The Effects of the Colonial Period on Education in Burma

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In the early 1800s, the British government, motivated by profit and security, marched into the Southeast Asian nation of Burma, also known today as Myanmar. A Buddhist country rich in natural resources, Burma was an expansionist power that bordered India, one of Great Britain’s most prized colonies. Three Anglo-Burmese Wars were fought over a period of 60 years and Burmese territories were annexed as provinces of British India before the British government allowed Burma to be administered separately in 1937 (Harvey, 1946). In 1948, Burma finally gained its independence but the presence of the British colonists had inevitably transformed the nation, its government, society, and institutions. The education system in Burma was one of the areas in which profound changes had taken place. How did British colonization transform the Burmese education system during the mid-19th to early 20th centuries and how did nationalists respond to these foreign influences?

In the pre-colonial period, education and religion were inextricably linked as the Theravada Buddhist monastic order, or the Sangha, served as the main educational institution for the natives. After Burma was colonized, the British attempted to reform the existing system, initially by working to incorporate more secular subjects into the monastic curriculum and later by setting up a system of secular schools that could supply them with local administrators and civil servants and enable them to “civilize” the Burmese people. With the rise of the nationalistic spirit in the 20th century, the educated Burmese demanded education reforms and created national schools that endeavored to rebuild a sense of national identity.[1]

Prior to the arrival of the British, few private schools existed except those established by Christian missionaries and local monasteries in the self-contained agricultural villages were the center of culture and served as schools for the Burmese boys. Due to religious restrictions set against women, girls were educated at home by parents who taught them basic literacy skills alone with other skills related to efficacy in home duties and at the marketplace needed for business activities (Cady, 1958).  The emphasis of monastic education was placed largely on learning and reciting religious Pali scriptures that would help the boys develop skills required to eventually monks (Fuqua, 1992). The strong connection between religion and schooling is reflected by fact that the Burmese word for school (kyaung) is the same word used to refer to the monastery.Though the education was of a religious nature, the monastic schools ensured that Burma had a high literacy rate of about 60% as the majority of Burmese men were at least able to read and write their basic letters (Harvey, 1946).

A Monastic School

The monastery schools were completely independent from government control and Buddhist monks, in addition to carrying out the duties of their office, acted as the schoolmasters, teaching the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their work was supported by voluntary gifts, donations, and alms from the villagers, allowing the monks to provide education free of charge to all boys in the village regardless of their class or religious background (Octennial Report, 1956). Some boys attended the school in the day and went home at night while others temporarily became novices for a period of time and lived at the monastery. Rather than using exams or grades to categorize the boys, the monks grouped boys instead by lessons they had completed (Octennial Report, 1956). The main issue in these village school systems, however, was that attendance was irregular and some students dropped out after just receiving the basic literacy skills as working in the fields took precedence over going to school.

In addition to teaching students the basics needed for literacy, the monastic education aimed to transmit the traditional cultural, moral, and religious values of the community and society (Cady, 1958). The monastic education system also contributed to the leveling of classes in society as entrance was open to all and regardless of whether one was a prince or the son of a poor farmer, everyone enjoyed the same status and was subject to the same discipline (Cady, 1958). A more advanced level of education that addressed a wider array of subjects, such as Buddhist Studies, Classical Burmese literature, court protocol, engineering, construction and manufacturing operations (Cady, 1958) could also be attained at some monastic centers in urban locations. This education enabled those who would become monks to build pagodas and monasteries and for those who didn’t to fill roles in the Burmese court.

Aside from monastic schools, a few other avenues of education were also available to the Burmese males. Vocational education was learned in a hands-on manner with students taking up actual apprenticeships (Harvey, 1946). The Burmese kings also sent men to Calcutta and attend higher learning institutions to acquire other sorts of training in the medical or technical fields (Furnivall, 1948).

