Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada, Eva Moskowitz, Joel Klein, Jim Manly, Susan Taylor, Dacia Toll
CONCEIVED AND DIRECTED BY
Variance Films/Breaking Glass Pictures
While Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman will undoubtedly grab this year's doc thunder for dealing with America's fractured educational system, Madeleine Sackler's entertaining, insightful and moving The Lottery is a graphic and anger-inducing doc that deals, perhaps with even greater bluntness, with the epic failures of public school systems.
The film points out that we live in a nation where 58% of the country's African-American fourth graders are functionally illiterate, and The Lottery follows a group of children in New York's Harlem, where over 3,000 children annually apply for 500 slots in the city's semi-experimental charter school system. In New York, the "charter" schools operate under a five-year charter. If at the end of the five years they've failed to get positive educational results, the school is closed. Teachers who fail, almost without exception, are fired. In short, the charter schools operate outside the city's powerful teacher's union, a union that Sackler is not hesitant to point fingers at as being a huge part of the problem along with the city's mostly Democratic politicians who seemingly remain restricted by their allegiances to the union.
Sackler points out that of the 23 non-charter schools in Harlem, 19 have less than half of their students reading at grade level, and The Lottery does an excellent job at capturing the desperation of many of these parents to acquire a decent education for their children and, perhaps, creating a future outside Harlem and beyond what is all too often a limited future for many of these urban children.
While the theme and tone for The Lottery may sound grim, rest assured that Sackler believes firmly that every child can prosper with an appropriate education and she's compiled some beautiful and wonderful examples of such success. She's also optimistic thanks to such foward thinking folks as Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker, recently in the headlines for his work with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's efforts on behalf of public education. A Democrat himself, Booker seems to be turning the tide against powerful inner-city machines that are wielding far too much political power without the results to justify their influence. Booker is working to reinforce the charter model created by Eva Moskowitz, who started the first charter schools in Harlem, despite often fierce resistance from New York teacher's unions.
After screening at several film festivals nationwide, including the Tribeca Film Festival, The Lottery is currently on a limited arthouse run before its scheduled DVD release by Breaking Glass Pictures.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic