“The Cartel”: Education is a Dirty Business

The documentary “The Cartel” directed by Bob Bowdon  focuses on the state of education in New Jersey because it is the state which spends the most in the country on education. New Jersey spends over $300,000 per classroom, some reaching well above $400,000, and the average teacher salary is $55,000… so where is the rest of the money going? Well for starters New Jersey has 616 different school districts each with their own superintendent and administration to go along. Former Governor Corzine (now former head of bankrupt MF Global which somehow inexplicably misplaced or stole millions of dollars from customers under his watch) had cut spending on everything except education which got over $800 million added to the budget. And all this money and focus on education lead to only 39% of students in New Jersey scoring proficient or better in reading, and 40% in math. So why doesn’t more money mean smarter students?

Around this same time 5 Pleasantville School Board members accepted bribes from undercover FBI agents, suggesting school boards are not doing what is best for students, but are instead interested in the money that goes hand in hand with education. There are also “ghost salaries” in New Jersey or positions receiving pay but with no one filling the position: where is that money going?

In addition to the actual corruption that goes on, it is nearly impossible to fire a teacher, even when they have proven themselves completely incompetent or even dangerous to the students. In one case in New Jersey a shop teacher actually punched a kid in his class, and it took 2 whole years for that teacher to be fired! The documentary “The Cartel” wants to dispel the belief that hating BAD teachers means hating ALL teachers.

But what happened to a principal who tried to fire teachers he caught viewing pornography while at work? The principal was removed from his post and put in the newspaper caste as the bad guy. A teacher who slapped a student, on the other hand, was kept out of newspapers with the help of the Teachers Union.

Voucher programs are one of the most obviously positive programs for improving education. It means that the actual money it costs to educate each student follows that student to a school of their (or their parents’) choice. This means the public money could go towards a private education if the student wishes, or that a parent could opt out of the closest school, for a better school in the same district. This competition among schools for the student (and the money that goes with the student) would mean that the best schools with the best teachers and best success rates will see better attendance and more money, while shoddy schools with bad records will not attract the students and money needed to fund these failing institutions. As it goes right now many kids (especially poor and inner city kids) are stuck in bad schools because there is no opportunity to school choice to a better school, and the bad schools receive the same (or more) funding despite persistently terrible results. There is no incentive for bad schools to perform better, and it is the students that suffer. The consumer’s right to choose is healthy in maintaining quality products, and should be employed in education to improve the lives of so many, especially minority students who are stuck in bad schools due to circumstances they cannot control. To start improving education Democrats need to drop all ties with the Teachers Unions (Republicans only receive about 5% of funds contributed by teachers’ unions).

(Teachers Unions spend more than most other special interest and lobbying groups on influencing politics and political races. Read this article about how the New Jersey Education Association spent $11.3 million in 2011–more than any other single special interest–to fight back against Governor Christie’s education reforms. Unions collect about $800 per year from each member in NJ, and even if a teacher opts out they still must pay 85% of the dues.)

Right now about half of all urban students graduate high school in America, and graduating doesn’t necessarily mean much either. The film recounts a story of an employer who only required that applicants for a security job had a high school diploma, and could pass an 8th grade level test. That employer had to interview 1,300 applicants with a high school diploma before he filled 130 positions with people who could pass the 8th grade test. This is the sorry state of education in much of America. But Teachers Unions suppress and marginalize anyone who speaks out.

Programs which have managed to be approved despite the hindrance of Teachers Unions have seen excellent results. The CERN program uses volunteer teachers, and always educates students better than other schools in the same district. They are thus oversubscribed and cannot take everyone desperately looking for an escape from failing education. Charter schools are tax funded but privately run and likewise do better than their public counterparts. Again charter schools are overbooked and must turn to a lottery to admit students. The random admittance policy further proves that these schools are not starting with smarter students, but instead producing better educated children. In fact 5th graders admitted to North Star Academy entered the school lower than the district average and by highschool 81.3% were proficient in Language Arts and 65% were proficient in Math, compared to the district average of 58% proficient in Language Arts and 35% proficient in Math. The schools are able to spend less money per student cutting administration and rewarding and retaining good teachers. It is sickening that the wonderful results of such schools are suppressed by the Teachers Unions.

And what is even more sickening is that many kids and parents cannot get access to the schools to get their kids in a safe environment and out of the violence of public schools. These schools offer a regimented day, insist on a healthy style of behavior, and do not tolerate violence. One student remarked that they loved the charter school they attended because they “Don’t have to worry about someone starting a fight”. But again, there are not enough spaces in these schools, so a lottery decides the child’s fate. I cannot help but boil with anger over what the Teachers Unions force these innocent children to be subjected to.

We all wish that government would base policy on research and results. New Jersey approved 1 Charter school in 2008 out of 22 that applied. What is worse is that the board is not required to give a reason for rejection. A group of parents had gotten together in one instance to apply and had an extremely strong application. Letters of support flooded in from the public, local politicians, and local schools, yet after a one hour meeting the application was denied, and not given an opportunity. After some digging the parents managed to get an answer to why the application had been denied: because they did not indicate in one part of the application that 3 positions were part time. A flip of a few pages revealed that the positions were correctly listed as part time with a part time salary under the budget portion of the application, but because they failed to indicate PT on a different section of the 175 page application, it was denied. Other schools of the 22 denied (one in Trenton) offered similar stories of denial for superficial reasons.

The Teachers Unions and “establishment” say that Charter schools should be shut down, and bad public schools should be given more money. But the cold hard fact is that money is not solving the problem, and schools that have to attract students are run better. Currently education is the only business which has a monopoly on the service they provide. It is a sad day when the supposed leaders of the free world are unable to wrestle from the grip of corrupt teachers unions the future of our children, and America in general. Yes this movie is about New Jersey but here is the kicker: American education is in the exact same sorry state.

2 thoughts on ““The Cartel”: Education is a Dirty Business

  1. This was a comprehensive review of an excellent movie. I saw the movie and was astounded and angered. I think the part that broke my heart the most was watching a girl crying as the lottery for the charter school she applied to hit 40 kids on the waiting list, and her name still hadn’t been called. That, juxtaposed with the teacher’s union president saying that she thought parents wanted to send their kids to charter schools to be part of something “innovative.” I think what she meant was parents want to send their kids to a school where they have a chance of graduating and not getting shanked.

  2. Pingback: Forward: Down the Road to Serfdom | Joe Jarvis

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