The walk to school

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Public schools need more funding. Backpack full of cash shows that public schools are competing with charter schools. Privatization of schools is creating problems for public schools, and are affecting students of color, and low income students. When a charter schools open up in a neighborhood, a public neighborhood school is in danger to shut down. Due to competition with Charter schools, students who are not able to attend the new charter school will have to go into a different public school. Often, these public schools are outside their neighborhood. This means an increase in commute.

The scene with the kid young kid walking to school is an important scene. The camera follows the young kid to school, a 30 minute walk by himself. When I think of a long commute I think of an older kid, potentially a high school kid taking a bus to school, but this was different. This is a young kid, who walks to school every day on his own. His mother and sister both work, so they are unable to accompany him to school. As he explains the why his mom or sister are unable to take him, he doesn’t complain, he just states it how it is. He doesn’t have another option. While the scene only shows him walking outside by himself, you know that most likely he woke up and got ready on his own to get to school.

He is responsible for getting himself to school.

The director might have chosen this to show the effects on the young children. Young children often have to take care of themselves, not because their family members don’t want to take care of them, but because they can’t. Family members have to work, and don’t partake in the privilege in taking their children to school.

Schools are shut down, because there is not enough money. Students are relocated into public schools outside their neighborhood, because there is not enough money, Privatization of school sounds like a good idea, and everyone would rather go into a charter school that had more resources, yet not everyone had the privilege to attend one. When people start focusing on the privatization of schools, students from low-income background are left unseen. 30 minutes is a long time to walk to school by yourself. Yes, the kid might be responsible, but what about other children who might be younger or live in neighborhood that are unwalkable.


Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,


Christian Schools are a Scam according to “Backpack Full of Cash”

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The documentary, “Backpack Full of Cash” captures the effect of an education reform in Philadelphia on the communities and their schools. At one point during the film, schools in Louisianna were being compared to schools in Philidelphia. During this point, the principal of a Christian school known as Hosanna Christian Academy was discussing the teachings and treatment of his students. He explained in the interview about how they permit their students to be paddled for discipline due to teachings in the Bible. Additionally, it was discussed how in Christian focused schools, their textbooks do not acknowledge evolution and teach their students that homo sapiens were around during the dinosaur age. The purpose of this comparison was to demonstrate how privately funded schools are free to do as they please and have no restrictions on what they teach their students. This is important because nationally it is greatly frowned upon to use physical forms of discipline on children and schools are doing children a disservice by teaching false information. The editors were successfully able to portray the religion-focused schools to seem insufficient and not worth the money.

I believe that although this film provides a compelling story and argument, I feel as though it has left out certain things. I believe that it is missing the comparison of other schools in Pennsylvania itself since it only compares the schools in Pennsylvania to other troubled cities in America. The argument would be even stronger if there were other cities in Pennsylvania that were experiencing the same difficulties and setbacks as the schooling system in Philidelphia. The director could make a comparison if there are other cities that have effectively avoided the issues that Philidelphia faces or how other cities are experiencing the same issues.



Mondale, Sarah. “Backpack Full of Cash,” 2016

Image: Mondale, Sarah. “Backpack Full of Cash,” 2016, 34:49.

“Public” — But Open to Who?

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(Modale, Backpack Full of Cash, 17:45)


Immediately following the scene discussing South Philadelphia High School, this part of the film begins a more in-depth analysis of charter schools. I found this part of the film to be of particular importance because it begins the documentation of real-life examples of barriers students and families face when trying to attend a charter school. Often touted as another type of public school open to everyone, charters still find subtle ways to prevent large populations of students from enrolling in them. This screenshot begins the first of these examples. Here, a Mexican-American mother is explaining the language barrier she has with her sons school. As a Spanish-speaking individual, she expresses difficulty in advocating for his education. She states herself that “[she] can’t fill out all the paperwork to put him in charter school” (17:57). Next, the film talks about the costs of school uniforms, and how those prevent low-income and poor students from attending charters. A young female student was talking about the high price of her uniform, and said that because of it, “charter school isn’t really an option for me” (18:26). The scene goes on to describe the intense disciplinary rules that guide the classrooms, often punishing students at higher rates than traditional schools. In charter networks like Success Academy and Mastery, students are held to standards akin to military academies, leading to more suspensions and expulsions. So while charter schools are “public” schools theoretically, they are accessible almost exclusively to English- speaking families who can afford the expenses and who are willing and able to follow their strict guidelines. In order to convey these stories in the powerful way that the film does, it was necessary to gain access to students and families experiencing charter schools. This most likely required their consent and all necessary documentation. They also added screenshots of various articles exposing charter school policies and experiences. Moreover, while I understand that the film is suppose to offer a critique to the charter school movement, I personally feel like their are many success stories being left out of the conversation. The film descibes charter schools as performing on par with traditional schools, but my school actually performed better than traditional public schools. 


