Mackinac Center says school consolidation study by MSU professor may contain some plagiarized material
From the Grand Rapids Press
The report was commissioned by AnnArbor.com and seven affiliated Booth newspapers to examine whether countywide school consolidation or sharing of administrative services could bring savings to Michigan taxpayers.
The professor who authored the MSU study, Sharif Shakrani, said he was reviewing the matter.
The Mackinac Center cited seven paragraphs in the body of the report that provided policy discussions and background on the issue of consolidation. The sections appeared under the headings "Considering Alternatives to Consolidation" and "The Future of School District Consolidation in Michigan." It also challenged a similar number of sentences and sentence fragments.
None of the disputed material appeared in stories this week about the MSU findings. AnnArbor.com's version of the story, localized for Washtenaw County, was published on Sunday.
The Grand Rapids Press coordinated the effort to have the study done by MSU.
"We were made aware of the Mackinac Center's concerns (Wednesday)," Press Editor Paul M. Keep said. "Dr. Shakrani is reviewing the material called into question, as are we.
"It is notable that the disputed material in the 13-page narrative is separate from the methodology and formula used to provide the study's detailed conclusions," Keep said. "Those conclusions found significant savings in taxpayer dollars through district consolidations or greater coordination of services."
Michael VanBeek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center, questioned what he called a lack of attribution, quotations or footnotes for the material cited.
"Although the MSU study appears to be corrupted by plagiarized material, the findings could still theoretically be accurate," he said.
However, he said he believes the methodology that led to the conclusions is also "seriously flawed, and a more detailed review will follow."
Here are the two passages that the Mackinac Center said "appear to be plagiarized" by Michigan State University researchers in a study on school consolidation savings.
The center said this section of the MSU report had appeared in the federal Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC, under "Exploring Alternatives to Consolidation." It is located on page 4 of the report.
Neighboring school districts may, on a formal or informal basis, agree to share personnel, programs and equipment to provide needed services to students. Sharing allows school districts to remain separate while gaining additional curricular programs of higher quality. It also lets the community keep its own schools and consequently its own identity and vitality. Through shared services, a comprehensive educational program can be made available even though a particular school may not be very comprehensive in its offerings. Instructional materials, teachers, equipment, ancillary services, transportation, staff development, counseling services, special education and vocational education can be shared. Some of the advantages of sharing have been identified as follows: - Program offerings can be secured and often expanded. - A balanced faculty is maintained and the academic expertise increases. - Sharing enables schools to comply with federal and state mandates. - Transportation facilities can be shared. - Expenditures can be decreased through joint purchasing. - Sharing increases community cooperation and support, a sense of local autonomy, teacher retention and school district stability.
The center said this section of the MSU report had appeared in a March 22, 2010 article by Melissa Maynard on Stateline.org. It is located on page 8 of the report.
The Future of School Districts Consolidation in Michigan The National Governors Association are among national groups that have begun encouraging states to take a serious look at some form of school consolidation as a way to offset funding cuts to K-12 education and to keep as much money as possible in the classroom. "We are in such financial crises in this country that we cannot afford to worry anymore about some of these considerations that, in light of the financial situation, appear minor," says John Thomasian, director of the National Governors Association Center for Bert (sic) practices. "Now that we are in such a clear and long-run fiscal climate of austerity, issues like school district consolidation have to be taken straight on."
But savings in school administration have been difficult for states to achieve because of the limited control the states have over how school districts spend their money. According to an October 2009 survey by the American Association of School Administrators, more districts have cut core subject teachers to cope with budget cuts than have cut central office or administration personnel. For the current school year, 42 percent of the districts surveyed reported that cutting core subject teachers, while 32 percent reported cutting administrative personnel. Next year, 36 percent of districts plan to cut additional core subject teachers, while only 20 percent plan to cut central office of administration personnel.
Even advocates of consolidation, such as Thomasian, acknowledge that the savings potential of these initiatives can be somewhat unclear. When states such as Maine pair significant cuts with massive reorganization plans, it can be difficult to tell savings from outright cuts. "States don't go into budget cutting as a clinical test," says Thomasian. "We don't have control groups, so a lot of it gets mixed together. That's why a lot of research to date on school district consolidation has been mixed."
The state of Michigan can approach school district consolidation in a number of different ways -- using the carrots and sticks approach by offering incentives to rural or small districts to consolidate.