Prior to 1854, the British had a laissez-faire policy in regards to education. The British had a policy of conciliation since the early 19th century and to avoid confrontation with the local population they did not try to change the education system which was linked to religion (Fuqua, 1992). However, as mentioned before, western education schools had already been established by Christian missionaries in the rural areas populated by Non-Burman ethnic tribes, such as the Karens, Kachins, and Chins. While the missionaries’ efforts with the Burmans and Shans, who were devout Buddhists, were met with resistance, they successfully educated some of the minority groups and also converted them to Christianity. These schools educated both male and female students. The efforts of the American Baptist mission schools, for instance, were so successful with the Karen that they eventually established a college for them in the city of Rangoon (Cady, 1958). These mission schools were an effective means of educating rural populations living in areas that were hard to reach due to geographical barriers, even after a formal school system began to emerge later.


Starting in 1854, the British authorities extended their influence into the education system. Their aim was to “convey useful and practical knowledge suited to every station in life to the great masses of people” as well as to “spread civilization” to remove superstitious prejudices (Fuqua, 1992) . Aside from their liberal and humanitarian sentiments, they also hoped to use education to attach subjects more closely to British rule (Furnivall, 1948) and needed natives who were literate and fluent in English to fill the positions as local administrators and subordinate civil servants (Hillman, 1946). Though they had already opened three Anglo-vernacular schools between the period of 1885 and 1844 to educate English-speaking clerks, there was little demand for these schools because fewer positions in government work was available at that time and most people continued going to monastic schools.

Initially, the British attempted to use the existing monastic system to fashion a rudimentary system of western-style primary education. As this was prior to the separation of Burma from India, this simply resulted in the imposition of educational policies in India on the Burmese system. It fell upon Sir Arthur Phayre, the Commissioner of British Burma to combine the best of both worlds and incorporate secular subjects into monastic system to create a westernized system similar to what was established in India (Fuqua, 1992). However, Phayre’s attempts failed because they were resisted by the monks and they failed to take into accounts the differences between the Indian and Burmese population. Although a few monasteries were receptive to the idea of improving their curriculum and accepted secular textbooks from the British, most monasteries resisted the change. Monks refused to teach subjects like geography and science which they considered to be evil and “refused to play the layman, to be supervised by the layman, to keep lay attendance registers, to exercise lay discipline, and to use lay books” (Campbell,1946). Although their resistance was in part due to religious reasons, it is also likely that they were reacting to being “systematically disenfranchised by the colonial state through its demolition of the pre-existing Buddhist political order” that was closely associated with the Burmese monarchy in the pre-colonial era(Cheesman, 2003). Phayre’s efforts also failed because unlike in India where there was “no comprehensive egalitarian schooling managed by a single agency” and access to schooling was dependent on one’s wealth, gender, and social status in the caste system, in Burma a system of monastic schooling that had a magnitude of independence already existed (Cheesman, 2003). This impeded the efforts of the British who had no means of unifying and reaching out to the hundreds of monastic schools that were not under a central authority. Additionally, the British failed to consider the problem of fluctuations and irregularities in school attendance that was prevalent in monastic schools.

The disappointing results of trying to influence the Sangha and merge monastic education with western secular notions of schooling, the British administration changed their strategy. By 1871, the British authorities set up a system of lay schools under the control of a director of public instruction and his inspectors (Furnivall, 1948). Three main types of schools were established: vernacular schools, Anglo-vernacular schools, and English schools. These schools had taught the 3 Rs as well as subjects in science, British history, the British constitution, Grades 1 to 4 were designated as elementary school, grades 5 to 7 were designated as middle school and grades 8 to 10 as high school (Tinker, 1967). The language of instruction was Burmese in the vernacular schools and English in the English schools, while Anglo-Vernacular schools used both languages for instruction until the 8th standard and English becomes the sole language of instruction (Tinker, 1967). Students had to pay a fee to attend these schools and those who could not pay continued to attend monastic schools (Cheesman, 2003). Those who displayed high academic ability in vernacular schools were given financial aid and other “bridge” program provisions were made for them to transfer into Anglo-vernacular schools (Cambell, 1946). By 1891, there were over 6000 lay schools opened in Burma (Fuqua, 1992). The opening of the Rangoon University, the first higher education institution, in 1885 by the government was followed quickly by the opening of universities (Hillman, 1946).

