MORE SHODDY RESEARCH FROM JERSEY JAZZMAN AND NEW JERSEY POLICY PERSPECTIVE
Mark Weber, Ph.D., is at it again, authoring another shoddy report that makes claims that are unsupported by the research presented. A public school teacher and NJEA member, Weber is also an active blogger going by the name of Jersey Jazzman. As might be expected, he is reliably anti-charter school, anti-education reform and pro-NJEA. In fact, Weber spoke at the NJEA’s 2016 convention and paid NJEA ads figure prominently on his website.
Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey (SPCNJ) believes that research should indeed be evidenced-based, particularly if it is used to advocate for public policies, as NJPP does. Legislators, opinion-makers, journalists and the general public should be able to rely on research to be factual, academically rigorous and supportive of its conclusions. This is certainly the standard that SPCNJ seeks to meet. All policy think-tanks, including NJPP, should be held to the same standard.
Previous Flawed Research on a Teachers’ Wage Gap
SPCNJ previously critiqued a flawed 2019 report by Weber for NJPP that purported to prove that a pay-gap existed between New Jersey public school teachers and private-sector workers (“New Jersey’s Teacher Workforce, 2019: Diversity Lags, Wage Gap Persists”). In it, Weber:
- Used faulty methodology to understate the value of the pension benefits that teachers receive as part of their overall compensation.
- 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.
- 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.
- Made assumptions that cannot be assumed – such as that all college degrees have the same economic value, which of course they do not.
- 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 Jersey teachers actually had a wage and compensation advantage over private-sector workers.
Upon close inspection, the research report cited by Weber undermined his entire case.
(For the full analysis, see SPCNJ’s blog “Shoddy Research Does Not Help the Cause of New Jersey’s Teachers”).
These flaws rendered Weber’s conclusions invalid. His report did not meet the evidence-based standard that NJPP sets for itself. Teachers, policy-makers and New Jersey citizens are ill-served by such shoddy research.
More Flawed Research on a Decrease in Teacher Candidates
And yet Weber and NJPP have done it again.
Weber recently wrote another flawed report for NJPP, “New Jersey’s Shrinking Pool of Teacher Candidates,” on the causes of a significant decline in the number of teacher candidates in New Jersey. SPCNJ agrees that there has been a real and worrisome decline in the number of teacher candidates, and that New Jersey’s education system needs a large pool of qualified teacher candidates. This makes it all the more important to determine its causes by rigorous, statistically sound research. But Weber does not do this. Instead he provides sub-standard work based on his suppositions and unproven assertions, which read like a list of ills worthy of the NJEA’s Communications Division.
The new report is fundamentally flawed from the outset because it cites no fewer than ten times Weber’s previous, flawed report on the supposed pay gap. Even though he proved no such thing, Weber calls teacher pay-gap figures “indisputable” and uses them prominently in his argument that inadequate compensation is a major reason for a declining pool of teacher candidates.
Building off this unsupported premise, Weber then assumes that if teachers’ compensation had kept pace with that in other sectors, people would be enrolling as teacher candidates at similar rates as in the past. In this framing, a smaller pool of teacher candidates is “a clear indication that teaching is not as attractive a career option as it once was.”
Even if Weber had proved there was a teacher pay-gap, which he did not, there is more to career attractiveness than simply the amount of compensation. As NJLeftBehind pointed out, there are many reasons why today’s generation of young people might not find a career in public school teaching appealing. Today’s Millennials and Gen Y/Zers opt for career mobility rather than stability and change jobs more frequently than previous generations. Public school teachers’ forced unionization and uniform, rigid pay structures make for a stable but inflexible work environment that benefits long-serving teachers, which may not appeal to young adults seeking flexibility and mobility. So it’s not at all “clear” that compensation is the driver of these career decisions. Yet Weber simply asserts it.
Getting into the data, Weber shows that the number of those who enroll in teacher preparation programs is down from 21,410 in 2009-10 to 7,950 in 2017-18. But in 2009-10, only 29.7 percent actually completed the programs – that is, seven out of ten enrollees did not complete the programs. Weber does not even consider whether this astonishingly low completion rate has something to do with the decline in enrollees. Or that a large percentage of New Jersey’s teacher prep programs receive very low grades in national rankings.
Moreover, Weber does not address whether there may have been too many teacher candidates in the past. He does mention this as an “open question” at the end of the report, but nowhere does he even attempt to answer that important question, which is an odd omission for a report on the decrease in teacher prep candidates.
At the heart of Weber’s argument is a list of complaints about changes in state education policies that occurred contemporaneously with the decline in enrollees: higher costs for teachers’ pensions and health benefits; new teacher evaluation systems that weakened tenure protections; increased the use of standardized test scores and required additional work from teachers; and the adoption of the PARCC standardized tests and increased time devoted to testing.
Weber claims that these policies resulted in an increase in the number of hours worked by teachers: “It is likely this is, at least in part, a result of the policy changes listed above.” Weber goes on to conclude that “these policies likely contribute to working conditions that make it difficult for teachers to thrive. New Jersey’s teachers have been increasingly underpaid relative to similarly educated workers and have seen an erosion of their benefits while the demands of their jobs have grown.”
Where is the proof that any of these policy changes had an impact on the number of enrollees in teacher prep programs?
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.