Works Cited

Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,

Charter Schools: The New Education Standard or the Cause of Failing Public Schools?

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(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 30:05).

The documentary, A Backpack Full of Cash, reveals a provocative truth about charter schools and their effect on public school education. As our class sat in McCook auditorium watching the film, I heard gasps of astonishment and horror at the inequalities presented. This documentary focuses on Pennsylvania’s attempt to improve their schools. The strategy they adopted was to run schools as businesses, adding charter schools for kids to apply to. The problem with this, however, is that the application process and the weeding out of kids in these school is unequal. Charter schools were originally intended to be used as labs to be adopted by public schools (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,10:50). Although charter schools must be open to all students in a lottery system, some cherry-pick to get students likely to have higher test scores (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,16:55). Some schools require that students buy expensive uniforms out of pocket so those less fortunate cannot attend (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,18:29). Additionally, some use strict punishments to weed out students with disabilities or behavioral issues, such as sitting with their hands folded on top of their desks. This results in the schools not working with the children, and working instead against them (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,18:47). This concept had a strong reaction from those viewing the film. One student at Trinity College even saw their high school in the documentary saying, “I had to ask to pick up my pencil if I dropped it.” One key scene in the film shows students going to a Catholic school because of the voucher program. The filmmakers shot this scene as children stood in lines, looking unhappy, reciting biblical passages, showing how this type of schooling was forced upon them. How is it legal for public funds to be put towards religious schooling under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? And how can these voucher programs be beneficial for students if they are in toxic learning environments?

Work Cited:

Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,

No. 2: Not Enough

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In the documentary Backpack Full of Cash, there was a large display of all the things that students have already lost hold of. There was the cut back of music and art programs in which students were very upset about that. A student, Benny Ramos, from Youth United for Change expressed his feelings about those cuts. Ramos exclaimed “ how are we going to learn how to draw if we don’t have art class; how are we going to learn how to sing if we don’t have singing classes if we don’t have music” (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash,7:32). 

The classes were not the only set back of these students experiences, but as well as the loss of counselors and school nurses that were crucial for students mental and physical health. Without these services, it was left up to the teachers to learn how to administer medicine or send children home. They can’t help everyone because of the population of the school. This lack of funding cost a student her life because they decide to send her home. They had to have a vigil because there was a 6th grader who lost her life due to having an asthma attack at school. There was sadness across the student’s and adult supporter’s faces.

Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 7:47

Thinking about the people who actually lost their jobs in this school system, one of the key point of views that was missed in the documentary was those who lost their jobs. These includes nurses, teachers of all subjects, and even counselors. Having the students talk about this problems show that they clearly impacted the student lives that they were supporting, but by not seeing them talk we are not sure about how they benefited from the students. Thinking about how they are not able to provide these opportunities to these students from now on, shows the inconsistencies of the public school system. Furthermore, knowing the public schools mostly consist of impoverished youth shows how they could really use some of these resources because they may not have access to them otherwise.


Empty Backpacks: A Loss of Funding for Public Education and Its Effects

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In the film “Backpack Full of Cash”, there is a striking scene at around 40 minutes in. The whole premise of the film is to make it apparent to viewers of the detrimental effects charter schools and poor funding has had on public schools and the students who attend them. I felt a key scene in this film that demonstrated the theme very well was at the forty-minute mark. It starts with The Education Law Center’s Rhonda Brownstein introducing the fact the Philadelphia School District paid $700 million to charter schools, when they in fact did not have these funds saved. Following Brownstein, the filmmakers included Helen Gym stating that “there is a massive effort underway right now to disinvest in public education,” continuing on with informing viewers that Philadelphia had been forced to shut down 24 public schools in one year. Next, images of the closed schools with dark and upsetting music pass one by one on the screen.

(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 41:31)

The multiple images of shut down, abandoned schools struck a cord and helped me as a viewer visualize the issue that was at hand: loss of “backpacks full of cash”. The narrator explains how each child is given a metaphorical “backpack full of cash” to be spent on them, when they leave their public school and go to the charter school, that leaves significantly less money to pay teachers, transportation for students still attending the neighborhood school, and even to keep the lights on. This hard hit of losing students and their metaphorical backpacks has detrimental affects on the public school system, which by the way does not perform at any less of a quality than the charter schools. This scene matters because it shows America, and everyone watching what these schools look like now and gives insight to the effect this “effort to disinvest” had on the students who couldn’t afford to leave the neighborhood school. It was edited in such a way to convey this message, placing the public education advocates’ quotes before to set the scene as well as including depressing music to make the viewer feel a certain way.