While the aim  of the Sangha was to “teach the boys how to live but not merely how to make a living” (Furnivall, 1948), the modern schooling system based on western ideologies taught students skills that had market value and that led them to contribute to the economy to the benefit of their colonizers. Students were trained for vocational jobs or low skill jobs so that they could enter the work-force and help the British maximize their economic profits and the best of them attained higher education that allowed them to work in the colonial administration (Fuqua, 1992). The British education system did however have a positive effect on female education and increased female literacy because women were permitted to enroll in these lay schools (Furnivall, 19480).

Later in the 1870s when the opening of the Suez Canal accelerated Burma’s economic growth which consequently led the administrative expansion, there was a rise in demand for English schools (Hillman, 1946). The majority of the schools that were opened were vernacular schools which only led to careers as vernacular school teachers or other low paying manual jobs. The Burmese began to realize that they needed to enroll in Anglo-Vernacular or English schools that would allow them attend university and secure jobs in the administration and other government office jobs in the education, health, forestry, and agricultural sectors (Tinker, 1967). As the number of students in Anglo-vernacular and English schools increased, so did the enrollment in universities, leading to a new class of educated Burmese citizens. The desire for social advantage led to the rise in demand and popularity of the state-managed modern education system and to the decline of the monastic school system.

In the turn of the 20th century, the rise in the number of educated Burmese led to a nationalist movement that was inspired by a number of concurrent events. The reforms being implemented by the British in neighboring India and the Japanese victories against Russia opened up the possibility of successfully resisting their opp. Education received from the schooling system established by the British ironically contributed to the nationalist movement in two ways. First, while more people had earned higher degrees to enter government posts, most available posts for the Burmese had been filled by 1930. The frustration of university students was manifested in strikes and protests, contributing to the conditions of political unrest and economic decline in Burma (Hillman, 1946). In 1920, the university students began a national strike to protest against educational policies set by the British who raised the bar for university entrance requirements, marking the entry of students into national politics.

Second, education empowered the Burmese people to fight for liberation from their western colonizers; the Burmese who had gone abroad for further studies returned with both a realization of how they had been second-class citizens in their own country that was being exploited by the colonizers as well as new ideas about government and politics (Cady, 1958). A revival of interest in Burmese history, arts, and literature followed John Furnivall’s organization of the Burma Research Society in 1909 (Cady, 1958). A nationalist group called the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) that was modeled after the Young Men’s Christian Association began to organize and were later joined by other university student led groups such as the Thakin group and We Burmans Association They began to use print materials to mobilize nationalist sentiments across the nation (Cheesman, 2003).

The agenda of these groups were centered largely on issues of education (Schober,2007).  The Burmese began to realize that the knowledge of Burmese literature had almost died out and that aside from rural areas, English had become the main spoken language as Burmese language and literacy were not sufficiently taught in schools attended by the majority of students (Schober,2007).  The YMBA based on its model and actions implicitly seemed to acknowledge that modernization was necessary and did not completely discard modern education. But at the same time, concerned about the influence of western education on the national identity, they tried to support schools that had Buddhism in the curriculum (Schober, 2007).The nationalists also supported monastic schools, petitioning the government to exempt these schools from taxation and discouraging costly religious rituals in these schools.

In the 1920s, Burmese nationalists began to open private schools that were independent of government control that fostered nationalistic ideals (Hillman, 1946). Despite popular support, these schools did not have sufficient funding and had to receive government support (Hillman, 1946). The YMBA agitated the government further to establish more national schools that were independent from the British education system where Burmese was the language of instruction (Fuqua, 1992). Their aim was to establish a system that could compete with the British system and eventually supplant it (Fuqua, 1992).

