Kirabo Jackson Honored with Public Policy Prize

Kirabo Jackson Honored with Public Policy Prize

kirabo JacksonSchool of Education and Social Policy faculty member Kirabo (“Bo”) Jackson has recieved the David N. Kershaw Award from the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management for his path-breaking work on school finance reform and teacher effectiveness.

Jackson, the Abraham Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy, is a labor economist whose work has upended traditional ways of thinking. The award is among the largest and most prestigious awards to recognize contributions in public policy analysis and management by those under 40.

“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.”

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. As a policy researcher, he is motivated by the chance to positively influence people’s lives -- or at least the conversations that can change ways of thinking.

“This is particularly so in this moment of uncertainty,” said Jackson, a faculty fellow with Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

Some of Jackson’s most original and influential work 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.

“Bo uses 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 and director of the Institute for Policy Research. “His work to date has pushed forward our ability to design more effective education policies and practices with critical implications for educators and students.”

A second key area of Jackson’s work on teacher effectiveness shows how focusing 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 also is 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.

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 the individual and national levels. “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."

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 said. “As I receive this honor, I am deeply thankful for the vibrant intellectual community at Northwestern and the support of my partner and family.”

By Institute for Policy Reseach/Photo by Shane Collins
Last Modified: 5/7/21