MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Lottery' Exposes Truth About Public Schools

The children eager to attend Harlem Success Academies don’t care about partisan politics or ideological turf wars. They just want the best education possible. “The Lottery,” a new documentary by Madeleine Sackler, showcases families desperate for an alternative to the New York Public School system.

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The film, playing an exclusive engagement through July 15 at the Starz FilmCenter in Denver, follows four such families who enter a lottery system so their children can attend a prestigious charter school. Strip away the interpersonal dynamics and you’ll find a full-throated argument on behalf of charter schools. And those who think only Republicans support school choice measures will be surprised to see a large number of Democrats eager to give charter schools a try.

It’s an alternately fascinating and maddening film experience, and Sackler delivers the material with an elegant touch. It’s also a must-see for parents with school-age children – or just taxpayers saddened at the thought of children not reaching their potential. The families included here put a human face on the issue, but the film would be better served if we got to know them a little better. The quick glimpses at their lives – and dreams – tell us just enough about the stakes at play.

Sackler intersperses sobering statistics throughout her film, showing how the charter schools in question offers a major upgrade from the status quo.

But the film’s twin highlights come when Eva Moskowitz, the articulate founder of Harlem Success Academies, takes on her critics at two public forums. Viewers may lunge for their blood pressure meds as union lackeys play fast and loose with the facts, and double down on the race card, in order to defend a broken system.

“The Lottery” is the second recent documentary to slam teachers unions. “The Cartel” examined New Jersey’s disgraceful public school system, blaming unions for much of the waste and horrific grades. “Waiting for Superman,” another documentary trumpeting the need for educational reform, will be released this fall.

It’s hardly an accident. Parents are fed up with the sorry state of modern education and see school choice as a possible way out. And documentary filmmakers are following suit.

“The Lottery” doesn’t traffic in the bait-and-switch stylings of a Michael Moore opus, but it’s still a one-sided affair. It isn’t entirely Sackler’s fault. The director recently told this critic she tried – and tried – to include union backers in the film for an entire year. But those sources refused to participate.

Still, more neutral education experts might have added context to the arguments on display. And while Moskowitz is an ideal spokeswoman for the charter system, she’s given too much screen time given her intimate connection to the school in question.

“The Lottery” is the kind of film that could very well change some stubborn hearts and minds. Political ideology – and knee-jerk sympathies – fall aside when you see families crying in relief as their names are plucked from “The Lottery.”

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