Backpack Full of What?

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Many educators have worked hard to reform the US education system in order to make sure everyone, especially students in the low-income family would also receive equalized education. But do these reforms work? The documentary “Backpack full of cash” makes me question the accountability of education reform such as charter school, cyber school, and voucher school. One thing I like about this documentary is that the filmmakers used comparison and data to support their argument and make their argument looks convincing to the audience. For example, one comparison the filmmakers used and also is one key scene is this documentary is the comparison between the public school Philadelphia East High School and Philadelphia String Theory Charter High School: one has packed classroom where students even need to sit on the classroom windowsill, and the other one has all the fancy and high technology for students to use.

 (Mondale, S.,  Aronow, V., Backpack Full Of Cash, 7:02)

(Mondale, S.,  Aronow, V., Backpack Full Of Cash, 8:11)

Though looks like charter schools can provide way better education than the public school, filmmakers then point out who has the privilege to attend the high-end charter school. Students that come from low-income families often end up in limit-budge school, where white students can be accepted into the high-end school. Also, the charter school claims they use the lottery number to enroll students, but this becomes a way for them to refuse both immigrant students and low-income family students. With all the resource and students they select, we would expect charter schools to have way higher academic performance than public school. According to Diane Ravitch, there is little academic difference between public school and charter school. Thus, education reform is not helping students to receive equal education but privatized education for white students. Public school can be great if they have enough resource they need. The Union City Public School is a great example: if the government can put money to strength public school and have one system, public school can be great.

 (Mondale, S.,  Aronow, V., Backpack Full Of Cash, 44:15)

(Mondale, S.,  Aronow, V., Backpack Full Of Cash, 49:11)

This is a great documentary, but there are still some missing parts I wish the filmmakers can put in the documentary. This documentary has interviewed educators, school principles, and students. But there is no teacher’s interview. I think the teacher’s perspective is important, for they are the people who actually lead the classroom. Also, I wish there is an interview with the low-income charter school.



Mondale, S. (Producer), & Aronow, V. (Director). (2016). Backpack Full of Cash [Motion picture]. (Available from