Idiot of the Week (year) Award… The Cartel… Check this out!

See updated post on this topic:


Okay… so I’m curious about The Cartel movie that documents the failures of New Jersey’s public education system… and the high costs of those failures. One might construct a reasonable statistical case for some of the problems facing New Jersey schools… but not documentary filmmaker Bob Bowdon in “The Cartel.” I’ve not seen it yet…. but their page on Facts and Figures here, includes some of the dumbest assertions I think I’ve seen in a long time:

Go to the bottom of the page where this complete moron attempts to argue that states which spend more on education have lower SAT scores… that spending more leads to lower SAT scores.





He kept this statement “With spending as high as $483,000 per classroom (confirmed by NJ Education Department records), New Jersey students fare only slightly better than the national average in reading and math, and rank 37th in average SAT scores.” On his “The Deal” page…

In fact, there may be a connection… that is… states that spend more which happen to be in the northeast, happen to have higher SAT participation rates… because northeastern colleges and universities use the SAT. 82% of New Jersey students take the SAT.  This figure is 9% in Alabama and 4% in Mississippi, and students taking the SAT in those states tend to be the select few interested in attending competitive northeastern colleges.  So, we’re comparing the top 4% of Mississippi students to the 82% of NJ students. Anyway… that absurdity aside, here’s a better picture of how the relationship between state spending on schools relates to state average outcomes. The following four graphs show the relationship between predicted basic state and local revenue per pupil (controlling for sparsity, econ. of scale, state poverty rates, ELL children and regional wage variation) and National Assessment of Educational Progress 2007 scores. Actually, somewhat to my own surprise there is a reasonably positive relationship here. THAT SAID… I DO NOT ASSUME  THIS TO BE A SIMPLE DIRECT CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP. There are many potentially interesting underlying stories that might be told here about regional differences in income, adult population education levels, tax policy structures, etc.

Anyway… for me… this foolishness has reduced significantly any interest I may have had in actually seeing the movie.  Ignorant… juvenile… silly… I’m not even sure how to classify this attempt at a “brilliant revelation” from a scatterplot (FYI – I used to teach my 7th graders how to do this stuff… and draw appropriate inferences…not this kind of crap.)

I was initially pleased to see that the “facts and figures” page on the site actually had links to reasonable facts and figures and reports… rather than making them up off the cuff…(a topic I’ve written about with regard to teacher salaries, administrative salaries, Abbott spending and many other related topics –

Here’s the relationship between SAT participation rates and SAT combined scores.


By the way… this graph I previously posted compares teacher salaries other professions holding similar degree levels, at similar age, over time in NJ. And these are hourly wage comparisons. Interestingly, teachers have fallen further and further behind over time.


And here’s where NJ actually stands on corrected spending measures and standardized outcomes:

Published by schoolfinance101

Bruce Baker is an Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. From 1997 to 2008 he was a professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. He is lead author with Preston Green (Penn State University) and Craig Richards (Teachers College, Columbia University) of Financing Education Systems, a graduate level textbook on school finance policy published by Merrill/Prentice-Hall. Professor Baker has written a multitude of peer reviewed research articles on state school finance policy, teacher labor markets, school leadership labor markets and higher education finance and policy. His recent work has focused on measuring cost variations associated with schooling contexts and student population characteristics, including ways to better design state school finance policies and local district allocation formulas (including Weighted Student Funding) for better meeting the needs of students. Baker, along with Preston Green of Penn State University are co-authors of the chapter on Conceptions of Equity in the recently released Handbook of Research Education Finance and Policy, and co-authors of the chapter on the Politics of Education Finance in the Handbook of Education Politics and Policy and co-authors of the chapter on School Finance in the Handbook of Education Policy of the American Educational Research Association. Professor Baker has also consulted for state legislatures, boards of education and other organizations on education policy and school finance issues and has testified in state school finance litigation in Kansas, Missouri and Arizona. He is a member of the Think Tank Review Panel, a group of academic researchers who conduct technical reviews of publicly released think tank reports on education policy issues.

9 thoughts on “Idiot of the Week (year) Award… The Cartel… Check this out!

  1. The more I ponder this, the more infuriatingly stupid it is. This absolute dip$*&% goes so far as to argue that “every additional $100 in Education Spending lowers SAT scores by 1 1/3 points.” (based on his childish little annotated scatterplot). What a complete freakin’ moron! I have a hard time believing that the film is any more compelling than this crap.

  2. Oh dear. The movie is based on wing-nut talking points. It sounds like the writer got his background research from an outfit with the lovely name of “Separate of School from State.” It’s a quasi christian reconstructionist organization.

    You know it’s wing-nut land when teacher unions/organizations (this definition depends on the state), are called “cartels.”


    But the movie got some major play in yesterday’s Star Ledger. No wonder that newspaper is in trouble. The reporter was a stenographer……

  3. I encourage you to take your thoughts directly to Bob Bowdon at info @

    I’m sure he is willing to discuss these points with you further.

    1. The problem for me is that the SAT analysis is representative of the level of critical analysis Bowdon was conducting while preparing to release the film. The film is done. This “analysis” is presented as “Fact.” If this analysis is so crude and poorly conceived why should I believe the film is any better? And what can Bowdon do about that now?

  4. It would appear that Bowdon has now removed the ridiculous SAT analysis.


    Unfortunately, the fact that it was there to begin with as evidence of Bowdon’s inferential wisdom while crafting the film, and that his other arguments and use of data appear no more compelling (see, the removal of the two graphs doesn’t create any greater level of credibility for the film.

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