Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Truth Regarding The Corrupt Public Schools

By Justin Arnold

The school system may be made to be a great deal profitable, says Bob Bowdon, however entirely at the expense of things comparable to teachers and students. In his documentary "The Cartel," Bowdon, a New Jersey television news newsperson, turns the camera on the massive degeneracy and misdirection that has led his state to squander more than any other on its students just with substandard results. The numbers express the tale: $17,000 exhausted per student, and there's simply a 39% reading proficiency rate, it's tough to argue that there's a crisis afoot, but harder to concur on a solution.

On the one side is the monolithic Jersey teachers union and shady school officials, who guarantee that, as Bowdon points out in his picture, 90 cents of every tax dollar go for other expenses, including six figure incomes for school administrators and, in a shocking example, a school board secretary who makes $180,000. On the other side are the supporters of charter schools -- private schools which can function beyond the power of what Bowdon calls The Cartel. In those disordered public schools, Bowdon points out, it's very nearly impossible to fire an instructor -- so even a dreadful one has a job for life.

"The movie examines lots of diverse aspects of public teaching, tenure, financing, patronage drops, corruption --meaning thievery -- vouchers and charter schools," says Bowdon. "And as such it kind of serves as a swift-moving primer on all of the red-hot topics within the education-reform movement."

"The movie first appeared on the festival circuit in summer 2009, appearing in theaters nationwide a year later. Hopefully it will get a rise, and not be overshadowed, by the more recently released docudrama "Waiting for Superman," by "An Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim. Bowdon says the documentaries can be seen as companion pieces: his focusing on public policy and Guggenheim's taking the human-interest angle. "My picture is the left-brained version, more analytical," Bowdon says, "'Waiting for Superman' is more the right-brained treatment."

The left-brained stance means arguments that observe the economics -- money misspent, opportunities wasted. But that isn't to say the film is without heart. Bowdon makes certain his eye is at all times on the people affected, principally the inner-city students trapped in a damaged system. A girl's weeping upon hearing that she wasn't selected to attend a charter school, that she's stuck in her public school, represent the failure of a system as well as Bowdon's charts and interviews.

It's hard to view a movie about corruption in Jersey and not think of the mob, but it's also unmistakable that this is a national difficulty seen through a tight lens. Any watcher will realize the failings of their own state's education system and the struggle for control. Bowdon comes out in favor of the charter school plan, of taxpayers being able to choose their own schools, to get out from under the state's control. Nevertheless he also knows it'll be an uphill battle to regain control from those who've worked so intense to make education very profitable for the very few.

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