Eric Alan Hanushek is an economist who has written prolifically on public policy with a special emphasis on the economics of education. Since 2000 he has been the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, an American public policy think tank located at Stanford University in California. Hanushek advocates using economic analysis to improve student performance. He has authored numerous, highly cited articles on the effects of class size reduction, high-stakes accountability, teacher effectiveness, and other education related topics. In a 1971 paper he introduced the concept of evaluating teacher effectiveness on the basis of student learning gains. This idea is the basis of value-added assessments of teacher quality. In his most recent book, The Knowledge Capital of Nations, Hanushek concludes that the quality of education is causally related to economic growth.
Finding the Right Focus
Perhaps there are people who know from early life what they want to do for their life’s work, but I suspect they are rather rare. The actual process of getting to the right place, at least from my experience, involves a series of iterations that require learning one’s own skills, matching skills with life plans and objectives, and probably something that looks a lot like luck. This autobiographical essay represents my attempt to extract the separate facets of arriving at my current position as an economist who tries to match evidence about education with policy.
Imagine for a moment that a rich, innovative company is looking to draft the best and brightest high-school grads from across the globe without regard to geography. Let’s say this company’s recruiter has a round-the-world plane ticket and just a few weeks to scout for talent. Where should he go?
Our hypothetical recruiter knows there’s little sense in judging a nation like the United States by comparing it to, say, Finland. This is a big country, after all, and school quality varies dramatically from state to state. What he really wants to know is, should he visit Finland or Florida? Korea or Connecticut? Uruguay or Utah?
Winner of the 2004 Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship
The Thomas B. Fordham Prize for Distinguished Scholarship is given to a scholar who has made major contributions to education reform via research, analysis, and successful engagement in the war of ideas.
One of the most influential and widely cited academics studying American education, Hanushek has spent over 40 years studying how schools lift kids’ achievement and whether test scores translate into later-life success. A longtime fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution, he won the prestigious Yidan Prize for Education Research in 2021, which brought a $3.9 million award for new projects. He is also deeply involved in some of the biggest ongoing debates in education policy, including whether the achievement gap between rich and poor students is growing or slowly closing.