Documentary questions spending in public schools

Director Bob Bowdon presented his documentary, ‘Cartel,’ exploring the inadequacies of public education in New Jersey. (Abby Hocking / Photo Assistant)

By Kristen De Lorenzo
Correspondent

Film director Bob Bowdon presented his documentary “Cartel: Education + Politics = $” to both educators and students at the College this past week. “Cartel,” a documentary that examines New Jersey schools, focused primarily on excess spending and low performance rates in public schools. Bowdon also included evidence supporting vouchers and charter school programs to help inner-city children.

According to the film, only 37 percent of high school seniors in the United States can read at an eighth grade level. Specifically, only 39 percent of New Jersey eighth graders are proficient in reading, and only 40 percent are proficient in math. These statistics are the results from the No. 1 highest spending state in the nation.

In the film, award-winning Trenton American history teacher, Beverly Jones, said, “Children are not the focus. Money is the focus.”

Bowdon highlighted the misallocation of money within the New Jersey public school systems. Bowdon blamed the corruption and problems of the public school system on several factors including the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), and the rejection of vouchers and charter schools.

Bowdon claimed in the documentary that the NJEA protects bad teachers through tenure and good teachers do not receive enough support. During a debate after the film’s viewing, Bowdon said referring to the NJEA, “They often buy the legislators to do what they want.”

He also said private schools funded by vouchers would increase competition. Therefore, private schools, such as charter schools, and public schools would compete to provide the best education possible.

In response, educational officials claimed that Bowdon gave a “skewed view” of New Jersey public schools, and a voucher system is not a simple solution.

The College’s elementary and early childhood education associate professor, Brenda Leake, offered some opposition and insight.

“My greatest concern is it paints a very distorted picture,” Leake said. “It was really targeting urban schools. The direction and bulk of the movie was directed toward urban districts. There are successful urban settings … To solve problems it’s not whether you have a voucher, charter, or magnet school, it’s deeper than that.”

Additionally, she claimed that the NJEA has flaws but serves a good purpose. She said, “The union is not all bad. There is a need for unions.”

However, Leake asserted that Bowdon clarified some very important points about New Jersey’s public school system. Specifically, she said, “He did highlight how all the money allocated toward education never gets to the classroom.” Furthermore, Leake agreed that district consolidation is needed in New Jersey’s public school system.

“I did like the point to consolidate districts. We have duplicate districts and duplicative roles. There is some waste. However that’s not the union or the teachers, that’s the legislature’s call,” Leake said.

Regardless of their stance on public education, Bowdon and New Jersey educators agree that the real concern is the quality of public education. Additionally, educators agree that the lack of sufficient test scores, corruption and urban schooling are all problems that need to be dealt with in the near future.