The Best Scholarly “Research” Money Can Buy: A New Report Questions Whether Teacher Union Lobbyists Have “Any Standards At All.”

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Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Policy Foundation of New Jersey, a non-profit devoted to exposing the deleterious impact of NJEA’s political dominance, has a new paper out that focuses on one of its lackeys, Mark Weber, who blogs as Jersey Jazzman. In “More Shoddy Research from Jersey Jazzman and New Jersey Policy Perspective” Lilley decimates Weber’s flawed arguments about “NJ’s shrinking pool of teacher candidates,” much as he did with Weber’s recent NJPP paper with its innumerate argument that NJ teachers are underpaid. (Also see this excellent critique on the latter at New Jersey Education Aid.)

In his new paper Weber is up to the same old tricks: Cherry-picking data, using unsupported premises, confusing correlation with causation. But that’s the game, right? Especially when NJEA is footing the bill. (Weber spoke at NJEA’s annual convention and gets paid for research he does for New Jersey Policy Perspective and Education Law Center, both largely funded by NJEA. Also –this tickled my funny bone–a new board member for NJPP is none other than Julia Sass Rubin, the Princeton denizen who founded the anti-accountability, anti-charter organization called Save Our Schools-NJ and is a frequent Weber-collaborator who matches his lack of scholarly integrity and willingness to kowtow to NJEA leaders.)

Here are a few highlights.

First, Lilley recounts his analysis of Weber’s first paper on teacher salaries.

  • Weber used faulty methodology to understate the value of the pension benefits that teachers receive as part of their overall compensation.
  • Weber cited sources that compared New Jersey’s public-sector pensions and their costs with public-sector pensions in other states, which are totally irrelevant to a supposed pay- gap between teachers and private-sector workers in New Jersey.
  • Weber aggregated the lower wages of private school teachers into his calculations and yet his study claimed to prove a wage gap for public school teachers.
  • Weber made assumptions that cannot be assumed – such as that all college degrees have the same economic value, which of course they do not.
  • Weber cherry-picked the data from his sources. Weber cited a report for national pay-gap data but ignored the report’s New Jersey-specific data, which showed that New Jerseyteachers actually had a wage and compensation advantage over private-sector workers.

Oops, he did it again.

According to Lilley, Weber’s new paper, also on NJPP/NJEA’s dime, casts his own “fundamentally flawed” research as “indisputable,” referencing it ten times as though his conclusions are gospel. (They’re not.). So intent is he on claiming that NJ has a “shrinking pool of teacher candidates” because we don’t pay them enough that he ignores the career patterns of young men and women (see here for my take) who have far less interest in back-loaded deferred compensation plans (like pensions) than they do in mobility, 

In addition, Weber:

  • Fails to acknowledge that, while enrollment is down in NJ teacher preparation programs from 2009-2017, in 2009 less than 30% of students actually completed their program. He also failed to note that NJ teacher prep programs are very poorly rated and I’d add that we have an exodus of college students because of the high prices of state colleges. 
  • Fails “to address whether there may have been too many teacher candidates in the past.”
  • Insists that changes in NJ education policy and legislation —higher contributions from teachers for health insurance premiums, new teacher evaluations that incorporate student growth, and PARCC tests — have disincentivized people from entering the teaching profession. Too much work. Too much pressure. Too little money.  (Never mind that the Murphy Administration has decoupled teacher evaluations from student outcomes and that teachers now pay far less for insurance premiums than they did previvously: Weber never lets facts get in the way of his lobbying efforts.)

Here’s Lilley’s response:

The fact is that Weber offers no direct proof that any of these policy changes negatively influenced the number of enrollees – proof such as surveying actual teacher candidates and discerning their views. Instead, he simply states that the enactment of these policies occurred contemporaneously with the decline, which does not constitute proof of causation. In making such a claim, Weber erroneously relies on a well known logical fallacy (the Latin is cum hoc ergo propter hoc) that is contrary to a fundamental statistical precept: “correlation is not causation”. Causation must be proved, not simply assumed as it was by Weber.

Lilley concludes with two major points: One, that Weber’s research and conclusions in this new paper are just as flawed as his previous “research” and, two, that Weber (NJPP too) are simply doing their funder’s bidding. He writes,

The point appears to be to provide some veneer of academic credibility to the policy agenda of their mutual patron, NJEA. Higher pay, less accountability, stronger benefits and greater respect read like the NJEA’s lobbying agenda…Weber and NJPP obfuscate rather than clarify the problem.

In times like these we need cogent, apolitical, statistically-sound analyses of New Jersey’s state education system. Weber offers neither. As such, he weakens both NJPP’s reputation and his own.

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  • NJLeftBehind Digs into Jazzman/NJ Policy Perspective’s Flawed Research – Sunlight Policy Center, July 14, 2020 @ 10:55 am Reply

    […] and thanks to NJLeftBehind for a masterful critique of Mark Weber, Ph.D. (a.k.a., Jersey Jazzman) and New Jersey Policy Perspective’s (NJPP) […]

  • Mike Lilley and Jersey Jazzman Go At it: Are NJ Teachers Really Underpaid? - NJ Left Behind, July 23, 2020 @ 1:46 pm Reply

    […] Two weeks ago Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey skewered the scholarship of Mark Weber, aka Jersey Jazzman, in an analysis called “More Shoddy Research from Jersey Jazzman and New Jersey Policy Perspective.” In Weber’s paper,“New Jersey’s Shrinking Pool of Teacher Candidates,” Lilley shows how Weber cherry-picks data, uses unsupported premises, and confuses correlation with causation. For example, in order to show a “wage gap” between public school teachers and credentialed professionals, Weber includes the lower wages of private school teachers. In order to buck up a fallacious claim that NJ teachers suffer in comparison to private employees, Weber understates the value of NJ teachers’ pension benefits. (I summarized the dispute here.) […]

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