Kevin Welner wrote an article titled “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment” in which he makes an argument against charter schools, listing and supporting a dozen ways charter schools control which students are allowed in and which are not. I think Welner would have applauded “Backpack Full of Cash” in its effort to expose the wrongdoings of charter schools and showing their effects on public education, putting those that are not encouraged to enroll in the charter schools at a great disadvantage due to a huge lack of resources. Welner writes under number seven of the “dirty dozen,” “The typical scenario involves the parent of a high-needs child who drops by the school to inquire about enrolling and is told that opportunities for that child will be much richer at the public school down the road.” This quote pulled from “The Bum Steer” is in line with the arguments made in “Backpack Full of Cash,” explaining what typically happens when someone presents at a charter school that might not fit the mold that the charter school is looking for, which is often students from families with a low socioeconomic status, like those that did not or could not leave any of the 24 neighborhood schools that were shut down in Philadelphia. Charter schools may present well, but twisting words to manipulate which students get to apply and enroll is the opposite of what public education stands for.


Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,

Welner, K. G. (April 2013). The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment. Teachers College Record. [online], ID Number: 17104.

SOS, Fly Superman in!

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In the beginning of the documentary, Waiting for Superman, the filmmaker used the narrator’s thoughts and beliefs, despite being a seemingly upper class, white male to justify the idea that every parent, regardless of the school they send their child to, is taking a “leap of faith.” This scene enhanced the idea and echoed the metaphor that the film is named after, revolving around the notion that it would take superman, a figure that does not exist, to fix the damage that many schools in America struggle every day with.

One key scene that highlighted many aspects of the struggle in schooling began two minutes into the film and ended at around 4 minutes and 36 seconds. This scene in particular is important because through a rather strong voice, the audience is able to view struggle in schooling through a different lense than what has previously been depicted due the fact that he is lucky enough to “have a choice” for his children. While it is fairly easy to highlight the challenges in public education in The United States, it seems  a lot much more real hearing it from an individual that sends his children to a private school. The filmmakers did an incredible job showing this emotion and pain through the camera shots that were playing simultaneously with a backdrop of the narrators voice. The film went perfectly alongside what the narrator was saying and created very inclining visuals for the audience. The most memorable visual was a video imitating the car ride that the narrator drives everyday to school as he proceeds to say, “every morning, betraying the ideals I thought I lived by, I drive past three public schools as I take my kids to a private school.” While he does firmly consider himself extremely lucky to have a choice, the video does a great job at portraying the guilt that this man feels as he passes these struggling public schools with his children in the backseat.  

The film portrays the students shown in the Washington DC public schools as getting a “crappy education” (Guggenheim, 28.42) and are entering what they refer to as an “academic sinkhole.” (Guggenheim, 24.36) They hark on the idea that the children that attend these schools will fall 3 to 5 grade levels behind because of the lack of quality education they were given growing up. While having a really great teacher is essential to learning and growth development for a child, I do think there are missing parts to this story and the film could have added more reasons for the struggle that numerous children took on growing up.  

Another part of the film that stood out from the rest revolved around the works of Michelle Rhee. She is an extremely admirable figure because she is working to really make a change for the sake of all children in The United States. It is people like Michelle Rhee that are going to make a difference in building stronger schools in America. She is not only not afraid to face the fact that schools are struggling, but also truly wants to make a difference in children lives. She is not afraid and is fully aware that she needs to at least attempt to turn around school districts in order to “produce results for kids.” (Guggenheim, 32.02)

It is clear that this film got very positive feedback through comments on movie reviews such as “This documentary is amazing and speaks volumes about our public school system. Every child deserves a fair education with an amazing teacher in front of them every day.” Comments like this make it clear that the film showed the reality that lies within the school districts in The United States.

(Guggenheim, 2.37)


Guggenheim, Davis, director. Waiting for Superman. IMDb,, 29 Oct. 2010,

The Vision Behind the Camera

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The movie Backpack Full of Cash, directed by Sarah Mondale, discusses the issues surrounding school funding with a focus on Philadelphia public schools. A big question to be answered in the movie is what is a public school. For me, the movie complicated what I thought of a public school by showing how public school money from tax-payers goes to paying for charter schools. Therefore, charter schools as well as traditional public schools are both funded with public schools money and are both considered public schools. The money also goes towards vouchers to aid lower-income families in paying for the public schools which is kind of ironic because the school is funded by public school money.