[1] Please note that within the borders of Burma there exists a number of different ethnic minority groups who are identified separately from the main population of Burmans. In this paper, I am refer to the entire population that lives in Burma as “Burmese” and to those of the majority ethnic group as “Burmans”.



Cady, John F. A History of Modern Burma. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1958. Print.

Campbell, A. (1946). Education in Burma. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 49, 438-448.

Cheesman, N. (2003). School, State and Sangha in Burma. Comparative Education39(1), 45-63. Retrieved from

Furnivall, J. S. (1948). Colonial policy and practice a comparative study of Burma and Netherlands India,. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press.

Fuqua, J. (1992). A Comparison of Japanese and British Colonial Policy in Asia and their Effect on Indigenous Educational Systems Through 1930 (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from DITC database. (Ascension Order No. ADA2544560)

Harvey, G. E. (1946). British Rule in Burma, 1824-1942. London: Faber and Faber.

Hillman, O. Education in Burma. Journal of Negro Education15, 526 – 533. Retrieved , from www.jstor.orgtable/2966118

Octennial Report on Education in Burma, 1947-48 to 1954-55. (1956). Rangoon: Supdt., Govt. Printing and Staty., Union of Burma.

Schober, J. (2007). Colonial knowledge and buddhist education in burma. I.Harris (Ed.)  Buddhism, power, and political order (pp.52-70). London: Routledge.

Tinker, H. (1967). The Union of Burma: a study of the first years of independence. (4th ed.). London: issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs by Oxford U.P.


Ed300 Research Proposal

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Research Question:

How has the Burmese schooling experience, education system, and its goals been transformed or affected by British colonization from the 18th to 19th century?


Schooling in Burma has changed significantly from its initial form and goals since the colonial era. Old ideas about education derived from monastic orders merged with the new ideas brought to Burma by the British who colonized the country from the early 1800’s to mid 1900’s. To weaken the two most powerful traditional institutions in Burma, the British abolished the monarchy and separated the church—which in this case was the Theravada Buddhist order– and state by setting up secular schools to replace the monastic schools where Burmese children usually received their education. To further their own political and economic goals and mitigate the collision of values held by the Buddhist natives with values held by the ruling British people, modern values and western education was promoted in these secular schools. The goal of these schools was to produce an educated Burmese class trained to be local administrators and implement colonial projects. While there were some benefits to the education system imposed upon the Burmese, such as increased access to education for women, there were drawbacks like a loss of cultural heritage and traditional ways that was replaced by more modern, scientific teachings conducive to empire-building colonial projects.

In the early 1900s, an group called the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) emerged and began to mobilize the public and organize a Burmese nationalist movement, education being a major focus of their struggle. The struggle for a national identity began as tensions rose between those advocating for traditional Buddhist knowledge and those advocating for modern, colonial knowledge. Under U Nu’s rule, education became both compulsory and free but there were many challenges to establishing a functioning education system as Burma transitioned to self-rule after so many decades of colonial rule.The invasion of the Japanese also further complicated this process as they tried to further impose their ideas about education on the Burmese. The national schools movement grew as a reaction to these foreign influences in Burma, led by nationalists who wanted to try to “Burmanize” schools. What remains today is a broken, neglected education system seized by the military government.

When thinking about education reform in Burma, one cannot fully understand the current form of schooling and the goals of education that exists in modern day Burma without understanding its historical origins. For this reason, I feel that it is justified for me to do research about what events and ideas have helped shaped the education system in Burma as it is today.


 To gather background information and sources, I met with a librarian who helped me search for relevant sources on the Trinity Library database. I also looked at the sources cited by these articles to find additional sources that could be of help. I used goolge scholar as well as other search sites that helped me find journals that focused on Asia, such as the Journal of Asian studies. I accessed the old English newspapers (The Times from London) to find out more about colonial education. I have also found some books in the library on the history of Burma that contains information about education and how it has changed through time. There are also some books I found using Google scholar that are about colonialism and education in Burma but I have not been able to access them and am considering purchasing or renting them.

