Tomorrow, a new documentary, The Lottery, will premier in Washington, DC.
The film is based on the Harlem charter school lottery: a luck-of-the-draw process to determine who of thousands of vying New York City children will be offered 475 charter school slots. Specifically, it tells the stories of four New York families hoping to break free from New York City public schools to increase the likelihood of their children’s educational success. Madeleine Sackler, the film’s director tells the Wall Street Journal:
These are parents who don’t have the means to move to a richer neighborhood with better public schools, so instead they have to rely on luck. When demand for a charter school exceeds supply, the random drawing is required by law. Some schools inform parents by mail, but Harlem Success holds a public lottery.
The film not only takes the viewer through the emotional roller coaster of the lottery process, but illustrates the political opposition that curbs the growth of more charter schools to fill the demand of these families. Why such opposition to educational opportunity for NY children? Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academy network and a key character in the film, identifies the “union-political-educational complex.”
In one scene, viewers see the likes of Acorn, hired to protest a charter school on behalf of the teachers union. While the film was not originally meant to be political, Sackler comments:
Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was “the turn for us in the process.” That story—of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children—provided an answer to Ms. Sackler’s fundamental question: “If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren’t there more of them?
The film also seeks to dispel the myth that children are failing because parents don’t care. As The Lottery reveals, there are many parents who are willing to fight for their children’s education. However, a broken system provides little chance at accomplishing that. The Lottery’s message will hopefully bring families one step closer to achieving that goal.
“The public education system is at a crossroads,” Ms. Sackler says. “Do we want to go back to the time when children are forced to attend their district school no matter how underperforming it is? Or do we want to let parents choose what’s best for their kids and provide a lot of options?”
For more information on the film and screening dates, visit http://thelotteryfilm.com/.