Leaving education to chance in 'The Lottery'

Thursday, September 2, 2010
Christian Yoanson and his father Emil stare at the lottery board as numbers are called during the film 'The Lottery'.

For anyone who has spent hours debating what educational path to guide their children down, "The Lottery" is just another reminder of how broken the current education system in America is.

Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part the system is failing children; that's the main theme of "The Lottery." The documentary asks us how we can leave a child's future up to the luck of the draw.

"The Lottery" follows four families and their quest to get into select charter schools in Harlem, N.Y. Finding the current educational situation inferior, the parents hope to win the lottery the charter schools hold to gain acceptance into a program that gives their child the best possible chance to succeed.

A lottery is instituted when the demand outweighs the spots available in the charter schools. The school the family hopes calls their number is Harlem Success Academy, founded by Eva Moskowitz, a school that achieves some of the highest test scores in New York.

At the heart of "The Lottery" is the debate between public and charter schools and the opposition the teacher's union poses to the charter schools. The schools are not normally unionized, thus eliminating the teacher's union and holding its teachers to a higher standard and on a shorter leash. As the film notes, in 2008, only 10 of 55,000 tenured teachers were let go; the cost to fire a teacher is $250,000.

When schools are closed because of poor performance, Moskowitz pleads her case time after time to institute her charter schools in the proposed vacant building, but the opposition is powerful. People protesting, people flailing and spitting angry rants that they won't let the charter school enter their schools.

"The Lottery" is an interesting watch, but as parent after parent reflects on their educational experience and the opportunities missed, it should be a call for others to not let the dreams of children die. We should do whatever benefits the children the most and put the adults where they need and deserve to be -- second.

The film is definitely slanted toward the benefits of charter school systems and a fault might be it doesn't show much of the opposition's point of view, but when you watch the statistics on the screen, it's obvious something has to change and change fast. For instance, one statistic reveals that 58 percent of African American fourth graders are functionally illiterate.

The DVD extras include a nice Q&A panel from the Tribeca Film Festival with director Madeleine Sackler, Moskowitz and Joel Kline, plus some deleted scenes and interviews. It also has the trailer for the film.

Final Cut: "The Lottery" is an eye opening film that reveals the true depth of failure of, in this case, inner-city schools and the educational system in general. Your heart will break as the hope in the eyes of these young children is dashed as they are left sitting, while others dance to the podium to cash in the lottery ticket at the hope of a bright future.

4 out of 5 stars

The Lottery

Starring: Eva Moskowitz, Joel Klein, Geoffrey Canada, Cory Booker

Director: Madeleine Sackler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Runtime: 1 hr. 21 min.