Um, No, Don’t Blame New Jersey Teacher Shortages on ‘Wage Gaps’

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Two weeks ago Mark Weber, also known as “Jersey Jazzman,” issued a report through New Jersey Policy Perspective called “New Jersey’s Teacher Pipeline: The Decline in Teacher Candidates Continues.” This is a rehash of his 2020 report, which I analyzed in a piece called, “Okay, Boomer: Why Mark Weber’s Argument Won’t Convince Millennials and Gen Z’ers To Become Teachers.”

This time Mike Lilley of Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey has done the work for me in a post entitled “More Biased, Substandard “Research” from Mark Weber and NJ Policy Perspective.” In this piece Lilley lays out the the flaws in Weber’s arguments; he also notes that local media (NJ Spotlight, Star-Ledger) has taken the “research” at face value without exploring its logical lapses.

Here’s Lilley:

Another Mark Weber (a.k.a “Jersey Jazzman”) report for New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), another example of substandard, biased research. The sad thing is that the media takes what Weber says at face value when they shouldn’t. As Sunlight has documented, there are many, many examples of Weber’s shoddy and biased “research.”

Weber returns to a familiar theme for his most recent report “New Jersey’s Teacher Pipeline: The Decline in Teacher Candidates Continues,” which relies heavily on two earlier, flawed Weber reports. Sunlight has detailed how Weber cherry-picks his data, uses assumptions as if they were facts and reaches conclusions that are not supported by his research (Sunlight’s analysis of these two reports are here and here).

  1. Weber’s title is actually false and the data in his own report proves it. The title unequivocally states that the decline in teacher candidates “continues,” but as shown in Weber’s graph of the data behind the title’s claim, “New Jersey Has Far Fewer Teacher Candidates Then a Decade Ago, Despite Recent Uptick” [emphasis added], there has actually been an uptick in teacher prep completers since Weber’s last report. So the decline has actually stopped, not continued. This may seem like quibbling but it is reflective of Weber’s casual treatment of facts and assertions and his willingness to reach conclusions that are unsupported by his data.
  2. No proof behind Weber’s recommendation to increase teacher compensation. As his #1 policy recommendation, Weber simply asserts, without proof, that New Jersey must increase teacher compensation to increase the number of teacher candidates. How does he know this? He doesn’t say.
  3. Weber relies heavily on his deeply flawed 2019 report to claim there is a “wage gap.” Weber predictably and once again claims there is a “well documented wage gap.” As proof of his claim, Weber cites to his 2019 report, “New Jersey’s Teacher Workforce, 2019: Diversity Lags, Wage Gap Persists.” As Sunlight has detailed, this Weber 2019 report is deeply flawed. He conveniently concentrates on a purported “wage” gap, which ignores the considerable value of pensions and health benefits. When he does address benefits, Weber simply asserts that they don’t close the wage gap but provides no data behind that claim and cites to irrelevant sources that do not support the claim. As Sunlight showed, using studies that Weber himself cites and adjusting for the actual hours that teachers work, teachers actually have a compensation premium. Finally, the top source for Weber’s claim about a wage gap is an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Study which asserts that there is a 21.4% national wage gap, but looking specifically at New Jersey, the EPI study finds only a 3.8% wage gap – which is a weekly wage gap – and when adjusted to an hourly figure, New Jersey teachers have a 1.1% wage premium! Weber buries this inconvenient data in the appendix on the very last page of the report. Talk about cherry-picking data!
  4. No proof behind Weber’s recommendation to shore up pension and health benefit systems. Weber’s second recommendation calls for New Jersey to “shore up” the pension and health benefit systems. Again, he offers no proof that this is depressing the number of teacher candidates. In any event, his claim that health benefits have “eroded over the past decade” is simply not true. Most New Jersey teachers have platinum-plus-level benefits where the state picks up 81% of the cost, and due to a new law passed last year, they pay even less now. Most private-sector workers pay a lot more for gold-level benefits. There is simply no proof behind Weber’s health benefits claim and therefore his policy recommendation. As for pensions, it is true what the pension system disadvantages younger teachers but that is because they are being forced to subsidize older, career teachers who are the NJEA’s main constituency. And, yes, that should be changed.

It is exhausting to keep track of and analyze all of the flaws in Weber’s research. As Sunlight has catalogued, Weber consistently – almost invariably – draws conclusions and makes policy recommendations that are either unsupported by data or backed-up by cherry-picked data. And his conclusions almost always align with the policy positions of the NJEA, of which he is a member and which is one of the main funders of NJPP. And yet he is cited by New Jersey’s media as some sort of unbiased, high quality researcher.

When will Weber be held accountable for his substandard, biased “research?”

 

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