Federal What the Research Says

Biden Has Tapped an Education Researcher for Economic Adviser. Here Are 6 of His Findings

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 14, 2023 5 min read
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President Joe Biden has announced he planned to tap Northwestern University education economist Clement Kirabo Jackson for his Council of Economic Advisers.

If Jackson is confirmed by the Senate, he will help form and recommend both domestic and international economic policy.

Jackson, the Abraham Harris professor of education and social policy and an economics professor at Northwestern University, is known for analyzing measures of teacher effectiveness and labor pools, as well as helping shift the focus of school funding research from students’ test scores to their adult and career trajectories. When taking into account students’ likelihood of graduating from high school and their adult earnings, among other things, Jackson and his colleagues found adding school resources doubled the return on investment, particularly for low-income children.

Across his work, Jackson has laid out evidence for going beyond test scores to judge the effectiveness of teachers, education policies, and school interventions.

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Education Opinion Kirabo Jackson, Assistant Professor, Northwestern
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“Identifying policies that lead to long-run success requires us to look beyond standardized tests and exams to a broader set of social-emotional measures that might make good predictors of long-run success,” he said in a 2019 policy lecture.

Here are six findings from his studies:

Education funding

The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms
Quarterly Journal of Economics (2016)
In one landmark school finance study, Jackson and his colleagues tracked what happened to low-income students in 28 states that significantly changed their school funding formulas between 1971 and 2010, leading to funding boosts of 20 percent in some districts. He found that students in poverty who attended 12 years of school in a district that boosted spending by 20 percent were 23 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who attended before the funding increases .
By middle age, the students who had attended those better-resourced schools had 25 percent higher wages and were 20 percentage points less likely to live below the poverty line, than students who attended the schools before the budget increases.

School-based budgeting

When Does School Autonomy Improve Student Outcomes?
EdWorkingPapers, 2023
In a yet-to-be published study, Jackson analyzed a Chicago initiative to give principals control over their school budgets. He found students in schools with principal budget control for at least two years had nearly 6 percentage points higher passage rates in English standardized tests and nearly 5 percentage points higher passage rates in math tests than those of students in schools with traditional budgeting. That boost is roughly equal to that of interventions costing $1,000 per student.

The schools that benefited most from principal budget control were those with experienced principals and those with unusual populations—such as high numbers of students with disabilities or English-learners.

Teacher quality

What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non-Test Score Outcomes
Journal of Political Economy (2018)

While most measures of teacher quality focus on how well educators get students to master reading, math, and other content knowledge, Jackson has argued that policymakers should also look at measures like student behavior and social-emotional skills.

In longitudinal analyses of North Carolina teachers, Jackson found that while teachers do affect students’ academic achievement, their effect on students’ noncognitive skills and behavior is 10 times better than test scores at predicting a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school and going on to college and careers.

“If a kid is assigned to a teacher who raises test scores, they’re slightly more likely to graduate high school, but if they’re assigned to a teacher who raises softer skills, those kids are much more likely to graduate high school,” Jackson told Education Week in 2018.

Teacher development

Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (2009)

As part of a series of studies, Jackson and his colleagues used longitudinal data from North Carolina to look at changes in student achievement from using bonuses to move highly effective teachers to high-need schools.
He found that not only did experienced and certified teachers boost the math and reading performance in their own classrooms, but they also were linked to “spillover” benefits in math and reading for other students in the same grade, suggesting they were acting as models for other teachers when they moved to the high-need schools.

Instructional materials

Can Online Off-the-Shelf Lessons Improve Student Outcomes? Evidence from a Field Experiment
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (2017)
Jackson and his colleagues randomly assigned middle school math teachers to either teach as usual, receive access to inquiry-based online curriculum materials, or both get access and online support in using the math materials. Giving teachers access to high-quality online materials and support produced learning gains for students equal to moving the students from an average teacher to one in the 80th percentile of instruction. For initially weak teachers, the benefit of access to high-quality lesson materials was even stronger.

“This is a much better investment than a lot of the PD that’s currently being implemented by schools,” Kirabo told Education Week in 2016.

Social-emotional learning

School Effects on Socio-emotional Development, School-Based Arrests, and Educational Attainment
2020 American Economic Review: Insights

Using data from Chicago public schools, Jackson looked at long-term outcomes for students who attended high schools that worked to improve students’ social-emotional development, including interpersonal skills,
school connectedness, academic engagement, and grit. After accounting for student academic achievement, he found that students in schools that boosted social-emotional development had fewer school-based arrests and higher high school graduation rates as well as college attendance and persistence. In particular, schools that worked to boost students’ sense of well-being also had significantly higher attendance and fewer behavior problems.
“Our finding that school impacts on [social-emotional development] have larger effects on short- and long-run outcomes than schools’ test-score impacts has important implications for how policymakers measure school quality,” he concluded.
In a separate study, he found parents often value benefits from school that don’t show up on tests, like peers and social development.

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