A beginner’s guide to: Professor Eric Hanushek
A specialist in the economics of education, Eric Hanushek is a Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, an American public policy think tank at Stanford University. He gained his PhD in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1968 and now regularly writes for the Wall Street Journal.
What is he best known for:
Hanushek is a specialist in the economics of education. He has researched the economic impact of education at a national level in terms of skills and gross national product, and his other research suggests that more funding for schools does not necessarily improve student outcomes. From here, he has also discussed the effects of class size reduction, resourcing, teacher quality and accountability.
In 1971, he developed the concept of evaluating teacher effectiveness by pupils' progress – the basis of value-added assessments of teacher quality that are used today. His most recent book, The Knowledge Capital of Nations, argues that quality of education is causally related to a country's economic growth.
What's it all about:
Hanushek is a strong advocate of using economic analysis to improve pupil performance. Through such an analysis he has argued that there is no consistent relationship between the amount of money spent in schools and the amount of pupil learning that takes place. He generally opposes increases in school funding (to reduce class sizes, for example), believing instead that money should be allocated to initiatives that focus on school and teacher quality, such as replacing failing teachers and closing failing schools.
He suggests that instead of increasing funding to boost pupil performance, it would be better to make schools more accountable and teacher effectiveness subject to stricter assessments. Academic opponents have suggested Hanushek's motto should be "money doesn't matter".
What does he research:
In 1986, Hanushek published a paper called The Economics of Schooling, which outlined his analysis of American schools and the inconsistent relationship between school resources and pupil outcomes. He has also gone on to consider teacher quality (arguing that this is the most important factor in educational improvement); pupil integration; and the national effects of raising educational attainment in terms of skills and GDP.
What he says:
"The discussion whether school resources are systematically related to school quality and to school achievement has tended toward a battle of slogans 'Money matters' or 'Money doesn't matter'. [...] It is tautological to say that we will get good performance if we spend the money wisely. Today the existing knowledge base does not ensure that any added funds will, on average, be spent wisely. That is true even if some schools may spend their funds wisely."
What others say:
Hanushek has been a divisive figure within economics. Princeton economist Jesse M Rothstein suggested that his use of value-added measurements for judging teacher performance is deeply flawed. However, the authors of the Measures of Effective Teaching Project for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been generally supportive of Hanushek's arguments.
Why you should consider reading more:
Hanushek's focus on economics may make him something of a dry read, but his arguments offer food for thought for schools struggling to work within tight budgets.