We usually don’t review movies in this blog, but “The Cartel” is worth the exception. The Cartel is an in-depth documentary examining the power and influence of teachers’ unions over our educational policies. It sounds more like a horror film than a documentary:
Back in New Jersey, “The Cartel’’ overlays test scores — 39 percent reading proficiency for eighth-graders; 40 percent for math — with budget analysis that shows taxpayers spending an average of more than $300,000 for every high-school classroom in the city of Paterson. Ninety cents on every education dollar goes for expenses outside teacher salaries, Bowdon says in the film. There are “low-show’’ workers to pay; 400 school administrators in Newark who make more than $100,000 each; and a school board secretary for the Hudson County School of Technology who is paid $180,000.
In 2006, according to the documentary, not one of 10,000 teachers in Bergen County had been fired through the tenure-hearing process for at least a decade. “It is virtually impossible to fire a teacher,’’ says Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who was interviewed for the film.
State leaders cower at the power of the union, according to “The Cartel,’’ and politically connected teachers make life miserable for any superintendent who dares to push for longer workdays or other disruptions to the comfortable status quo. Beverly Jones, who was selected New Jersey’s best history teacher in 2004, is held up as a rare teacher with the courage to blow the whistle. In 2005, Jones says, she saw “ghost salaries’’ in the Trenton school budget and discovered that some students had been wrongfully held back, in a bit of mini-empire-building, to pad the rolls of a ninth-grade repeater program.