Although I have read through  the secondary sources, I have yet to thoroughly go through the primary sources from the time. I am working with a librarian this week to find more primary and secondary sources that are relevant to my research project both in the main library collection and in the Watkinson.

Cady, John F. A History of Modern Burma. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1958. Print.

Cheesman, N. (2003). School, State and Sangha in Burma. Comparative Education, 39(1), 45-63. Retrieved from

Chie Ikeya. Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011. Project MUSE. Web. 6 Apr. 2014. <>.

Furnivall, J. S. Colonial Policy and Practice; a Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. New York: New York UP, 1956. Print.

Harris, Ian Charles. “Colonial Knowledge and Buddhist Education in Burma.” Buddhism, Power and Political Order. London: Routledge, 2007. 52-70. Print.

Harvey, Godfrey E. British Rule in Burma: 1824-1942. New York: M S Pr., 1974. Print.

King, Alonzo. Memoir of George Dana Boardman: Late Missionary to Burmah, Containing Much Intelligence Relative to the Burman Mission. Boston: Lincoln, Edmands &, 1834. Print.

Lwin, Thein. “Education in Burma (1945-2000).” Thinking Classroom (2000): n. pag. Web. 4 Apr. 2014. <,%202000.pdf>.

Malcolm, Howard. Travels in South-eastern Asia: Embracing Hindustan, Malaya, Siam and China; with Notices of Numerous Missionary Stations, and a Full Account of the Burman Empire. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, n.d. Print.

Whitehead, Clive. “Education in British Colonial Dependencies, 1919‐39: A Re‐appraisal.”Comparative Education 17.1 (1981): 71-80. Print.


“This is the Right Thing for Our Children”– A Public Forum on the Common Core Standard in CT

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HARTFORD, CT—On Friday morning at 10:00 am, the Education Committee convened at the Legislative Office Building to hold an informational forum to discuss the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards in Connecticut. Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Executive Director of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers Chris Minnich were among the proponents of the Common Core that presented at the forum chaired by Senator Andrea Stillmann and State Representative Andrew Fleischmann.

Citing the high remediation rates in both Connecticut’s state university and community colleges and drawing up pie charts showing that 56% of employers in the state were having trouble hiring qualified workers, Pryor presented the use of Common Core standards as a vital measure to improve the future of students and the economy.

“Even if we look at the future of our work and at what is required of our youngsters, the common core is going in the right direction. And more importantly, our educators… have long been saying that we shouldn’t be focused on rote knowledge and pure recall, on drilling kids in our classroom. We want to be focusing on higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, on the kinds of approaches that will enable our youngsters to succeed in college and careers,” said Pryor.  According to Pryor, in 2020, around 60% of the jobs in Connecticut’s economy would require a college or other higher education degree and the state schools simply aren’t churning out enough college- and career-ready students.

Minnich expressed his understanding that while everyone was in support of the notion of having higher standards for students, they found the Common Core standards controversial because of how it was being implemented and the process of how the official document was written. He emphasized that there was public involvement in every state and that educators played a major role in the process of writing the Common Core standards, adopted in July 2010 in Connecticut.

“This is really giving teachers the flexibility they need to be great teachers,” said Minnich, who believes that teachers can still freely decide on how they want to tailor their lessons to local needs to meet national standards. Minnich stated that approximately 73% of teachers polled were in support of the Common Core .This statistic, which seems to be at odds with the popular conception that most teachers didn’t support the Common Core standards, was a subject of scrutiny and repeatedly brought to question throughout the duration of the forum.

Minnich also reported that the ACT, Collegeboard, and the business community also offered feedback on standards set in the Common Core to ensure that it was comprehensive and contained what future employers were looking for in employees.

“The vast majority of our country is aiming towards higher standards. Are we going to glide towards them or are we going to be left behind?” asked Minnich, citing that 45 out of 50 states had accepted the standards and that states like Kentucky and Tennessee had achieved great gains on NAEP test scores.

