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Larry Hedges Named 2018 Yidan Prize Winner

World’s largest prize for education research honors first-generation college student


Larry Hedges
Larry Hedges speaks with Jacqueline Jones, a director (at the time) of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) and the president of the Foundation for Child Development, at SREE's fall 2014 conference.

IPR education researcher and statistician Larry Hedges, a preeminent scholar and global heavyweight in education research, has been awarded the 2018 Yidan Prize, the world’s largest prize in education research. 

The 2018 Yidan Prize for Education Research, which comes with $3.9 million in support, was announced by the Yidan Prize Foundation on Saturday, recognizing Hedges for his ground-breaking statistical methods for meta-analysis, which serve as a foundation for much of the rigorous, evidenced-based education policy across the country and the globe. 

Hedges is chairman of the department of statistics at Northwestern and a professor of education and social policy, psychology, and medical social science. Among the most influential applied statisticians in the world, Hedges’ work allows policymakers, educators, and the general public to see the evidence for “what works” in the field of education, and makes it possible to take a scientific approach to improving education for future generations. 

As a first-generation college student, Hedges’ accomplishments and contributions are particularly inspiring. 

“I was a kid from a poor family. We didn’t know anybody who went to college,” Hedges said. “The reason I am passionate about education is precisely that it was a life-changing thing for me in terms of mobility, and I would like everybody else to have that chance.” 

Hedges’ father worked for minimum wage until he retired, and his mother was a dishwasher at the local college.

“As an 11-year-old boy wandering about the Fresno State College campus, where his mother worked as a dishwasher at the college’s cafeteria, Larry literally saw an open door and stepped inside a chemistry lab,” said Northwestern President and IPR economist Morton Schapiro, who nominated Hedges for the Yidan Prize. “He encountered a talkative graduate student testing food samples for pesticides and they had a conversation. For the first time, Larry could see the possibilities for a future unknown to his parents, neither of whom attended college.” 

Hedges would go on to earn a Regents Scholarship at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied mathematics and physics. He became deeply involved in peer tutoring and mentoring of minority students. 

Hedges discovered his path and passion, making such an impact that the university invited him to continue his work after graduation. In the three years that followed, Hedges put together a summer bridge program for underrepresented students and a mathematics clinic.

When Hedges entered graduate school in 1976, education research was in a state of disarray. While much research had been done, it lacked standards and rigor. He saw an opportunity to develop more rigorous methods for synthesizing research findings across studies through meta-analysis. This work would occupy much of Hedges’ early career, and ultimately redefine the concept of evidence in education and psychology. 

By 1980, when he left graduate school for his first academic job in the department of education at the University of Chicago, he was traveling to apartheid South Africa, where he helped start supplementary academic preparation programs—illegal, under South African law at the time—to help non-white students gain admission to white universities. 

More recently, at Northwestern, Hedges turned his attention to the smallest scale of educational research studies, so called “single case” designs involving a single individual. Such studies are crucially important in areas like the study of rare disabilities, where it is unrealistic to assemble a large sample.

“Larry’s vision and commitment to education as a vehicle to promote opportunity have boosted the prospects for a generation of students, and his impact on the field of education research is absolutely immeasurable,” Schapiro said. “In fact, his life's work is informed by his own experience of the power of education to change lives. 

The Yidan Prize is named for its founder, Charles Chen Yidan, who established the prize in 2016 with a mission to make the world a better place through education.

"I congratulate the laureates and nominees alike for their outstanding contribution and achievements,” Yidan said. “Education should be an area of interest that goes beyond race, religion, economic status, or country of origin. I hope every country and region can share the results of education research and development, facilitating more international cooperation in order to create a better world through education."

Yidan co-founded Chinese Internet giant Tencent in 1998. In 2007, he launched the Chinese Internet industry’s first charity foundation with his partners—the Tencent Charity Foundation—of which he remains honorary chairman. Apart from his charity work with the Tencent network, Yidan undertakes other education philanthropy.  

He is recognized as China’s Internet philanthropy pioneer, and topped the Forbes China Charity List 2017.

Hedges shares the honor this year with Professor Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of edX, an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT to provide access to high-quality education at scale, to learners around the world, regardless of geographic location, financial resources, prior academic qualifications, gender or race. Agarwal is the recipient of the Yidan Prize for Education Development.

This year's laureates were selected from almost 1,000 nominees working in 92 countries by an independent committee over the course of a six-month selection process. 

Hedges’ Northwestern colleagues, collaborators, and his students are celebrating the award as well-deserved praise for a scholar who has dedicated his life to a shared objective. 

"Larry Hedges has made extraordinary contributions to education research and policy in the United States and around the world,” said David Figlio, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy. “Few, if any, scholars have been as influential in introducing rigorous evidence in education policy. I have learned a lot from Larry, and it's a privilege to have him as a colleague."

“The Yidan prize honors a researcher who has made outstanding accomplishments in education research, with an ultimate goal of creating long-lasting impacts on the entire world,” said IPR Director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. “I can think of no one who better reflects these values than our own Larry Hedges.”

Larry Hedges is the Board of Trustees Professor of Statistics and Education and Social Policy and an IPR fellow.

Read Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach's statement on Hedges' honor.

Originally published by Northwestern Now.