For those who follow education reform, consider going to see “The Lottery,” the new documentary about the challenges charter schools face from entrenched interests in New York City. Though I have not yet seen the film (opening June 8, 2010 in New York City and June 25, 2010 in Washington, DC ), Bari Weiss, in the June 5-6, 2010 weekend edition (p. A14) of The Wall Street Journal presents a summary of the hurdles New York City charter schools have faced from the United Federation of Teachers, certain city council members, and others. Weiss recounts her interview with 27-year-old filmmaker Madeleine Sackler.
Summary of Film. Weiss tells how filmmaker Sackler was taken aback by the number of parents that gathered at the Harlem Armory to see who would win slots, via the lottery, for their children to enroll at the Harlem Success Academy. According to the article, the Harlem Success Academy is one of the best charter schools in NYC. [Under the law, when there are not enough openings for students at charters to meet the demand, a lottery is required.]
Sackler notes “I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them.” Thus began her quest to produce the documentary--interviewing family members, educators, politicians and others.
The success rate at the Harlem Success Academy is compelling. According to the article, in 2009, 95% of third-graders passed the state’s English Language Arts exam, versus only 51% in P.S. 149, the traditional public school that shares the same building. That same year, notes Weiss, Harlem Success was No. 1 in math out of 2,500 public schools in New York State.
Yet establishing charter schools and providing more options for parents has not been easy. Charter schools in New York City have faced many hurdles along the way. Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City Councilmember and founder of the Harlem Success Academy notes, the opponents of charter schools are the “union-political-educational complex.” As Weiss explains, "[t]hat’s a fancy term for the web of unions and politicians who defend the status quo in order to protect their jobs.”
Whether you are a charter school principal, board member, reformer, authorizer or simply interested in education, consider the documentary "The Lottery" as part of your summer "to do" list.