Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Review: The Lottery

The Lottery ***
Directed By:
Madeline Sackler.

In a perfect world, Charter Schools would not exist. But we live in a far from perfect world, and if you live in the inner city, you live even farther away, especially if you want to give your child a good education. The Lottery makes the case that while inner city schools in New York are failing to give its students a good education – Charter Schools in the same area are producing great results. Yes, the film is one sided – although it does give lip service to the other side – but you really cannot argue with the results. No matter what Charter Schools – which are publicly funded but operate outside the strictures of public schools, most notably the teachers union – get results for their students. Instead of spending so much time attacking charter schools, opponents should be looking at what they are doing different – and better – than public schools to improve them, instead demonizing the other side.

Madline Sackler’s documentary The Lottery is the second documentary on this subject I have seen this year – although it did come out earlier than the much more high profile Waiting for Superman, which has become one of the hits of the documentary world this year. The Lottery isn’t as good as Waiting for Superman – but it does provide even more evidence to suggest that public education in America’s inner cities are broken, and for many parents, Charter Schools are the only answer. The problem of course is that there are thousands of more children who want to go to Charter Schools than there are spaces for them. And this, undeniably, makes charter school unfair. Everyone pays for them as part of their tax dollars, but they are only accessible to some. The alternative unfortunately seems to be that every child in these areas would get a crappy education instead of just some. This is a lose-lose situation for all involved.

The Lottery follows four families in the months leading up to the lottery to get in the Harlem Success Academy. Law dictates that if a charter school has more applicants than spaces available, then a lottery has to be done to determine who gets in and who gets left out. The stories of these families is heartbreaking – especially at the finale at the lottery itself where you can see the pain on the parents faces when their children do not get in, and are therefore denied a good education.

As I said, in an ideal world, charter schools wouldn’t exist. Instead, you could reform public schools so they can all get the results that Harlem Success Academy and other charter schools are having. But reform is made virtually impossible by the bureaucracy of the Board of Education and the Teachers Union – who do not want to give anything up, and because they are among the biggest contributors to Democrats, have the political clout to back them up. As one City Councilor suggests, it would be better to not close Public Schools, but to reform them. But as founder of Harlem Success, Eva Moskowitz points out, some of these schools have been failing for decades, and no meaningful reform has been done. What are you supposed to do with schools that have only a 30% graduation rate, or schools where only 10% of the students are reading and writing at the correct grad level? For many parents, the reforms are coming far too slowly.

And that is why, as The Lottery points out, Charter Schools are a necessity at this point. The Lottery is a little too one sided to be a truly great documentary – it is firmly on the side of the Charter Schools, and makes no real effort to try and cover that fact up. It is an advocacy documentary, and it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine charter schools giving out copies of it to prospective parents and students. Yet having said all of that, the facts are the facts, and they are undeniable. Say whatever you want about Charter Schools – the bottom line is that the kids who go there get a quality education. And shouldn’t that be the goal of any school?

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