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Northwestern Economist Kirabo Jackson Honored with Public Policy Prize

Kershaw Award recognizes distinguished policy research contributions for scholars under 40

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Bo Jackson has had a remarkable impact on academia and public policy in a short time. The Northwestern community is immensely proud to see him honored in this way.”

Morton Schapiro
Northwestern University President and IPR Fellow

 Kirabo Jackson

IPR labor economist Kirabo (“Bo”) Jackson has been honored with the David N. Kershaw Award by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM). The award recognizes persons who, before the age of 40, have made distinguished research contributions to the field of public policy. It is among the largest and most prestigious awards to recognize contributions in public policy analysis and management.

“Bo Jackson has had a remarkable impact on academia and public policy in a short time,” said Northwestern University Professor and President Morton Schapiro. “The Northwestern community is immensely proud to see him honored in this way.”

Said Jackson, “As a policy researcher, having a positive influence on people’s lives, or at least the conversations that influence people’s lives, is very rewarding. This is particularly so in this moment of uncertainty.”

Jackson was nominated for his path-breaking work that encompasses school finance reform and teacher effectiveness, both of which have changed fundamental thinking on these two topics. He is the Abraham Harris Professor in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.

“Bo is using state-of-the-art methodological tools to shine new light on some very difficult questions in the field of education,” said IPR Director and economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor. “His work to date has pushed forward our ability to design more effective education policies and practices with critical implications for educators and students.”

Schanzenbach outlined Jackson’s key contributions to the economics of education, starting with his work on school finance reforms. Going against the established literature, Jackson’s highly cited work with Rucker Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley and Claudia Persico (PhD 2016) at the American University, who was then a Northwestern graduate student and an IPR graduate research assistant, measured the impacts of court-ordered school finance reforms in the 1970s. It deployed new empirical analysis to separate correlation from causation, finding strong benefits to increased school spending—upending decades of past consensus on the topic.

A second key area of Jackson’s work on teacher effectiveness shows how a focus on test scores alone in reward schemes, such as teacher “pay for performance,” misses key aspects of teachers’ effectiveness, as well as their ability to improve graduation rates and attendance. This insight was “very influential” in debates around school accountability reforms like those considered for the Every Student Succeeds Act that President Obama signed into law in 2015, Schanzenbach said.

Jackson is also an accomplished instructor and mentor, teaching graduate and undergraduate classes in statistics, economics of social policy, and education policy. Having served on the doctoral committees of several Northwestern PhD students, he has inspired a new generation of interdisciplinary, policy-oriented scholars.

“Kirabo brings his creativity, policy focus, and empirical smarts into his undergrad and graduate teaching,” said SESP Dean David Figlio, the Orrington Lunt Professor and an IPR fellow. “He has made massive advances in several of the most important scholarly questions in education policy, and he is richly deserving of this exceptional honor.”

Additionally, Jackson brings thoughtful, research-informed commentary and perspectives to the wider public through his Twitter account, @KiraboJackson.

The biannual award will be presented at APPAM’s fall meeting in November 2020. Recipients are invited to deliver the David N. Kershaw Lecture at the conference. Past winners include social scientists Rebecca Blank, a former IPR fellow and now Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, David Deming of Harvard University, and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2019.

The award is named for David N. Kershaw, who was the first president of Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan policy research firm. It was established in 1983 after his death from cancer at age 37. IPR and SESP are both institutional members of APPAM.

“I am honored to be among the list of influential scholars whose names are now attached to David Kershaw—who accomplished much by age 37,” Jackson continued. “As I receive this honor, I am deeply thankful for the vibrant intellectual community at Northwestern and the support of my partner and family.”

Read more about Kirabo Jackson’s research and career.

Photo credit: M. Wnuk

Published: August 6, 2020.