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Why Just Announced Economics Nobel Prize Winner Al Roth Matters A Lot for the Future of Education

Al Roth, one of this year's two Nobel Prize winners in economics, is best known for his work designing matching mechanisms for situations where normal markets aren't feasible. That's relevant to education, because cities and school systems that have moved toward more portfolio-like models that give parents access to a wider range of charter and district choices are increasingly looking towards Roth's mechanism as a potential solution for making these choice systems work better for families and schools alike (ameliorating the problems mentioned here). As more cities move in this direction, expect to see these matching mechanisms playing a bigger role in how public education works.

Moreover, Roth's award is noteworthy because his research specifically looks at areas where conventional markets don't work. Some proponents of choice in education tend to speak as if education choice systems can work as a normally functioning market not subject to market failures--but that's not the case. Education is subject to a host of market failures, including principal-agent problems, information asymmetries, externalities, and enormous transition costs--among others. A Nobel award for an economist whose work specifically focuses on choice and matching outside of traditional markets should serve as a good reminder for all of us that things are much more complicated than market fundamentalists would suggest.

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