Coburn, Jackson Elected to National Academy of Education

Coburn, Jackson Elected to National Academy of Education

Cynthia Coburn and Kirabo JacksonSchool of Education and Social Policy Professors Cynthia Coburn and Kirabo Jackson

Northwestern University Professors Cynthia Coburn and Kirabo Jackson were among fifteen exceptional scholars elected to the esteemed National Academy of Education (NAEd) in recognition of their outstanding contributions to education research. Northwestern was the only institution to have two inductees this year.

Overall, the School of Education and Social Policy now has 12 National Academy members. (See the complete list below.)

Coburn, professor of human development and social policy and of learning sciences, examines the complicated factors and relationships that affect how educational policy is implemented in urban school systems. She is a faculty associate at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

Jackson, the Abram Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy, is a labor economist who studies education and social policy issues. He has analyzed everything from the importance of public school funding on a student’s future success to the effects of college-prep programs on college attendance and employment. Jackson is a faculty fellow at IPR. 

Founded in 1965, the Academy seeks to “advance high-quality education research and its use in policy and practice.” A highly selective organization, its 200-plus members are elected on the basis of their scholarship in the field of education and help to train the next generation of education scholars.

An induction ceremony for new members will take place during the 2020 NAEd Annual Meeting in November.

Cynthia Coburn:

A world-renowned expert on partnerships between educational researchers and practitioners such as teachers, principals and district leaders, Coburn has helped spark a renaissance in the field of educational research.

“Ultimately, our goal is to understand what helps and hinders how we use research in policymaking, and importantly, to create tools and resources so practitioners can use this evidence in their classrooms and schools,” Coburn has said.

Passionate about teaching and social justice, she is particularly interested in how new practices, rules, and roles promoted by policies weave through the system and make their way into classrooms. She also studies how teachers and others respond to these policies in ways that transform, disrupt, or even reproduce the status quo that the policies were designed to change.

In several studies, she’s shown that teachers who had the chance to discuss policy ideas with colleagues of differing backgrounds “were more likely to rethink their existing approaches to instruction rather than implement ideas by layering them on top or rejecting them,” she said.

Between January 2016 and December 2018, Coburn launched and supervised four major research studies, while finishing up two others. This period of exceptional growth was reflected not only in the grant dollars she brought to Northwestern, but also in the burgeoning staff of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and full-time research professionals who she supervised and mentored.

Over the last three years, 27 undergraduates have worked on Coburn’s research projects, and she actively recruits and retains underrepresented students. Coburn uses an apprenticeship model that not only exposes students to the research process but also supports their analysis, synthesis, and interpretation skills.

Kirabo Jackson

Jackson is known for creative, thorough, and convincing research on important education policy topics, including teacher quality and the relationship between school funding and student success.

Some of Jackson’s most original and influential work explores which skills teachers need to be good at their jobs. Jackson also challenged a decades-old idea that the amount of money a school spends per student doesn’t matter. His research -- which helped re-ignite a national debate on the topic -- suggests that a 10 percent increase in school funding leads to increased high school graduation rates and higher wages as an adult.

Born in a Chicago suburb, Jackson was raised in the Caribbean and Africa – including Sierra Leone and Tanzania -- and attended boarding school in England before earning his bachelor's degree from Yale and doctorate in economics from Harvard.

His interest in the economics of education stems from his international upbringing and belief that education can lead to breaking out of negative cycles of poverty, at both the national and individual level. “It's one of the few things people can do to really improve their lives,” he said. “If you have skills you can go and get a job and improve your life. It's a mechanism for social justice.”

Northwestern National Academy of Education Members

  • Cynthia Coburn (2020)
  • Lindsay Chase-Lansdale (2013)
  • David Figlio (2017)
  • Kirabo Jackson (2020)
  • Larry V. Hedges (1996)
  • Carol Lee (2007)
  • Douglas Medin (2012)
  • Morton O. Schapiro (2017)
  • James P.  Spillane (2014)
  • Penelope Peterson (2011)
  • Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach (2019)
    Member Emeritus:
  • Allan Collins (1992)


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 2/21/20