Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Lottery

Madelieine Sackler, a graduate of Duke University, has taken on her first film project, the wonderful documentary The Lottery.

The Lottery takes the challenges of public education to a micro-level by following four families in Harlem who are hoping that their children will be selected by random draw for an opportunity to attend a state-funded charter school instead of their local zone schools.

The educational discussions that are happening across the United States, can't be painted more clearly then in a place like Harlem where the film is able to cite some startling statistics of educational failings by the New York City schools.

Typically the explanation for startling low performance has focused instead upon the education system, but rather on external forces typically associated with poverty.

At the same time, the charter schools in Harlem have bucked this information by achieving success in education that exceeds the public zone schools while dealing with a random draw of students out of the exact same population.

Instead, these charter schools are shown with some unique methods, passionate teachers, and big goals and visions that are supported by teachers and staffs, and passed along to students and families.

Yet, this film is not about what makes charter schools succeed when public schools do not, but instead paints a picture of the uphill battle that charter school's in Harlem face in their communities and among political leaders, while at the same time parents and students are being turned away from an alternative that has a higher success rate.

In following the four young kids in this film, it is likely your heart will be touched, or at least given a framework for what these families are about and the struggle that these parents find themselves in when it comes to the thought process of their children going to a school where failure has better odds over success.

My wife watched the film with me and her surprise was that the parents featured in this program really did care about their children despite their Harlem residency.

In addition to introducing you these four families, the film also introduces us and acquaints us with Eva Moskowitz a former New York City Counsel member who runs a successful charter school, The Harlem Success Academy.

Moskowitz is an activist for public education reform, and it is pretty clear that one of her biggest critiques of the public education system is the role of teacher's unions and the way that the entrance of competition into public education is threatening to a broken system. The film alleges that the teacher's unions hire organizations like Acorn to create false messages about education.

This film is well crafted, making it interesting to watch as well as showcasing some powerful scenes of human emotion and heightened political and social situations. My wife and I fell in love with the little girl Ameenah (pictured above) who's mother was trying to get her into the school. And since watching the film, we've discussed the film on a number of occasions.

The Lottery is one of 15 films eligible for a nomination and win for this years Best Documentary Oscar.

1 comment:

Grete said...

I'd be interested in seeing this film...
I read somewhere that they did a longitudinal study in Chicago on students in a lottery system and their outcomes... Even when the students didn't get into the more "prestigious" schools, they ended up doing as well as those in the lottery who DID get into the "better" schools... leading the researchers to conclude that the students' success was based more on the fact that their families had them in the lottery in the first place rather than which school they ended up getting into.