We cannot let a new report from the dynamic duo of New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Mark Weber, PhD. (a.k.a., “Jersey Jazzman”) and Bruce Baker go by without a perusal. Sunlight has documented their long history of producing shoddy, biased research in the service of NJPP’s $1.25 million donor, the NJEA (of which Weber is a long-time member). The current report calls for substantially increasing state education funding for high-poverty districts so their students can attain Massachusetts-level achievement on state tests.
First, we will acknowledge that this report does not appear to be as transparently shoddy as some of Weber and Baker’s past research. Laura Waters of NJEdReport, whom we respect immensely, had some words of praise, and we take Ms. Waters at face value. But she also had some criticisms (see below). Our friends at StateAidGuy, whom we also respect immensely, also had some criticisms (see below).
Here’s Sunlight’s take:
- As always, Weber and Baker’s solution is more state spending on education. StateAidGuy estimated it would be $4.1 billion more, or an increase of 35% over current levels. We know whom that would certainly benefit: the NJEA. More members, bigger budgets, more dues. Same old, same old for Weber and Baker.
- In typical fashion, Weber and Baker claim that research “conclusively” shows that more spending leads to more student success. That is, the research they chose to look at. But there is plenty of research that shows that more money does not equate to better outcomes (e.g., here). Ms. Waters quotes NJ Chief Justice Wilentz in Abbott v. Burke: “convincing proofs in this record that funding alone … will not achieve an equal education …; that without educational reform, the money may accomplish nothing …” Weber and Baker quote the Abbott decision, but not this part.
- Massachusetts, the state Weber and Baker hold out as the gold standard that New Jersey should emulate, provides a concrete example of the Weber and Baker spending fallacy. Conveniently, Weber and Baker don’t provide MA and NJ per pupil spending numbers, but StateAidGuy does: for 2021-22, MA spent $23,989 per pupil vs. $26,300 for NJ. So MA spends 9% less than NJ and gets better results. If we adjust for cost-of-living, which is 32% higher in MA, MA spends much less than NJ. Bottom line: MA spends (much) less and gets better results.
- Weber and Baker appear to anticipate this criticism by noting there are “substantial differences” between MA and NJ in poverty, English-language learners, labor costs and other factors. They claim their “models account for those differences.” But we are supposed to just take that on faith, as they do not provide any data on these differences. Ms. Waters helpfully does: the poverty rate for NJ students is 13.2% vs. 12.3% for MA; ELL rate is 7% for NJ and 9.5% for MA; average hourly pay for NJ is $21.15 and $23.15 for MA (and remember that MA has a 32% higher cost of living). In short, the data does not appear to justify the NJ’s spending 9%+ more than MA for lesser results. No wonder they left it out.
- We have to mention that NJSpotlight News once again accepts Baker and Weber’s research without question. No quotes from people with different opinions or acknowledgement that NJPP and Weber have conflicts of interest with the NJEA. It’s not the first time. We note that the NJEA is also a “major funder” of NJSpotlight News. Hmmm.
We find it striking that Weber and Baker use copious data analysis to claim that New Jersey must spend $4 billion more to achieve Massachusetts levels of student achievement, and yet manage to elide over the fact that Massachusetts already spends (substantially ) less than New Jersey to get better results. More money is manifestly not the determining issue for Massachusetts, and yet Weber and Baker call for more money. Hmmm.