MIT School-Choice Scholar Pathak Wins Young-Economist Award

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(Bloomberg) -- Parag Pathak, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor whose research suggests that school choice can lead to improved student performance, won the John Bates Clark award for contributions from a young economist.

Pathak, 37, was honored for his work on market design and education policy, the Nashville, Tennessee-based American Economic Association said Friday in a statement on its website. It said his work “blends institutional knowledge, theoretical sophistication, and careful empirical analysis to provide insights that are of immediate value to important public-policy issues.”

His studies in Boston, Denver, and New Orleans provided evidence that charter schools boosted educational attainment. While previous research had looked at the school-choice issue, Pathak’s studies broke ground by evaluating kids who participated in random lotteries to get into top schools, showing increases in test scores and college attainment of the charter students compared to an almost identical group of students not chosen.

Pathak said he became interested in economics in college, as the field marries the math and statistics with social studies and public policy. “Market design is the way of solving real-world allocation problems,” he said in an interview.

The professor’s work contributed to changes in how public school systems in New York, Boston and Chicago allocated students to various schools, leading to more students getting into one of the top choices and fewer assigned by administrators.

His work adds to a “growing body of evidence suggesting that urban charter schools have the potential to generate impressive achievement gains, especially for minority students living in high-poverty areas,” the association said.

Started in 1947 as a biennial prize, the award is now being given annually to an economist under 40 years old working in the U.S. who is judged to have made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge,” according to the association.

Past winners of the accolade include the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman; New York Times columnist and City University of New York professor Paul Krugman; and Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary and ex-director of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Data compiled by Bloomberg show that recipients of the medal have almost a one-in-three chance of eventually winning the Nobel Prize in economics.

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