Derek Nealʼs current research focuses on the design of incentive systems for educators. His work explores the design flaws in current performance pay and accountability systems and also highlights the advantages of providing incentives through contests between schools.
Neal also is exploring the causes and consequences of the prison boom in the United States. He is particularly focused on why prison populations grew so rapidly during recent decades and how the changes in policy that drove this growth affect inequality in the United States. Further, Neal is examining the links between home and school experiences of youth and future outcomes in the criminal justice system.
He is a recent past president of the Midwest Economics Association, a fellow of the Society of Labor Economists, an editor of the Journal of Political Economy, and the former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Labor Economics.