News Story

Main Source for MSU School Consolidation Study Says His Data Was Misapplied

When a Michigan State University study that stated consolidating schools could save millions was said to be plagiarized, officials defended its merits, saying the results of the research — based on a Syracuse University study — was still credible.

But now, the Syracuse University professor whose original study was the model the MSU study's findings has told the Mackinac Center for Public Policy his work was misapplied and wouldn't endorse MSU's findings.

Syracuse Professor William Duncombe told the Mackinac Center's Education Policy Director Michael Van Beek on Friday that the way his 2001 report was extrapolated to cover the state of Michigan was an "oversimplication," and the method "extremely naïve."

The MSU study, authored by senior scholar Sharif Shakrani of MSU's Education Policy Center, concluded that Michigan could save $612 million by consolidating schools at the county level. The study states it was "based and builds on" the work of Duncombe and John Yinger of the Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School at Syracuse.

Duncombe said the MSU report was "not an appropriate use of scientific evidence."

Several Michigan newspaper articles and editorials were written based on the findings of the report.

Shakrani and the Education Policy Center Co-Directors William Schmidt and Robert Floden didn't return messages seeking comment.

Shakrani told a reporter that his study was based on the formula that Duncombe used in his 2001 report, which was a working paper. A final version was published in 2007 in Education Finance and Policy and came to limited conclusions about cost savings from school consolidation.

Duncombe told Van Beek his research "should never be used as a simple formula." Duncombe said there were many differences between states' public school systems, and that "blanket attempts to consolidate just don't make any sense."

That decision to consolidate should be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Van Beek uncovered what appears to be plagiarism in the MSU study.

MSU officials said they are conducting an internal investigation that could take up to a year. However, there were some changes made to the study that included putting in references to the material alleged to have been plagiarized.

MSU's Floden had said that although there may be concerns with proper citation, the merits of the study were not at question.

But ethics experts say plagiarism allegations raise questions on the validity of reports.

"Whether an act of plagiarism of this sort calls into question the overall validity of the report,  at a bare minimum, it should raise a suspicion in one's mind about the overall quality of the research," said Edward Queen, director of leadership education programs at the Emory Center for Ethics in Georgia. "If a person has resorted to halfway measures in writing up his results, I think it is not illegitimate to wonder what other halfway measures or inappropriate measures a person may have taken."


Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.