(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:29)


In my opinion, an important, or at least revealing, scene was when statistics of the different percentages of school groups were shown. This portion of the video showed groups of people such as English Language Learners, children with Autism, students involved with the juvenile court system, etc. There was a much greater percentage of students in every one of these groups attending traditional public schools, not charter schools. This reveals that charter schools are not fulfilling their initial goal towards being inclusive to all students, especially students who need a lot of help. Instead, they manipulate the entrance system to cherry-pick students who will get the highest test scores.


(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:20)

(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:20)

(Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 0:21)

I think it is intentional that Mondale modeled the video in this way. She has scenes where she focuses on student art on a chain-link fence. She has interviews with parents and children upset about the schools closing because of funding. She inserts news footage and information about charter schools being viewed as a good thing right after or before a tragic event happened to a public school to appeal to the viewer’s pathos. Mondale is extremely strategic with the slow zoom-ins when the moment is sentimental, and this strengthens her interpretation that charter schools are essentially redirecting traditional public schools money into an institution that has a partial negative impact on the community that the money was originally intended for. Overall, many of the key scenes help to reveals the way that Mondale views the public-school budgeting issues and policies/political leaders that she is against. (Mondale, Backpack Full on Cash, 0:27)


Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. Stone Lantern Films, 2017,

If it’s not tested, don’t teach it: The impact of standardized tests on charter and public finances

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The current relationship between charter and public schools is one fraught with inequity and inequality. Although, in their inception, charter schools and public schools were intended to work in tandem and with competitive spirits to challenge the structural problems facing students and educators and work both public and private funds to find a solution. And yet, intentions aside, the current system that charters exist in today is both indirectly and directly damaging to education overall. Specifically, the newfound reliance and measures to emphasize testing in public school curriculum has only worked to intensify the divide and damage between charter and public schools. Both Sarah Mondale’s film Backpack Full of Cash  and Kevin Welner’s article “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment” corroborate these claims and illustrate examples of the inequity between charter and public schools.

Kindergartener taking a standardized test in class from Mondale’s Backpack Full of Cash (52:31).

A key scene in Mondale’s film is when Jennifer Eilender, a 3rd grade teacher in Tennessee, speaks directly into the camera and says that administrators in her district tell the teachers “if it’s not tested, don’t teach it” (Mondale 53:29). This rhetoric exemplifies how much of an impact testing has on the educational system. Throughout the film, but stemming from this crucial and poignant scene, it becomes clear that the push towards testing in public schools has implications for financial resources provided to public versus charter schools.

Constantly testing students costs money. For example, over a period of 5-8 years, the Tennessee public schools paid $183 million for standardized testing alone (Mondale 53:18). As testing becomes more of a widespread practice after Bush’s The No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and Obama’s The Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, public schools are forced to spend more and more money on the standardized tests.

Heightening this financial predicament, the emergence of charter schools is another revenue stream taken away from education in public schools. The public money that funds charter schools is the same money that funds public ones, so as more charter schools are created in a district, the more money is taken away from the public education. For example, the Philadelphia school district paid $700 million to charter schools in the state (Mondale 40:10). The potential of charter schools to “inject greater competition with public schools” has had distorted consequences that stray far from the original intention of the economic boost (Welner 10). Because charters are privately run, they have no incentives or regulations about testing and therefore do not have to pay for that cost. Clearly, there is an inequitable divide in the spending requirements between charter and public schools.

Backpack Full of Cash??

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Backpack Full of Cash” is an educational reform documentary that focuses on the schemes behind the privatization of public schools especially in a neighborhood where it’s predominantly students of color. This movement starved public schools from public funding, while charter schools got both private and public funding. The filmmakers did a great job of making a clear distinction between the two schools, supported by testimony from students, teachers, and administrators.

One of the scenes that stood out to me was in 2011 when Rep Tom Corbet was elected as governor of Philadelphia. Upon him taking office, the funding for education was cut in $1 billion. What did that mean for schools in like North East High school in Philadelphia? The budget for extracurricular and books dropped to zero and thousands of educators were laid off.

Governor Tom Corbett 6:20

Below you can see an overcrowded 9th-grade classroom with 62 students! It was so crowded to a point where students were sitting on windows of classrooms, and others were even standing in the back of the classroom. Here the filmmakers linger on the students sitting on the windows, and you can CLEARLY see the discomfort on the students’ faces. Striking images of I applaud them for taking the time to focus on the conditions of the horrific state of the school.

