Economics and Statistics, and The Journal of Human Resources. His research has been featured in a number of mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and others. In 2016, Education Week listed him among the top university-based scholars who are doing the most to influence educational policy and practice. Jackson’s work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Spencer Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Smith Richardson Foundation, and other organizations. Currently, Jackson serves as an editor of The Journal of Human Resources, serves on the American Economic Association's committee on the status of minority groups in the economics profession, and is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Jackson earned his bachelor’s degree in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale University in 1998 and his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 2007. He was assistant professor of labor economics at Cornell University between 2007 and 2010, and then moved to Northwestern University where he subsequently earned tenure in 2012. 

Current Research

The Effect of Teachers on Measures of Socio-Emotional Skills: Jackson extends the traditional test-score value-added model of teacher quality to allow for the possibility that teachers affect a variety of student outcomes through their effects on both students’ cognitive and noncognitive skill. In published work, Jackson shows that teachers have effects on skills not measured by test scores, but reflected in absences, suspensions, course grades, and on-time grade progression. Teacher effects on these non-test-score outcomes in 9th grade predict effects on high-school completion and predictors of college-going—above and beyond their effects on test scores. Relative to using only test-score measures of teacher quality, including both test-score and non-test-score measures more than doubles the predictable variability of teacher effects on these longer-run outcomes. In ongoing work, Jackson examines how teacher effects on these behavior-based measures of soft skills relate to effects on photometric measures of soft skills. He will also examine which teacher practices predict these effects and will look at longer-run outcomes such as postsecondary completion and labor market outcomes.

The Effect of Single-Sex Education on Test Scores, School Completion, Arrests, and Teen Motherhood: Existing studies on single-sex schooling suffer from biases due to the fact that students who attend single-sex schools differ in unmeasured ways from those who do not. Moreover, even if one can deal with the student selection problem, schools that are single sex may differ from coeducational schools in systematic unobserved ways (other than being single sex).  In 2010, the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago converted 20 low-performing secondary schools from coeducational to single-sex. Jackson exploits these conversions to identify the causal effect of single-sex schooling holding other school inputs constant. After also accounting for student selection, single-sex cohorts at conversion schools score higher on national exams and are four percentage points more likely to complete secondary school. There are also important non-academic effects: All-boys cohorts have fewer arrests as teens, and all-girls cohorts have lower teen pregnancy rates. These benefits are achieved at zero financial cost. Survey evidence suggests that these single-sex effects reflect both direct gender peer effects due to interactions between classmates, and indirect effects generated through changes in teacher behavior.

The Long-Run Effect of Head Start and Public School Spending: Jackson and Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson examine the long-run effects of Head Start on the outcomes of poor children. They pay particular attention to whether the effects of Head Start differ for those who attend better resourced public schools. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, they compare the adult outcomes of cohorts who were differentially exposed to policy-induced changes in preschool (Head Start) spending and school-finance-reform-induced changes in public school spending during childhood, depending on place and year of birth. Difference-in-difference instrumental variables and sibling-difference estimates indicate that, for poor children, increases in Head Start spending and increases in public K–12 spending each individually increased educational attainment and earnings, and reduced the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration in adulthood. The benefits of Head Start spending were larger when followed by access to better-funded public K–12 schools, and the increases in K–12 spending were more efficacious for poor children who were exposed to higher levels of Head Start spending during their preschool years. The findings suggest that early investments in the skills of disadvantaged children that are followed by sustained educational investments over time can effectively break the cycle of poverty. 

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Jackson, C. K. Forthcoming. What do test scores miss? The importance of teacher effects on non-test-score outcomes. Journal of Political Economy.

Jackson, C. K., R. Johnson, and C. Persico. 2016. The effects on school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reformsThe Quarterly Journal of Economics 131(1): 157–218.

Jackson, C. K. 2013. Match quality, worker productivity, and worker mobility: Direct evidence from teachers. The Review of Economics and Statistics 95(4): 1096–116.

Jackson, C. K. 2012. School competition and teacher labor markets: Evidence from charter school entry in North Carolina. Journal of Public Economics 96(5-6): 431-438.

Jackson, C. K. 2011. Single-sex schools, student achievement, and course selection: Evidence from rule-based student assignments in Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Public Economics 96(1-2): 173-87.

Jackson, C. K., and Henry Schneider. 2011. Do social connections reduce moral hazard? Evidence from the New York City taxi industy. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3(3): 244-267.

Jackson, C. K., and Emily G. Owens. 2011. One for the road: Public transportation, alcohol consumption, and intoxicated driving. Journal of Public Economics 95(1-2): 106-121.

Jackson, C. K. 2010. Do students benefit from attending better schools? Evidence from rule-based student assignments in Trinidad and Tobago. The Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society 120(549): 1399-1429.

Jackson, C. K. 2010. A little now for a lot later: An evaluation of a Texas Advanced Placement incentive program. Journal of Human Resources 45(3): 591-639.

Jackson, C. K., and E. Bruegmann. 2009. Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1(4): 85-108.

Jackson, C. K. 2009. Student demographics, teacher sorting, and teacher quality: Evidence from the end of school desegregation. Journal of Labor Economics 27(2): 213-56.