Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Lottery

Some friends and I saw the new documentary, The Lottery, yesterday. This is the third documentary out this year about school reform and the battle with the teachers unions to establish charter schools to finally achieve some success in educating inner city minority children. The Lottery follows the hopes of four families trying to get their children a spot at Harlem Success Academy, the tremendously inspiring and successful charter schools in the midst of all the failing regular public schools in Harlem. It is just heartbreaking to see all the hopes centered on having a child's name pulled from the thousands of applications in the lottery to get into the schools.

What was really disheartening was viewing the vituperative opposition from the teachers unions to the spread of charters. They even hire rent-a-mobs from Acorn to protest the openings of new charter schools battling to keep open failed public schools rather than letting a successful charter expand into the building. As the WSJ writes in their review of the film:
But on the way to making the film she imagined, she "stumbled on this political mayhem—really like a turf war about the future of public education." Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.

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Zina Saunders
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"We drove by that protest," Ms. Sackler recalls. "We were on our way to another interview and we jumped out of the van and started filming." There she discovered that the majority of those protesting the proliferation of charter schools were not even from the neighborhood. They'd come from the Bronx and Queens.

"They all said 'We're not allowed to talk to you. We're just here to support the parents.'" But there were only two parents there, says Ms. Sackler, and both were members of Acorn. And so, "after not a lot of digging," she discovered that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) had paid Acorn, the controversial community organizing group, "half a million dollars for the year." (It cost less to make the film.)

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?"
Here's a clip from the film and an interview with the creator of the film.