Students standing up due to lack of seats in the classroom. 7:00
Back view of the classroom. 6:57
Students sitting wherever there’s an available seat, in this case by the windows. 7:02

How are students expected to learn if they aren’t given a comfortable space to complete their work? In this atmosphere, students will be lucky if they can even get to a seat in time.

One of the students interviewed, Dlorah Ortiz, said that “They just took away every help that we need…They just want to see us fail…”


Student sharing her frustration on her school’s budget cuts. 7:19

While watching the documentary I have to say that it was frustrating not to get any information from teachers. I feel like professionals who spend a chunk amount of time and effort by working at these schools and with these students, I would assume that they would want their voices to be heard.  


Mondale, Sarah, director. Backpack Full of CashTrinMoodle, 2016,

The Beginning of the End of Traditional Public Schools

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In America, in even the most poverty-stricken communities, a basic need that the government provides for is public education to children. Public education has been thought of as leveling the playing ground for children by providing them all with some baseline of education, that will allow them to apply to colleges of their choice and prepare them to enter the workforce. However, a recent trend has thrown the concept of public education and American democracy into a spiral. And that is the privatization of schooling into institutions such as charter schools. Charter schools essentially are managed by private companies, however paid for by local tax dollars. Although it may not sound like that large of an issue, the fact is that these charter schools actually deprive traditional public schools from their funding, lead to shut-downs, and overall severely hinder the education that these children are receiving. In Sarah Mondale’s Backpack Full of Cash, the director explores these devastating effects and conveys them effectively into her documentary.

A key scene that Mondale focuses on is when she shows the contrast between the classrooms available to students at traditional public schools and those available to students in privately-owned charter schools, as seen below.

(Mondale, 1:23:08)

(Mondale, 10:30)

The reason that these two images are so important is that show the audience the toll that charters have on traditional public schools. In addition to charters receiving public funding, money also pours in from wealthy investors. As such, it’s no doubt that they are able to provide their students with digital labs, the arts, varieties of physical education, and iPads in the classroom to assist with their learning. In the images themselves we see a beautiful white classroom with a smaller student to teacher ratio and pupils who are actively involved in their education. Conversely, film-makers included a classroom at a traditional public schools where children are not even guaranteed a place to sit when they come to class. One would expect that charter school students would outperform public school students, considering the additional resources they are provided with, however this is definitely not the case. One could make the argument that if test scores are not different between the two different types of schools, that the system is working perfectly fine. However, the fact is that creativity is being completely crushed at traditional public schools, where students don’t even have a music teacher for all the instruments and gear that remains in the school as a remnant of the times before charters. Additionally, the experience that students have with traditional public schools in areas of extreme poverty likely negatively impacts their own self perception. Why should they receive the worst that public education has to offer just because of their socio economic condition? Why is it ethical for students to be ripped out of schools they have come to love and instead have to travel far distances to get to new schools? In my personal opinion, it’s simply not. Additionally, parents would clearly want their students to receive the best education they can, and if they look at these two images it’s clear where they would want to send their children. However, a plethora of barriers also exist for enrollment into charters where privileged children are essentially “cherry-picked” to attend. This therefore poses the question, is having charter schools even just to students? As clearly the playing field is not equal for students at either school.

Monroe clearly makes multiple strong arguments in her documentary, and uses a plethora of student anecdotes, figure-head speech, and statistics to solidify her claims. In my education reform class, the documentary left a good majority of students in a state of disbelief that young children are having to bear the effects of privatization. A number of us expressed a desire to somehow change the system, and were proud when individuals in the movie moved upward to help with reform for traditional public schools. However, it was upsetting to know that other movie-watchers, including some parents and older individuals in the audience, were not as moved by the documentary. They seemed to express more hesitancy toward the concept of changing a system that is already in motion. I agree that their may have been some minor holes in the movie that causes this hesitancy. For instance, including information from a smaller geographical area (i.e, only charter schools in the states of Philadelphia and New Orleans) may have lead certain audience members to feeling as if though this isn’t as large of a problem as it appears. Personally, coming from a very privileged neighborhood and having attended traditional public schools in that community, I never had to face the issues that public school students in the movie did. Although the documentary did include one city where this relationship isn’t as parasitic, it isn’t a large focus or point of discussion. As such, I would find it really interesting as to what the other side of the argument holds. Regardless, student’s displeasure toward the system stemmed deeply from the fact that even if students all over America are not exposed to such dire public school conditions, there are students that are. And we feel a sense of responsibility of speaking out for students who live in poverty, have mental, learning, or behavioral problems, or come from families of immigrants.

