U.S. Documentary

Director: Bob Bowdon

Length: 92 minutes

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, based on 2006 data. 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.

This presents 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”?

If the problem is that we’re not spending enough on schools, which many people believe, it’s instructive to study the U.S. state that spends more than any other per student: New Jersey With spending as high as $483,000 per classroom (confirmed by NJ Education Department records for 2005-06), New Jersey students fare only slightly better than the national average in reading and math, and rank 37th in average SAT scores. And not even half of NJ’s high school freshmen, despite the state’s enormous “investment,” are academically ready for college four years later.

The fact is that much of the public considers teacher salaries and overall education budgets to be the same thing — if you’re for raising one, you must be for raising the other. But as the film shows, in many cases 80-90% of the spending goes somewhere besides teacher salaries. In fact billions of dollars, as confirmed by independent audits, are wasted. “The Cartel” investigates what is causing this vast underachievement and what can be done to turn things around.

Available on many streaming platforms.