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Hoover Institution’s Eric Hanushek wins prestigious research prize

Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University whose writings on education economics have held more sway in Texas and abroad than in his own California backyard, is this year’s winner of the Yidan Prize, the most prestigious award for education research.

Courtesy of Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek

The Hong Kong-based Yidan Prize Foundation, created to inspire progress and change in education worldwide, announced the $4 million award on Tuesday. Half of the money will go toward scaling up and supporting local projects in Africa tied to Hanushek’s research; the other half is a cash prize honoring his work. Charles Chen Yidan, a co-founder of China’s internet holding company, Tencent, created the prize in 2016.

Hanushek’s research showing that how much students learn – and not how many years they spend in school – impacts the economic growth of a nation has influenced national policies in Africa and Asia. In his best-known book, Knowledge Capital of Nations, published in 2015, he and co-author Ludger Woessmann use data from international assessments, including PISA and TIMMS, to demonstrate that a nation’s prosperity and long-term development are determined by the cognitive skills of its people.

“Like no one else, Eric has been able to link the fields of economics and education. From designing better and fairer systems for evaluating teacher performance to linking better learning outcomes to long-run economic and social progress, he has made an amazing range of education policy areas amenable to rigorous economic analysis,” Andreas Schleicher, head of the Yidan Prize for Education Research judging panel, and director for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Directorate of Education and Skills, said in an announcement of the prize.

Hanushek served on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence. But otherwise, he has done little work in California. The thrust of his research, on reforming how teachers are evaluated and paid, gained little traction in the Legislature or among local school boards, amid opposition from the California Teachers Association. But the Dallas Independent School District has successfully implemented his proposals to hire and place teachers in the most struggling schools based on comprehensive evaluations of teachers’ past performance, and the state of Texas is funding that approach for other low-performing schools.

“I’ve had a lot more influence on Texas than California,” Hanushek said. “Education is a funny business. You don’t see the results for a number of years, so you have to convince people that changes will be in the long-run interest of the state.”