Works Cited

Mondale, Sarah, director. Backpack Full of CashTrinMoodle, 2016,

Backpack Full of… Deprivation and Discrimination?

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While the film is entitled “Backpack Full of Cash” it proves to be an ironic term to describe the deprivation that many students, especially in public institutions, experience when enveloped in a city with a rampant number of charter schools.

One of the most important scenes in the film begins at 26:54 in Backpack Full of Cash. A young student enrolled in a Philadelphia public school explained how she needs art and music- “I need to play my violin like peanut butter needs jelly. I need an art like a tree needs leaves” ( Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash 27:02). This scene is key because the film’s audience isable to witness how important music and art programs are for students through a speech by a student herself. It also displays the negative effects of privatizing education because it removes funding for paramount programs from public schools. The filmmakers shot this scene in an intriguing manner. They zoomed in on the young woman speaking. However, they maintain the individuals behind her in the scene. One woman with sunglasses is smiling as the student speaks, and another woman next to her is smiling as well while holding a bolded letter sign that says “FULL FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOLS.” Therefore, by including the smiling women behind the student, the filmmakers are making the argument that people are enthused, and fully support the movement against lack of funding for public schools. By hearing the student speak, people are able to understand not only how important extra curricular programs are for a well rounded education, but how they are a necessity.



Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash 27:02



There is one hole in the documentary, however. The film mentioned briefly the discrimination against students with disabilities, saying that while they could not legally deny them admission, families would often be told-  “You would be better off in a district school” (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash 20:20). However, the hope occurs with the fact that the audience does not hear any stories from the perspective of students with disabilities. While the stories are represented through other voices, the film is lacking first hand accounts from students with disabilities. This is an aspect of the film I particularly paid attention to since my brother is on the Autism Spectrum. I am an advocate for the representations of voices from all backgrounds, and while I appreciated hearing from concerned faculty and administrators regarding the discrimination against students with disabilities, I would have enjoyed hearing the story of an actual student.


Mondale, S. (Director/Producer), & Aronow, V. (Producer). (2016). Backpack full of cash. [DVD]. United States: Stone Lantern Films and Turnstone Productions.

“Backpack Full of Cash”: A Shining Example of What Should Be

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A key scene in the “Backpack Full of Cash” video includes Union City Public School in New Jersey as a successful example of what public education can look like void of charter school privatization, and if communities invest resources into their public schools. This scene is a strong counter-example to the film’s earlier assertion that due to an increase in charter schools, mass school closings in low income neighborhoods affect predominately people of color. This is because the opening of charter schools works to syphon off the wealthy students from public schools, leaving low attendance and minimal resources in these neighborhood public schools. Yet by using the example of successful Union City Public School, the filmmakers are able to present the plausible, healthy, and apparently doable alternative of investing in low-income public schools to make them better rather than in charter schools to “change” the system. In fact, it is this assertion that we ought to invest in the quality and resources for public schools and not privatized charters, that the film is centered around.

The scene mentioned above shows a traditional urban public high school that, due to a city’s commitment to rebuild and strengthen existing schools, is thriving. Students are receiving a high quality, hands-on education from which many continue on to attend highly selective colleges and universities. The film also describes the resources that these public high school students have at their fingertips as a result of a community that invests in its public schools: a daycare center, social workers, and a clinic with free health care to name a few. This example is integral in creating a convincing argument backed by evidence that the solution to this country’s education gap is to invest resources in public schools. Without a successful example of one such school, the argument would be far weaker. Furthermore, in shooting this scene filmmakers capitalize on pictures of students committing to institutions such as the Air Force Academy, shots of impeccable student artwork (shown below), and a personal testimony from one low-income Latino boy with a success story due to his high school. By highlighting the best and brightest of the school, filmmakers are able to successfully juxtapose this public school to those without significant funding from their community. Such an approach allows for the argument that all school districts should be doing this for their students.

Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 1:15:36


Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 1:15:17

While this film poses some very compelling scenes, there are also voices that are left unheard. Parents, students, and faculty from public schools are given a voice, as are students from charter schools, but one important group of individuals that would have helped the film’s argument are left out: families who were steered away from charter schools due to race, income, or educational needs. The addition of these stories would have created an even more powerful argument, rather than simply hearing about the phenomenon of students being indirectly (but intentionally) selected out of charter schools for such reasons from professionals.

