The scholars at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) have done it again: they have published shoddy, substandard “research” in the service of their NJEA patrons. Their new report revolves around the spurious and unsupported claim that there is “no evidence” that the state takeover of Camden schools has improved student learning. Once again, NJPP’s own report refutes the headline conclusions.
This is now a consistent pattern for NJPP. Sunlight previously studied three NJPP reports (all by NJEA-member Mark “Jersey Jazzman” Weber) on a supposed teacher wage gap, a shortage of teaching candidates, and tying all-remote schooling to underfunding and exposed all as shoddy, biased research that arrived at desired conclusions and then cherry-picked the data to support them. NJPP claims to be a “nonpartisan” think-tank engaging in “evidence-based,” “independent” research, but the facts show that this is false advertising. NJPP is a NJEA-funded, thoroughly partisan mouthpiece that will distort the data and misrepresent the facts in order give an “academic” veneer to the NJEA’s policy agenda.
Now to the Camden report. The central claim of the report is that there is “no evidence that the 2013 state takeover of Camden’s public schools has improved students’ standardized test scores.” A pretty strong and unequivocal statement – except that happens to be utterly false.
The report, itself, provides graphs whose lines – and presumably underlying data – undercut the headline claim that there is “no evidence” of improvement. Here are the three “Key Findings” of the report:
- Camden test scores “are lower than those of the three comparison groups [other Abbott districts, other take-over districts, and other low-income districts] in both math and ELA for all years before and after the state takeover.” This “finding” is a statement of fact but it says nothing about whether or not Camden test scores have improved since the takeover, which is the whole point of the report. This “finding” is nothing more than an irrelevant smokescreen.
- “Camden test scores started to trend in a positive direction even before the state takeover.” In this section, NJPP admits that “… Camden had positive growth in standardized test scores for all subjects” because that is what the graphs show. But NJPP attempts to explain away the growth and justify its “finding” by focusing only on 3rd and 4th grade test scores before the takeover. NJPP simply ignores 8th and 11th grade scores because those graphs show undeniable improvement after the takeover. This is cherry-picking data at its worst, which renders this “finding” meaningless.
- Both Camden and the comparison groups “experienced positive spikes in math and ELA in 8th and 11th grades.” So in its third “finding,” NJPP does address the 8th and 11th grade scores but attempts to explain them away by stating that all the comparison group scores also went up. But close visual examination of the graphs shows that the gap between Camden’s test scores and those of the other Abbott districts actually narrowed in every subject since the takeover, and also narrowed against the comparison groups in some of the grades and subjects. This means that Camden test scores improved at a faster rate than those in the comparison groups in several instances. The reader must visually assess this because NJPP does not provide the underlying data, but the slope of the lines in a number of the graphs is unmistakeable. So, yes, all the scores did go up, but Camden’s scores went up more, which renders this “finding” misleading.
So NJPP’s three “Key Findings” are irrelevant, meaningless and misleading. Quite a trifecta of shoddy research.
But there is more. The claim that there is “no evidence” of improvement after the takeover is unequivocal. Not “little evidence” or “scant evidence,” but “no evidence.” Apparently, the NJPP scholars did not search very hard for evidence. Sunlight’s rather cursory internet search immediately brought up a news article on a Stanford Center for Research for Education Outcomes (CREDO) report, entitled “Study Shows Camden Schools Making Progress.” CREDO compared student test results from the years 2014-15 and 2016-7 (which are after the takeover) and found that “all three sectors of Camden’s education landscape – district, charter, and renaissance – are making progress,” in the words of Camden school board member Minister Wasim Muhammad. In fact, according to the district, “students are receiving the equivalent of nearly an additional 85 days of learning in math and 30 days in reading relative to the state average, compared (with) the 2014-2015 school year.” This is properly described as evidence of improvement. For NJPP to state categorically that there is “no evidence” is simply false.
Why would NJPP again stoop to such substandard research? Because the purpose of the report is not to edify or illuminate but to push an agenda – the agenda of its NJEA patrons who have funded NJPP with $695,000 from 2013-17 (the latest data available), an amount which must surely be over $1 million by now. At the beginning of the report, NJPP makes clear why it published the report: the state has closed eight traditional public schools, “eliminating more than a thousand teaching and other staff positions.” All of them dues-paying NJEA members. There is the crux of the matter. It’s not really about the students, who once again serve as props for what the NJEA and NJPP really care about: dues-paying NJEA members.
So it doesn’t really matter whether the research is valid or legitimate, it only matters that it can be cited to loudly and often by those pushing the NJEA’s agenda. Once again, for a price, NJPP is happy to comply.
The fate of Camden students be damned.