Education Committee Informational Forum on the Common Core Curriculum at the LOB
February 28th, 2014
Photo: Ada Chai

A heated Q&A session followed the presentations of Pryor and Minnich, though each of the 16 representatives of the state present was limited to asking only one question as Minnich had to depart early.  

Hurried along by Representative Fleischmann, the representatives voiced concerns, as parents and on behalf of parents and teachers, about the flawed implementation of the common core that were pressing “too much too quickly” on children and putting a strain on small school districts that had to write their own curriculum to match the core curriculum standards. Representative Bolinsky mentioned “disenfranchised and frightened” educators and parents with children coming home terrified of tests, who were questioning the intent behind the Common Core standards and asked about how they intended to engage the community in this conversation. Concerns were also raised over the use of technology and the failure of the common core to include social and emotional development of children as part of the curriculum.

At the forum, Pryor also announced that Governor Malloy was creating a task force for January of 2015 to help implement the Common Core Standards that would include educators to ensure practitioner input. He also made assurances that more support, including a team of Common Core coaches to aid professional development and a “Dream Team” that would make model units, lesson plans and other resources available through their website (, would become available to teachers.

Despite Pryor and Minnich’s favorable presentation of the controversial Common Core standards, there were some among the general public who were not convinced that the implementation of the standards would make students critical thinkers or more competitive in the future nationally and internationally. One such group, consisting of parents and teachers, was conspicuously dressed in bright red shirts with an octagon shaped stop sign which read “Stop the Common Core in CT”. They apparently disagreed that the Common Core standards would lead to students becoming critical thinkers.

“We need to let teachers teach so that children become critical thinkers, not robots that follow a format,” said one of the red-shirted parents, Malcom McGough.  McGough views the implementation of the Common Core standards as an invasive act carried out by the government that treats children like guinea pigs.

“It is clearly against what the founding fathers wanted,” he said, claiming that the standards were nothing less than an attempt to indoctrinate students rather than allowing them the freedom necessary to become critical thinkers, the freedom which in the first place is what led to innovations that made the United States one of the greatest nations in the world.


“The Cartel” : Propaganda for Pro-School Choice Movement?

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In  2009, news anchor Bob Bowdon wrote, directed, and produced The Cartel, an award winning documentary that offers a critical view of the American public education system by examining issues plaguing the schools of New Jersey, a state ranked number one for per pupil spending in the United States.  Using interviews, news clips, data from international and national test scores, and statistics about school funding, Bowdon weaves together a tragic story of New Jersey’s students floundering and trying to escape from the failing public schools that are rampant with bad teachers and bureaucratic corruption. In this film, Bowdon attempts to convince viewers of the negative effects of teacher unions and school officials who control public education, “a multi-billion dollar cartel”, and advocates for market-based reform based on school choice and accountability.

The documentary begins with a statistic that “only 38% of high school seniors can read at 8th grade level” ( Bowdon, 00:01:26)  to shock the audience into awareness of exactly how bad the public schools are doing. After doling out more statistics about falling test scores to expose the poor quality of education in public schools, Bowdon informs viewers about the amount of spending per classroom annually to make his first point: government spending on education is excessive and pumping more money into schools is not the solution. He uses New Jersey as the perfect example of this, revealing that despite the exorbitant amounts that the state spends on education, the schools are failing their students.

Given this juxtaposition of quality of education versus the public expenditure on schools, viewers naturally would be wondering : where is the $300,000 – $400,000 spent per classroom actually going if not to improve the quality of education? Bowdon highlights news stories of local corruption and interviews public officials and schools administrators to show that the money is either being ill-spent or pocketed by “cigar-chomping superintendents” and other such school bureaucrats. According to the documentary, the overpaid administrators and teachers care more about lining their pockets than looking out for the interests of students and that they aren’t being held accountable . Such reports of corruption at the expense of the students and their parents no doubt will elicit the concern and anger of indignant viewers.