In addition, the stories of low-income families and children at risk for future failure in an inequitable school system (such as those described in detail in Paul Tough’s Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America) who benefitted largely from privatization of education are not included. In order for it to be a fair and equal assessment, such stories should have been highlighted to show the advantages of charter schools. So too should have the stories of charter school entrepreneurs such as Geoffrey Canada been told, who went into school privatization with the sole intention of helping the very marginalized communities that this film claims charter schools harm (Tough). Although the film shows a passionate stance in its argument against school privatization, there are stories that should have been included, which are not, in order to make the claim that it poses a holistic view of the issue.




Mondale, Sarah. Backpack Full of Cash. 22 Oct. 2016.

Tough, Paul. Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canadas Quest to Change Harlem and America. Mariner Books, 2009.


Public Schools Are Crowded Out

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Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 25:02

This scene is a screenshot of a public school’s library. I was shocked when I saw it because if the principal did say it is a library, I would not recognize this as a library. It is important for the audience to understand the situation of public schools that public schools are crowded out. We literally can see and feel public schools are underfunded and experiencing the lack of resources. In this scene, the filmmaker portrayed a dim and small library. As we can see, nobody is in this library, even there is no librarian. Although lights are working, I believe if a student sits on the right part of this scene and read will not able to see words clearly. Especially, in the first half of this scene, a bookshelf with a sign, NEW BOOKS, is empty which means this library did not have new books, and the existing books may out-dated. I anticipate the filmmaker implies not a lot of students do not get benefited from this library because resources are severely inadequate. Ironically, the scene below describes students in a charter school are wearing decent uniforms, sitting in a bright room. They use tablets which reflects high-tech learning to acquire knowledge. 

Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 10:40

 Welner will agree with this video because there is real life example that supports his theory. Welner states, “Charters schools use their marketing and advising power to choose the student they want. If they don’t want to enroll English learners, their advising material will be all English”(Welner, p.2) In this video, a mother and her son explicitly said they had obstacles in applying because she did not speak English and had difficulty in understanding the applying procedure. The mother was disappointed since she was not able to give his son an opportunity to better education. By crowding out public schools, a bigger gap between education and inequality were generated. Students from low-income families had fewer options and the quality of education they received got worse.


Kevin Welner, “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” Teachers College Record, April 22, 2013,

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


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

Backpack Full of Cash: Is Charter Schools Building or Destroying Better Education in America?

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Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 4:41

This scene of a shabby school crest appears at the beginning of Backpack Full of Cash. The bright red crest containing the words “wisdom,” “industry,” and “initiative” seems still reminding the audience about the glorious past that the school had. However, the school crest now was covered with dappled marks, implying the difficulties that the school is facing. The person standing at the left corner of the crest is the principal of South Philadelphia High. He stands still but alone, trying to support a public school that struggles at the cliff of broken and protect the vulnerable students who want to receive a decent education from the public school system. This scene at the beginning of the documentary movie heralds the main topic of the film: how does the school reform of privatizing public schools build inequality within the public school system and restrict venerable students by plundering resources from public schools to Cater schools.

This scene is right behind a direct quote from Rhonda Brownstein, the executive director of The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. According to Brownstein, the public school system in Philadelphia is “ground zero”: “the school reform movement is happening very rapidly in Philadelphia and leading the public school system into a very difficult financial crisis” (Matt Damon, Backpack Full of Cash, 4:02). This shabby school crest followed seems to present her words vividly. Moreover, after the school crest scene, the filmmakers present scenes including hurried students entered the school, crowed students in the hallways, hardworking students carefully taking notes during the class, to show a group of vulnerable students who are fighting for their future but are restricted by their limited resources. Therefore, by using this scene at the beginning to lead the presentation of financial crisis in South Philadelphia High, the filmmakers successfully portray the difficulties that public schools are struggling to overcome and make a solid foundation for the future presentation of the theme of the movie: Charter schools did not prove the failure of the public school system as people expected; instead, privatizing public schools implicitly creates inequality in the school system by pillaging the public resources from public schools, consequently causing the failure in the public school system.

However, the movie does not present the views from students and teachers in the Charter schools and local governors who support public school privatization. In other words, as a movie that coitize the process of privatizing public school, Backpack Full of Cash did not give Charter Schools an opportunity to argue for themselves. The only quotations from the Charter School principals are about the resources the school has. Therefore, if the movie can also present the perspectives from people inside or support the Charter schools, the audience may form a more comprehensive understanding about privatizing public schools and its influences on the public school system.



