Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fighting the Cartel in the County's School System

By Vanessa Meyer

A former TV reporter and anchorman created quite a stir when he made a movie documentary about the deteriorating condition of the American educational system. Citing the state of New Jersey as his main example, he is pushing for drastic changes in the way that the schools are being run.

However, there is a growing group of people who argue that there is so much room for improvement in the country's educational system without increasing the budget. A Former TV reporter and current movie director for one, believes that the school system is much to blame for most of its woes. A former school superintendent that he interviewed for his movie believes that the widespread, persistent and institutionalized dishonesty in the preparation and implementation of the educational budget as the foremost problem. He also blames the profoundly deep-rooted, self-serving teacher's union as the one responsible for the country's twisted educational system.

The director chose New Jersey as the showcase of his argument because the state has the biggest educational spending in the country. However, in spite of its big budget, New Jersey still has an extremely bad dropout rate and a similarly dismal score on nationwide standardized tests.

The director used his experience as a TV reporter and anchorman to the hilt, by using talking heads, street ambush interviews, special effects, stilted B-roll and finally his factual, albeit one sided condemnation of the voucher program, the tenure system and the secretive nature of schools. He was successful in overcoming deficiencies in style and construction with selective but factual content.

Scenes of a school district president riding in a limousine car or a luxury car packed school parking lot is a little bit over the top, but his skills in making documentaries is manifested by the logic that he used to present his argument on the needed reforms.

Critics are quick to counter that the movie contradicts its basic claim that reforms can be made without changing the total amount of the budget. High performing elite urban schools have a high per-head budget. Only the cash strapped religious charter schools can afford to run in the current budget. Implementing the proposed solution of tapping chartered schools will only drive students to the church basements or rented spaces of religious schools. They also predict that the voucher system, with additional funds from the parents will only be able to enroll the students in more expensive private schools who only have the same test ratings as the traditional schools that they came from in the first place.

Available slots in high performing public schools are very limited and the amount that the affluent suburban schools spend on each student remains very high. School officials argue that the chartered school proposal will only drive students to the folds of the under resourced charter or religious private schools. New Jersey children will only receive vouchers at amounts that will be enough for them to enter suburban religious private schools that badly need additional funding.

The movie presents a real problem that needs to be addressed. The arguments presented can sometimes be one sided but it is hard to deny the fact that most of the problems presented are true. Stonewalling and dismissing the problem outright will be a big mistake that will affect the future of the next generations of Americans.

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