The Truth About The Failing Public Schools October 31, 2010
There’s money to be made in the public schools system, argues Bob Bowdon, therefore simply when you crop out the unprofitable bits, like great teachers. In his education documentary “The Cartel,” Bowdon, a TV news reporter in New Jersey, paints a notable ugly impression of the institutional depravity that has resulted in almost incredible wastes of taxpayer money. The numbers express the tale: $17,000 spent per student, and there’s just a 39% reading proficiency rate, it’s hard to argue that there’s a crisis afoot, but harder to agree on a solution.
The two sides of this struggle meet head-on in interviews throughout the film: there are the teachers union and school board members who have managed to set aside 90 cents of every taxpayer dollar into everything but teachers’ salaries — though a quantity of school administrators receive upwards of $100,000. On the other side are the supporters of charter schools — private schools that can work beyond the influence of what he calls The Cartel. One of his main criticisms is that a teacher, even a shoddy one, fundamentally can’t be fired — which provides zero incentive to do much literal instruction.
From the Heart and Mind
“The film examines lots of diverse aspects of public teaching, tenure, financing, patronage drops, corruption –meaning theft — vouchers and charter schools,” says Bowdon. “The idiom education documentary possibly could sound to some like boring squared, but in fact the movie itself betrays an fiery passion for the plight of particularly inner-city children.”
The docudrama started touring the festival circuit in summer of 2009 and made its theatrical debut in April 2010. The film has started a lot of discussion, which must no doubt proceed with the more-recent release of “An Inconvenient Truth” director Davis Guggenheim’s own education expose, “Waiting for Superman.” He sees the two documentaries as taking alternative approaches to the same dilemma, “The Cartel” by examining public policy and “Superman” focusing on the human-interest aspects. “My picture is the left-brained variant, more analytical,” he says, “‘Waiting for Superman’ is more the right-brained treatment.”
A Battle for Control
And his movie is relentlessly critical, making a powerful case for the opinion that the amount of money spent is nowhere near as crucial as how it is spent. But that isn’t to say the movie is without heart. He makes sure his eye is at all times on the people affected, especially the inner-city students trapped in a shattered system. One girl, crying after learning she wasn’t selected in a lottery for a charter school, tells the story of What Went Wrong as well as Bowdon’s arguments.
And though there’s an irony in this form of public depravation happening in a state famed for its organized crime, it’s obvious that this is not an isolated collapse. A watcher anyplace in the country will acknowledge similar failings in their own school system, and may share Bowdon’s frustration and avidness for a solution. He puts his faith in the charter schools, where the taxpayer has influence over the kind and quality of education. But he also knows it’ll be an uphill struggle to retrieve control from those who’ve worked so hard to make education very profitable for the very few.