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

Publicizing Private Partnerships in Public Schools

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The film Backpack Full of Cash discusses the damaging effects of the continued efforts to privatize public education in the United States. In Backpack Full of Cash there were multiple, diverse voices being represented in the film, however, one key voice missing was that of young undocumented students and their families navigating this complex system. Being that undocumented students and their families face an added level of barriers to receiving an education, it is disappointing to see that these voices were virtually erased from the conversation of minorities in the conversation of the privatization of the public education system. Furthermore, millions of undocumented youth are a part of the public education system and thus are consequently affected by the privatization of public education and failing to voice their concerns and the damaging effects this is having on them leaves a big hole in the understanding of the effects of the privatization.

The video’s filmmakers were effectively able to convey the stark differences between the multi-million dollar charter schools and the underfunded public schools. As the narrator explained an issue they filmmakers did a good job of discussing and using visuals to show the vastly different situations and issues each school was facing. These images were effectively placed in context with each other, evoking strong emotions from those watching the film. These contrasts helped create more emotions from within the audience. Additionally, as a student of color that went through the public education system for a part of my education, the film set-up allowed me to feel connected and able to relate to the issues being discussed in the film. This created a much stronger reaction to the film and the issues presented for my peers who came from similar educational backgrounds and myself.

Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash
Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash

Mondale, Sarah. “Backpack Full of Cash.” Backpack Full of Cash, Stone Lantern Films and Turnstone Productions, 2017,

The Duct Tape Fix

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The long-lived debate over charter schools and their value is far from over, with both sides seemingly gaining strength. In the documentary, Backpack Full of Cash, several experts and politicians shared their opinions on the issue. A key scene that I would like to focus on is the scene where they showcased Boris, the  son of a single-mother who is also an immigrant, and his challenging journey to school every morning.

In the beginning of the documentary, the filmmakers showed Boris and his mom buying school supplies for his school––a traditional public school. Later, the filmmakers show Boris and his mom crying together over the news that that school had just been closed due to poor test scores and lack of funding. Boris had no choice but to attend another school that was about a thirty-minute walk each way from his house. Boris’ story is unique, but not surprising when all of the information regarding traditional and charter schools is taken into account. The filmmakers help to highlight Boris’ story by juxtaposing the first part of his story with the second. In the start, Boris and his mother are both happily shopping without any worrying about the future, because there was no thought in their minds that something as horrible as a school closing could happen to them. Contrastingly, the second part of his story is full of heartache, disappointment, and fear for the future. He and his mother are shown at the front of their old school crying and then Boris is shown walking to his school for more than thirty minutes. The sadness of the latter scene is emphasized by slow, daunting music and elongated transitions. By doing this, the filmmakers subtly, yet effectively got their point across that the privatization of public schools is not good and only harms innocent individuals and their families.

Boris and his mother crying outside of their closed school. (Mondale, Backpack Full of Cash, 45:08)

Furthermore, there are some people online who are critical of the documentary, especially targeting Matt Damon, the narrator, and his sending of his own kids to private schools while targeting charter schools in this film. I, however, think that this is due to the utter lack of understanding of just what traditional schools are vs. charter schools vs. private schools. A lot of people think that a school is either public or private without any room for grey area, but in reality there is so much more to it. Just because Matt Damon sends his children to private schools does not mean that he believes that there should not be public schools. Damon explained in an interview with The Washington Post in 2017 that he did this documentary “because it tells the important story of how current education reform policies are increasing inequality and causing harm to our most vulnerable children.” (USA today). Additionally, one person commented on an online forum, “I thought I knew how charters worked, and didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. WOW. Parents, educators and tax payers of all ages would do well to become informed…” (Matt Wells, Facebook). This proves that this film’s goal of helping people better understand how charter schools work was fulfilled. Overall, there are many positive comments about this film, but the  negative ones are the ones that really caught most people’s attention… and I attribute these negative comments largely to a misunderstanding of the system.

In conclusion, the usage of charter schools to “mend” public education is a cop-out, and can best be described as “holding it together with duct tape.” Politicians need to make it a priority to invest more in traditional public schools, and therefore do away with charter schools who take money away from the traditional schools that need it most. We, as a country, need to prioritize our children over the monetary gain of a few large corporates. Our children are the future, and we need to invest in them and their education as such.



“Is ‘Backpack Full of Cash’ on the Money?” USA TODAY, Accessed 9 Apr. 2019.

Moodle at Trinity Login,

Wells, Matt, director. Facebook. Facebook, Liane Groth Hulka, 1 Mar. 2019,