Bowdon then accusingly turns towards the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), New Jersey’s teacher Union that appears to be obstructing necessary reform measures, such as getting rid of tenure and giving merit-based pay to teachers. He suggests that the politically powerful NJEA, by protecting bad teachers and blocking the movement for vouchers and charter schools are denying parents better education choices for their children and increasing educational inequality. The film’s most emotionally moving scene takes place at the lottery for a charter school when big tears begin to roll down the face of a little girl who appears extremely heartbroken because she failed to escape the horrible New Jersey public school system (Bowdon, 01:17:51).

Crying Girl

Bowdon’s advocacy for school choice and accountability as the solution to ensure quality education for students is aligned with the notion of market-based reforms. He uses his documentary to show that vouchers and charters schools, such as the Northstar Academy in New Jersey where students are “trained in behaviors of the professional world” (Bowdon, 01:10:45) and are therefore prepared to succeed in a capitalist society. Although there is no shortage of references to how a school should be run like a business, such as car dealerships and coffee shops, Bowdon fails to address the negative effects of school choice and schools being run like businesses. On its sister website,, viewers are encouraged to “learn about charter schools, vouchers, and other educational alternatives—and support the efforts of groups such as the Alliance for School Choice, New Jersey’s Excellent Education for Everyone, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Center for Education Reform, and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.”

The Cartel won numerous prizes, which they listed on their website, and appeared to be well received by the public. The New York Post which stated, “For parents of kids in public schools, the heartbreaking documentary ‘The Cartel’ is a revelation” and that “few documentaries have covered such an important matter so convincingly and with such clarity” (Smith, 2010). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also praised the film as “very important” and claimed it helped mold his policy decisions (BowdonMedia, 2011).

Aside from its poor video quality and bad animations, the film was criticized for a number of things ranging from its biased, limited interviews, its failure to offer the opposing side of the story, to its implicit messages. The lack of debate and one-sidedness in this documentary is apparent as Bowdon interviews very few members of  the opposition and only speaks to frustrated teachers and administrators who have failed to help reform schools from within. He also does not mention past reform efforts that  have possibly influenced the negative educational outcomes seen today, such as the No Child Left Behind policy. It is clear that Bowden’s interviews and news clips are not meant to offer the audience a variety of views on the issues of public education. Rather, Bowdon takes a biased approach in which he is “cherry-picking” and guiding interviewees to share opinions and evidence that support his view, and in some cases goes as far as to put words in people’s mouth, so to speak (Bowdon, 2009) (00:25:02 ; 01:01:06). According to the New York Times movie review, “Mr.Bowdon …employs an expose-style narration lousy with ad hominems and emotional coercion” (Catsoulis, 2010).

In response to Bowdon’s pro school choice push, Stephen Whitty, a reporter for the Star Ledger, a Newark based online newspaper, gives reasons for why school choice might not solve the national education mess. According to Whitty (2009), Bowdon ignored issues of whether charter schools are any better as well as the problem of their “self-selecting nature” as only certain parents would take advantage of such schools. Whitty also asks, “What if the vouchers didn’t cover the tuition at the prep you wanted, or the school didn’t want your child? How about that whole pesky church-state thing…?” (2009). Whitty also discloses that Bowdon got “post-production support from a couple of partisan groups, including a pro-voucher organization” (2009).

In her book The Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, education historian, professor, and policy analyst Diane Ravitch points to how the charter movement has become “a vehicle for privatization of large swaths of public education” which results in a loss of the democratic control of schools and creates a system in which charters competes with rather than complementing and collaborating with public schools (2013). She reveals that charter schools under private management, which have not produced consistent high scores nor proven their superiority over public schools, are exempt from state laws and financial auditing and actually spend more public dollars on their students than public schools (Ravitch, 2013). She also warns of the danger they pose in increasing racial and class segregation( Ravitch, 2013).

