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  • The Cartel: How Special Interests Block Real Education Reform

    The Cartel is a new documentary film that should be seen by everyone who cares whether children in this country get a good education. It should especially be seen by anybody who thinks that merely shoveling more money into the schools will make them better.

    The Cartel reveals the story behind the story of educational failure in the United States: Teachers’ unions are special interest groups, and, just like any special interest group, the unions exert a disproportionate influence on the public policies that most affect their members. Candidates for school boards must play nice with the unions, if not play the role of outright stooge; if they don’t, they’ll find themselves opposed by a block of very motivated voters. The teachers can thus select the people with whom they must negotiate their contracts; and teachers’ unions don’t want contracts that reward the best teachers and that allow bad teachers to be fired.

    You’ve probably heard the phrase “Explain it to me like I’m a 5-year-old.” It’s a technique that reporter and filmmaker Bob Bowdon expertly uses here to tell the story of what has gone wrong with American education. And one of the things you learn from The Cartel is that explaining things to 5-year-olds—or 7-year-olds, or 9-year-olds—is a task that too many public schools can’t handle.

    Some elements of this story will be familiar: American students get poor test scores compared to their peers from other countries; some high school graduates can’t even do basic math; many school districts can’t account for taxpayer money; violence is commonplace for too many students; very little money actually gets to the classroom; bad teachers can’t be fired; administrators get huge salaries; and school payrolls are bloated with patronage jobs. Bowdon reveals all of this and more, focusing especially on public education in New Jersey.

    But he doesn’t stop at just describing the problems. Who, Bowdon asks, is watching the store? In theory, school boards run the schools, and the school boards are answerable to the voters. But are they? Have you ever noticed that school board elections are never held the same day as presidential elections? Why is that?

    Of course, the politics of schools matter only because public schools have a guaranteed revenue stream no matter how poorly they perform. If instead we had a system where the funding followed the student to the school of his or her choice and entrepreneurs were free to start up alternative schools—call such a system “school choice” for short—then school boards would have no choice but to begin holding teachers accountable, otherwise they would lose all their students.

    Bowdon pokes lots of holes in the arguments that teachers make against school choice. School choice, teachers say, diverts money from public schools into private schools. But that’s only true, points out Bowdon, if parents choose to use a voucher to go to another school. In other words, the money is only drained if public schools are doing such a poor job that parents want to leave. So when public school supporters make that argument, aren’t they really admitting that public schools aren’t very good? And why is it that so many opponents of school choice make out “voucher” to be such a dirty word while at the same time supporting other staples of progressive public policy such as food stamps, Pell Grants for higher education, Medicare, and Section 8 housing. Those are all voucher programs in which public money is provided for goods and services produced by the private sector!

    See The Cartel, and take your kids, too, if you’re worried they’re not getting enough logic and reason in the classroom.

    You can sign up for screening information at the movie’s Web site.

    Cross-posted at InsiderOnline.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to The Cartel: How Special Interests Block Real Education Reform

    1. Julia S. - Richmond says:

      If people had a school choice, then it would shift the balance of the current schools system. School boards can't manage what they have in front of them now, school choice would oversaturate one market over another. There appears to be no check or balance in place once the money is allocated to states and school boards. It is a shame because the kids are the ones who lose out on a good education.

    2. Pingback: » Financial News Update - 07/30/09 NoisyRoom.net: Where liberty dwells, there is my country…

    3. markelder Texarkana says:

      It is so very true that if we wish to change this country back in a civilized fashion we must restructure from the ground up and the ground up starts in education , true history, real math, proper grammer, economics and a thorough study of moral laws and civics I feel that would be a great place to start! Also we should get local groups together to view it and approach neighbors and teachers and school boards and churches and change the DNA of American back to its origin before the intruders change the DNA of America for good.

    4. Linda Maddox, Carlsb says:

      I haven't seen this movie. But President Obama is stopping the voucher program in DC. He is having the kids go back to the bad schools in DC, can't have poor kids going to school with his kids. I agree let us have competition. I have a very smart 13 year old, she goes to public school. Of course she get A's, but what kind of education is she really getting. She says the Science class is so boring, every year a new teacher tells the student how exciting it is going to be, every year she is disapointed, bored to death. This is in part because of all the federal mandates, there is no time for being creative. This needs to change, the govt. want the kids to be incompetent, they can control them better.We need to elect people that care about our kids not special interest, etc. Unions!

    5. nick, los angeles says:

      Here's an act that is more telling than any other about public schools. If they are as good as the teachers unions say they are, how come the president sent his daughters to a private school? Then he turned around and took away the vouchers for poor inner city children to attend a good private school, forcing them back into bad public schools, taking away the option of choice. The teachers unions are not interested in teaching, only their paychecks. In California, they threaten strike and trot out the children they're not teaching to protest any interference with the influx of tax dollars.

    6. Lynn B. DeSpain says:

      With 80% of America's High School graduates never having had a Civil economics Class, nor learned anything of how this Republic of ours was fought for and founded, no wonder a sorry excuse for an American was voted President. All American children and their parents must have the choice of school vouchers!


    7. FeFe, Balto says:

      Does it cover the topic of how school boards are the back scratcher of city mayors because it should. One need look no further than Baltimore. A mayor, Sheila Dixon (D), under indictment for stealing vouchers for the poor no less with school board members aiding and abetting her corrupt administration as the school system circles the drain.

    8. Lou, Tucson AZ says:

      It's a shame that "The Cartel" wasn't aired in Arizona the last couple of months. The Teachers Union convinced Arizona voters that a "temporary" increase in the state sales tax was necessary to "save education".

      Ads played over and over that Arizonans needed to pass Prop 100 "for the kids". What bunch of crap!

      I've seen first hand the writing of high school seniors here…it's appalling and saddening to witness how woefully unprepared kids are these days to function in our society. Unions would have us believe that the reason for this is we aren't spending enough money. Baloney.

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