Is it political activism, or is it research? That’s the heart of the issue addressed in this column by Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF’s director of research and education studies. He analyzes several ‘research’ projects produced by UNC System professors and concludes they fail to meet accepted standards for credible research. For example:

About a month later, UNC-Wilmington education professors Robert Smith and Scott Imig published results from their survey of more than 2,300 residents of North Carolina. They reported that North Carolinians overwhelmingly disapproved of Republicans’ education reform measures. In fact, an astonishing 94 percent of their respondents agreed that public education in North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.

Mainstream media outlets and public school advocacy groups enthusiastically disseminated the survey findings. But these articles and commentaries ignored a serious methodological problem.

At minimum, survey researchers should have selected a sample that mirrored the population from which it was drawn. Smith and Imig failed to do this. Rather, their online survey bounced around from person to person and from website to website, likely attracting respondents who completed the survey to air their grievances.

In May, two other UNCW researchers got into the act. Megan Oakes, a graduate student in the Department of Public and International Affairs, and education professor Janna Siegel Robertson co-authored a survey of teacher attitudes regarding evaluation and merit pay. They found that only 1 percent of the 800 respondents believed that performance pay was beneficial, while a whopping 89 percent objected to the use of performance pay.

Similar to the dubious approach adopted by Smith and Imig, Oakes and Robertson used Facebook, email, and word-of-mouth to disseminate their survey to teachers, many of whom were formally or informally tied to teachers unions, public school advocacy organizations, and the Democratic Party.

If professors wish to express their opposition to Republican education reformers in the legislature, they have legitimate ways to engage in the discussion, as every North Carolinian does. To use so-called ‘research’ to further their views is offensive.