Friday, June 12, 2009

NJEA Flags “The Cartel” as a Right-Wing Conspiracy

Last month, Bob Bowdon’s documentary “The Cartel” premiered at the Hoboken Film Festival. The movie criticizes American education, and New Jersey in particular, as over-priced and under-delivered. For example, the film notes statistics from the National Center of Education Statistics that shows that New Jersey spends the most in the country per pupil and ranks 37th in the country in SAT scores. Nationally, 35% of high school seniors are proficient in reading, 23% are proficient in math, and we rank 34th in the world, behind Latvia and Azerbaijian, in math skills for 15-year-olds.

It’s no surprise that such disclosures would put N.J. educational traditionalists on the defensive, and the film’s website addresses this:
Is “The Cartel” for or against traditional public schools?

This very question is out of date.

We're for schools that are effective and efficient, whether they be public district schools, charter schools or private schools. We're critical of schools that are dysfunctional, no matter what kind. Supporting all of any type of school, without regard to how different ones perform, is a way of picking one category of adults over another, at the childrens' expense.
Hard to argue with. Unless you're the NJEA, which has posted a screed (no author attached) that attacks Bowdon and the film’s producer, Moving Picture Institute (MPI). Here’s a few choice excerpts:
MPI is “the AV department for the vast libertarian conspiracy.”

“News accounts” note that MPI has backed films that are “pro-business, anti-Communist, and even anti-environmentalist.”

MPI “relies on some of the Right’s biggest contributors, major givers to the national voucher movement, Far Right think tanks and anti-NEA organizations – and New Jersey’s Excellent Education for Everyone.”

“One MPI board member is Elizabeth Koch, though it’s not immediately clear if she is related to the prominent Far-Right family with the same name.”
You get the idea. Just to test this, uh, fact sheet, we found one of those “news accounts,” a 2007 New York Times piece on Thor Halvorssen, a founder of MPI. It’s true: the Times does say that he’s backed “pro-business, anti-Communist, and even anti-environmentalist” films, though the context is that Halvorssen seems to eschew labels: “He’s uncategorizable,” Nat Hentoff, the journalist and First Amendment advocate, said [in the article]. “Thor’s the embodiment of the nonpolitically correct person.”

In addition to serving on MPI’s board, Halvorssen also is a co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a board member of the Human Rights Foundation, which counts Elie Wiesel as a trustee.

Maybe "The Cartel" is a product of a right-wing hack. Or maybe the NJEA is just a tad bit defensive. Does it matter? Wouldn’t it be more useful for the NJEA to acknowledge that New Jersey has some educational problems that denial and vitriol will not solve? The leaders of NJEA would serve its members better by focusing less on contrived diatribes and more on legitimate conversation about how we can better serve our kids.


bosco said...

Where do they link to that PDF on their website? How did you find out about it?

Bruce said...

I appreciate your point that we ought to focus on the problems that do exist in NJ schools, rather than simply brushing aside critiques we find offensive to our personal interests. Unfortunately The Cartel adds little to this debate.

I explain in this post, how the Cartel dreadfully misuses data to construct a poorly conceived argument (in the trailer alone) regarding our national and state failures and high spending.

I explain in this post how Bowdon constructs on his web site of "facts" one of the most childishly absurd data arguments I've seen in years - that states which spend more have lower SAT scores. It does not take a rocket scientist to dissect that argument or the data used to support it. See:

Bowdon has done an incredible disservice to both sides by pretending to construct a thoughtful, data driven critique of NJ schools. Bowdon has damaged the conservative critique of public school spending by constructing such a poorly conceived set of arguments and poorly presented data, coupled with one anecdote after another.

Bowdon has done a disservice to the (more liberal) supporters of public schooling by distracting them, putting them in defensive mode against these poorly conceived arguments. This movie, rather than stimulating any honest discussion of what may be wrong and how to fix it, has turned into a massive distraction and waste of time for many... including me spending so much time debunking his foolishness on the website and in the trailer alone.

Ted said...

"Bruce" is objective? Right.

Judge his credibility for yourself.

For starters, he resorts to the most juvenile of name calling of Bowden in his blog: "Gutless ignoramus,"Idiot,"Complete Moron"

As if that weren't telling enough, consider it's about a movie he's never even seen?

In fact, all this vitriol is based on one chart that was supposedly previously on the movie website???

Is anyone else smelling a credibility problem with this “objective” poster? (Raise your hand the last time *you* made a post like this about a film you never saw.)

Sorry dude, you’ve outed yourself.

Wendell said...

The Bruce writing here is Bruce Baker. He is an associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He is also the creator of the schoolfinance101 blog. I'm not seeing any credibility issues with anyone other than Bowdon, or should I say Ted. In his bio, Bowdon claims to be a reporter for the onion's fake news website. Not a writer or a journalist or a father.

Apparently he's a struggling comedian who is looking for the path least resistance to some publicity. Sad for many reasons.

By the way, I've seen the film. It is unremarkable in every way.

Ted said...

Tell me if I have anything wrong here....

Bruce writes numerous postings about a film he's never seen, and we're supposed to believe he doesn't have an agenda.

Then "Wendell" claims to have seen the film, and yet the most specific thing he can say about it is that its "unremarkable."

Disagree with anything I just wrote? I mean thats correct according to you, right?

I will disclose that I'm friends with the filmmaker -- so maybe that gives me a bias too, fine.

But at least I've seen the film and until all these super energetic critics actually say anything about the film itself, It should be obvious to independent readers whats actually going on here. A smear campaign.

Please "Wendall" prove me wrong right now -- tell me something about the film. I don't think you can.

James said...

LMAO - Tee Movie is an excellent reminder of what happens when organized crime (I Mean Unioin's NJEA) take control and have too much power. Critics (Such as Bruce) can whine all they want as they are obviously employed by that system, but if you look at this movie as a whole and not pick out tid -bits to attack the purpose behind it and realize that no one is watching the helm then you can make an objective opinion.

The system is broke, administrative staffs are out of control and the true size of this system in comparison to all of the other states is shear ridiculous. Get rid of and consolidate this money machine as it has no purpose but to feed it's self.


B said...

Bruce and Wendell, since you two are so up on research can you expand on the comparisons between the NJ property tax levy that is allocated towards schools and other states that rank on top yet can accomplish it with significantly less money. Forget the rhetoric, forget the movie, look at the facts that the NJ school system is NOT as efficient as others and please shed some light as to why. Is it because we have entirely too many superintendents that make close to 200k? Is it because each of those superintendents have 16 assistants that all make close to 100k? Why not talk about the greed and power involved in this. I live in a 3 bedroom ranch and pay almost 10k in taxes, can you please explain how in the heck this is efficient?