A recent study commissioned by Booth Newspapers and conducted by Michigan State University's Education Policy Center concludes that Michigan would save $612 million by consolidating school districts at the county level. While the methodology remains highly suspect, the study suffers from a far greater problem: It appears to contain significant amounts of plagiarized material.

Since the findings of the MSU paper were strikingly different from a 2007 Mackinac Center study on school district consolidation, an investigation into the methodology seemed important. The MSU report only cited one source, a 2001 study out of Syracuse University that analyzed the fiscal consequences of 12 rural district consolidations in New York from 1985 to 1997.

As I scrutinized both studies, similarities in language and tone became evident, beginning in the introduction. As I am a former teacher, alarm bells went off in my mind, and I began to dig deeper. In the end, I discovered entire clauses and sentences were identical in both studies.

Finding a small sample of similar or identical language, I turned to the Google search engine to investigate further. Entering one particular clause from the MSU study into Google brought me to a March 22, 2010, online news article. I quickly discovered that the MSU study appeared to lift almost three full paragraphs of text from the article with only a few minor stylistic edits (some of which introduced grammatical errors).

After a full analysis using professional plagiarism-screening software, it appeared that more than 800 words of text in the MSU study originated from other sources. Most of this text lacked attribution, quotation marks, footnotes or endnotes.

Although the MSU study appears to be corrupted by plagiarized material, the findings could still theoretically be accurate. But the methodology is also seriously flawed, and a more detailed review will follow.