The Lottery (2010)

Directed by Madeline Sackler

Education in this country is a major issue and will probably always be a major issue. I am studying to be a teacher, I ought to know. So when filmmaker Madeline Sackler made a documentary about the lottery system for public charter schools in Harlem, I was interested. The film explores many of the issues that make education a problem in this country. For one, there are the failing schools, like those in Harlem that were closed down by Chancellor Joel Klein. Interesting side note, Joel Klein spoke at my high school, though I can’t remember what about though I assume it had to do with education. But anyway, the issue here is the lottery for these kids to make it into charter schools that are successful.

The film follows four of five children and their parents in their desire to win the lottery and gain a better education. The way the system is set up in New York City, apparently, is there are zoned public schools, which have terrible reputations for low reading levels and low graduation rates, and then there are the public charter schools, which work as a parent choice option, and these schools have 100% graduation rates and their goal is for their students to graduate college, not just stay off the streets. The dichotomy of the two styles of public school is remarkable. As the film suggests, the problem is the grown ups, not the children. A great education is possible for every child and it is up to the grown ups to fix the problems of the education system as it stands now.

The film itself I am not sure meets any conclusion or meaningful commentary. Maybe as someone who is involved in education I already knew that every child can gain an education and it is the responsibility of the teachers and administration to assure they get that. It was stated that only 10, out of 55,000, tenured teachers were fired in 2008 and it costs taxpayer’s $250,000 to fire a tenured teacher. This is a problem when teachers are underachieving and not getting results. The film is important because it brings to light some of the problems of education and the fact that education is always in need of improvement, but nothing about it was really remarkable. Sackler does not achieve what, perhaps, could have been a very important social documentary.

1 Comment

  1. Full disclosure: I am not in education but in health care the other broken system in the United States. I find it interesting the way teachers are automatically blamed for not getting results. I am a nurse: I don't get fired if my patient does not have a successful outcome. Now if I make an error that is another matter to discuss. Now I am not going to discount that ineffective teachers are a problem but so are American values. People care more about how their favourite university football or basketball team does that the health or funcitonality of their colleges. Coaches make way more than professors. Americans care more about being couch potatoes wathing sports they are too out of shape to play or reality tv than education.

    Basically white middle class folks either move to a faceless suburb to get access to a decent public school or put themselves in debt or work two jobs to shell out for a pricey private school. As a result they have no moral or social investment in what happens to other people's kids.

    Compared the scores of American kids on basic science, math, and other proficiencies with the international community and we are sorely lacking. But Americans continue to delude themselves that they have the best of everything even when the evidence is contrary.

    So bash teachers all you want because it is of course the easy answer. Never mind the parents or the socio econonmic barriers. I disagree it is the responsibility of the teachers and the parents to deliver the education kids need. Kids mirror their parents.

    PS. I watched film but I tend to like documentaries in general because I am fairly uncool


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