According to Harvard Educational Review (Brion-Meisels, 2011) the kind of charter schools and reforms that Bowdon praises makes clear some implicit messages of the film. Firstly, it sends the message that the purpose of public education is simply to give students equal access to economic opportunity (Brion-Meisels, 2011). Secondly, it sends the message that “the culture of high-accountability charter schools is more valuable than the cultures from which these low-income students may come” and devalues the culturally unique ways in which these students’ parents support them (Brion-Meisels,2011).

Using test scores as the measure for success, The Cartel paints a dismal picture of public schools in New Jersey to imply that public schools throughout the nation are failing horribly and that a market-based approach to reform would reduce the costly inefficiencies. He focuses only on the misfortunes of one State and claims that this story is equally true for schools throughout the nation. Though the statistics Bowdon uses to win his audience over are verifiable and come from legitimate resources, he fails to tell the story behind these numbers that put them in a real world context that would lead to an accurate understanding of what they mean. Bowdon’s poorly made documentary appears to be nothing more than a biased propaganda for the school choice movement leading towards the privatization of the public education system. The real threat of misleading documentaries like this one lays in the fact that it might prevent people from the true underlying causes of the public education mess in America, such as the systemic economic and social inequalities that exist.


Bowdon,B. (Director). (2009). The Cartel [Documentary].United States: Moving Picture Institute

BowdonMedia. (2011, January 2). Chris Christie comments on The Cartel movie. Retrieved February 23, 2013, from

Brion-Meisels, G. (2011). The Cartel/The Lottery/Waiting for “Superman”…. Harvard Educational Review, 81(4), 751-761.

Catsoulis, J. (2010, April 15). Children left behind. New York Times. Retrieved from

Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Smith, K. (2010, April 16). Nj paradox: Piles of cash, failing schools. New York Post, Retrieved from

Whitty, S. (2009, Octber 08). ‘the cartel’ movie review: Documentary on jersey schools fails debate class. The Star Ledger. Retrieved from

Avoiding Plagiarism

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Step 1: Plagiarize any portion of the original text by copying portions of it word-for-word.

Attempts to isolate the individual effects of a teacher through their students’ test scores are alarmingly error prone. The value-added scores also fluctuate between years. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the next year. There will always be instability in these rankings, some of which will reflect “real” performance changes.

Step 2: Plagiarize any portion of the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely.

Economist Sean Corcoran who studied the teacher evaluation systems in New York City and Houston found that the average “margin of error” was plus or minus 28 points for a New York City teacher.


Step 3: Plagiarize any portion of the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, with a citation the original source (using any academic citation style).

Economist Sean Corcoran who studied the teacher evaluation systems in New York City and Houston found that the average “margin of error” was plus or minus 28 points for a New York City teacher, which means that “a teacher who has ranked at the 43rd percentile compared to his or her peers might actually be anywhere between the 15th percentile and the 71st percentile” (Ravitch, 2011).


Step 4: Properly paraphrase any portion of the original text by restating the author’s ideas in your own diction and style, and include a citation to the original source.

As value-added assessments of teacher evaluation are prone to having large margins of error, it is not a reliable method of identifying the impact of individual teachers from year to year (Ravitch, 2011).


Step 5: Properly paraphrase any portion of the original text by restating the author’s ideas in your own diction and style, supplemented with a direct quotation of a key phrase, and include a citation to the original source.

As value-added assessments of teacher evaluation are prone to having large margins of error, it is not a reliable method of identifying the impact of individual teachers from year to year. An economist at the New York University, Sean Corcoran found when using such teacher evaluation systems that “the average ‘margin of error’ of a New York City teacher was plus or minus 28 points” (Ravitch, 2011) and leads to teachers being ranked inaccurately.

Works Cited:

Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System(New York: Basic Books, 2011), pp. 270-71.


Learning Goals for EDUC 300

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In this class, I would like to learn about what kinds of educational policies have led to school reforms that have been effective and helpful and what hasn’t. I also hope to become morefamiliar with the political and legal processes involved and how people can actively pursue actions that lead to changes in the schooling system.