Yesterday my daughter and I attended a screening of Bob Bowdon's documentary, The Cartel. The Cartel is being showcased by the Jersey Shore Film Festival.

The Cartel effectively presents what is wrong with our schools and presents some ideas for fixing the problems. Data is presented showing how poorly NJ schools perform compared to the rest of the world and the nation, despite having the highest funding in the world. Solutions presented all involve breaking up the NJ education cartel and cultivating a free market approach that rewards the best schools and teachers.

New Jersey resident, Bob Bowdon, was a reporter for the onion and former business reporter for Bloomberg Television. He has spent two and half years creating this film, mostly with his own money. Mr. Bowdon now runs Bowdon Media, a Video Streaming For Retail consulting and production company.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) performed comparative studies of the proficiency of 15 year old youth in math, science, and reading. They found that out of 57 countries studied, the United States ranks 28th in science proficiency and 35th in math (the United States was not included in the reading data). Other data presented in the movie showed that there are 324 other countries that have better education results than the United States. Nationally, New Jersey ranks 37th in SAT scores. Other figures show that performance of the New Jersey school system trails most of the rest of the country.

There is one area where the United States and New Jersey leads the world - spending. In 2007, the United States accounted for 25% of worldwide spending on primary school education, yet holds only 4% of the worlds population. New Jersey is undoubtedly among the states with the highest education spending. Districts in New Jersey spend $300,000 to $430,000 per classroom. Yet only a small part of that money makes it to the classroom.

For at least a generation, American public schools have been growing progressively worse. According to the U.S. Department of Education national testing, only 35% of American high school seniors are proficient in reading. And fewer than one-in-four, 23%, are proficient in math. On the global stage, America ranks last in educational effectiveness among large industrialized countries despite the highest spending per student in the world.

It presents something of a conundrum. How has the richest and most innovative society on earth suddenly lost the ability to teach its children at a level that other modern countries consider "basic"? - The Cartel Website

The Cartel effectively uncovers bloated pensions, salaries, and severance packages. Many of them concentrated in New Jersey's worst performing schools. Many of these were uncovered by a 2006 New Jersey State Report, "Taxpayers Beware." In 2007 an audit known as the KPMG audit found that 29% of spending was not reasonable.

The solutions explored all include accountability using market mechanisms. School choice options using vouchers, competing charter schools, and magnet schools are presented. A very emotional scene is presented at a lottery for a charter school admission in New Jersey. Parents and students are shown as being overjoyed at being selected, while those who are stuck in the government school system are reduced to tears.

After the movie a question and answer period was held with the filmmaker. There were government school union officials present for the showing. However they stormed out before the question and answer period. Mr. Bowdon answered questions from those attending with skill. Many government school teachers attending the screening agreed with the movie and were fed up with the system. Mr. Bowdon explained that he believes that there are many good school teachers and many bad ones. The problem with the school system in New Jersey is that it has become a cartel. The lack of a merit pay system protects bad teachers while penalizing good teachers. The cartel controls the entire system by controlling who gets elected to the school board, choosing which legislators they deal with, and pushing for the rejection of charter schools approvals.

I highly recommend this movie to every New Jersey resident. It is being shown again next week at the Axelrod Theatre in Deal on July 14th at 8:00 PM and at The Showroom in Asbury Park on July 15th at 7:00 PM. Visit this link for more information.