Robert M. Costrell

Robert M. Costrell is Professor of Education Reform and Economics and holds the Endowed Chair in Education Accountability at the University of Arkansas. His areas of expertise include standards-based reform, school finance, and teacher pensions. Professor Costrell has both an academic and policy-making background. He was a member of the economics department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 1978 to 2006. His academic career has featured seminal publications on the economic theory of educational standards, as well as the theory of income distribution and testing. These have appeared in the top economics journals, such as the American Economic Review and the Journal of Political Economy. He has also written on education policy and finance for general audiences in journals such as Brookings Papers on Education Policy and Education Next. From 1999 to 2006, Dr. Costrell served in major policy roles for three governors of Massachusetts, including policy research director and chief economist. He worked closely with the governors and the commissioner of education throughout this critical period, when Massachusetts’ accountability reforms, based on exit exams, went into effect. As education advisor to Governor Mitt Romney, he helped develop the governor’s comprehensive education reform proposal of 2005, and also led the reforms of the state’s district funding formula adopted in 2006 and charter funding formula in 2004. In 2003, Dr. Costrell’s extensive expert testimony in Massachusetts’ school finance case (Hancock v. Driscoll) proved critical to the successful defense of that state’s education reform program. He represented the administration on the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (2001-03) and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (2005-06). Dr. Costrell has served on the Steering Committee to develop an economics assessment for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2001-02), and the U.S. Department of Education’s Advisory Council on Education Statistics, appointed by Secretary Paige (2001-02). He was recently appointed by Secretary Spellings to serve on the National Technical Advisory Council. Professor Costrell joined the faculty at the University of Arkansas in August 2006. His current research topics include teacher pension policy, fiscal impact of school choice, longitudinal analysis of student achievement, and methodologies for school funding estimation. Professor Costrell received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 1978 and his B.A. in economics from the University of Michigan in 1972.

Published Articles & Media

  • School Pension Costs Have Doubled Over the Last Decade, Now Top $1,000 Per Pupil Nationally
    Employer pension costs represent a significant drain on resources that might otherwise have been available for classroom expenditures.
  • The Rising Cost of Teachers’ Health Care
    Insurance costs for teachers are 26 percent higher than they are for private-sector professionals
  • Fixing Teacher Pensions
    Is it enough to adjust existing plans?
  • A Modest Proposal for Pension Reform
    Fundamental reform—based on tying benefits to contributions—is needed to fix these broken systems.
  • Yes, We Have No Bananas
    In a recent Education Next article we talked about winners and losers in teacher pension systems, and about the huge costs these systems impose on mobile teachers due to the back-loading of benefits. In a letter to the editor written in response to our article, Beth Almeida of the National Institute on Retirement Security takes us to task for describing this phenomenon as “redistribution,” noting that such a practice is illegal. Since we don’t want to get pension and teacher union officials in trouble, we have a modest proposal.
  • Teacher Retirement Benefits
    Even in economically tough times, costs are higher than ever.
  • Teacher Pension Reform: A Way Out of the Impasse
    For more than a decade, debate over reform of public pensions has been in a rut. On one side, some reformers have favored scrapping traditional teacher pension plans in favor of the IRA-type plans received by most private-sector professionals. On the other side, teacher unions, retiree groups, and defined-benefit pension plan professionals fight hard to protect existing plans. Each side has legitimate points.
  • Golden Handcuffs
    Teachers who change jobs or move pay a high price
  • Making Mountains Out of Molehills? Let the Reader Decide
    A recent “Policy Memorandum” from the Economic Policy Institute by EPI researcher Monique Morrissey is sharply critical of our article “Peaks, Cliffs, and Valleys.” Morrissey has a number of critiques of our articles, but the main one, as the title suggests, is that our metaphors are inappropriate, and there is nothing at all “peculiar” about the structure of retirement incentives in teacher pensions.

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