The Lottery Analysis

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The Lottery is a documentary directed by Madeleine Sackler. This film focuses on four different families throughout the New York City area that are involved in different urban schooling. These four families are currently enrolled in the charter school lottery to hopefully become a part of the Harlem Success Academy. The viewer has the opportunity to have an insight of the city’s schooling system through listening to the families, policy makers, administrators, and strong advocates speak their minds. The message that Sackler tries to communicate to the audience is that the local public schools are not giving most children the opportunities that would truly advance them. Together, as a country, we can help this problem by emphasizing the importance of education and providing equal opportunities through each school zone.

The theory of change throughout the film starts with the problem that there is not enough space for all of the students that deserve a spot, to receive a spot at Harlem Success Academy, or for that matter, any succeeding charter school. If the public school system was not failing in neighborhoods like Harlem, the charters schools would not be at such high demand. The public schools, in places like Harlem, are failing for many reasons. The emphasis gets put on the teachers, but it is also on the students. The teachers are not as qualified as other teachers throughout suburbia because of the conditions of the school, the staff, etc. With these poor conditions because of the income of the area, less qualified teachers are going to be attracted to these public schools. The students also play a factor because they are less interested in learning. The poor teachers add to this disinterest, but their home lives add to this as well. These students come mostly from poor families; there is a large chance that their families cannot even speak English or did not get diplomas from college or even high school. With unsupportive families at home and unqualified teachers, the educational success results are low. The policy chain is in affect, but has not yet worked itself out. Parts of the policy chain would be: the wait list and the attempt to gain more space for the school which would gain more students. The goals for HSA is that more students have the chance to get a better education to better educate the country, especially is higher poverty areas that are in need of this. This filmmakers did a great job in portraying these problems and goals. Documentaries can get repetitive because of too much narration on a single person.  The film jumps from narrator to narrator where the viewer can see who is speaking. Being able to see the average day of the students and families really made the documentary feel real. The viewer was able to be in the classroom, in the homes of the families, on the playground, and on the streets of Harlem. Seeing all of these places in the documentary lets the viewer feel a connection.

The film makers address the problem of public and charter schools by having people with all different views and backgrounds explain how they feel about their current situation on education. Sackler focuses mostly on people that are in favor of the charter schools. When the charter schools attempted to take over some space of a local public school, the strong advocates against charter schools spoke up. That was the only time that the viewers heard the critical side of charter schooling. The critics about the charter schools stand their ground because they believe the charter school system is unfair. They don’t believe that their ways of educating the students is poor and they don’t agree with the fact that not every student will get the chance to get this education. They are also part of a teacher union and they will not let this dissipate. Their future runs on their union, and the charter schools are run completely differently which could leave them unemployed. These public school teachers believe that the charter school system is bringing about too many problems. In the United States, there are 365,000 students that are currently on a wait list for a charter school. The problem with these protestors though against charter schools come off as too harsh. Both times that they were portrayed they came off as arrogant because of how harshly they criticized the charter schools with such distaste. These critics were arrogant because of the way that the presented their ideas and concerns. Obviously they have more of a reason to worry because their income is based off of the way that the public schools run; they are also being criticized. But, the way that they present it is very aggressive. During the scene where both sides come together in the gymnasium, the critics come off as angry and forceful towards the advocates while the advocates seem to just voice their opinions with reasonable evidence.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.44.33 PM

This image is some of the members of the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN). There are groups around the city like ACORN that are against charter schools or different types of school that take away from public schools. They hold protests hoping to inform more people about why they dislike the charter school systems. Again, this way of protest seems immature compared to the way that the advocates hold debates and lectures to inform rather than walk around with signs. They make claims like, “They only succeed because of their small class sizes,” or, “They do not educate the children with special needs (27:02).” Fortunately these claims are not true and are proven in one of Moskowitz’s conferences. She explains that the average Kindergarten class size at HSA is about 27 students, which is larger than the average public school class size. She also explains that the average amount of students with special needs is 18% which is larger than the average public school percentage (50:19).


Eva Moskowitz is the founder of the HSA and she claims that she has never heard of parents that do not care about education; she claims they just do not have the resources to help their children like the wealthier parents do (9:27). Different people throughout the film have different thoughts on why there is such a gap amongst the students and amongst the education. Gotbaum believes that poverty is the main cause of the educational problems (16:38) and that charter schools are not the answer. Gotlin believes differently and thinks that poverty is not the reason. She believes that there are many challenges, and the school has to take more of a stance and address the problems and figure out how to solve them rather than blame it on something like “poverty (17:10).”

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 3.22.19 PM This is an image of Moskowitz having a conference with fellow coworkers. Personally, I really liked this scene and thought that this was a great clip because of multiple components. First, all of the employees seemed very engaged in what Moskowitz was explain during her conference. Second, the amount of writing on the board shows that the teacher really cares because it seems so intricately laid out; taking the time to use different ways of posting, different colors, etc. Lastly, the YALE sign on the door has a lot of symbolism. It allows the viewer to see that the charter schools  are advocates for getting to the college level and actually into college. It is also presented that the teachers also have excellent educations, even from the best college in the country.

Jessica Reid explains that her only goal for her students is to educate them, but at public school she had little support from her coworkers and peers so it became increasingly difficult. At HSA, the support was more obvious and kept her morale boosted which resulted in her work paying off (23:21). She has meetings with coworkers that want to better their students, like Moskowitz is having above. When someone is able to speak from experience from both sides, like Reid, it adds a lot of evidence. Moskowitz states that the lottery proves that there are thousands and thousands of parents who are most likely in poverty, but are searching for a phenomenal education for their children (25:08). This proof supports Reid’s comment as well.

Louis writes an opinion piece on the Daily News about “The Lottery.” Her writing, in my opinion, was everything that I thought. SInce she is such a well educated woman and travels to see Moskowitz’s school and deeply agrees with her approach, it gives me all more of a reason to believe in Moskowitz’s methods. Louis also touches on Ravitch which I thought was interesting because we have been talking about her ideas on education. Louis explains that there are definitely hardships, she states, “That’s easier said than done. In Harlem and other communities, outstanding performance by charters has provoked envy, resentment and an organized backlash by teachers unions.” But these hardships are cancelled out by the opportunities and positivity that Moskowitz and her employees are providing for the students in Harlem.

The Lottery was a very touching film that explained, in depth, the problems behind public education in areas like Harlem. Harlem Success Academy provides opportunities for students in need, but unfortunately does not have the means to provide for enough students. In order to help fix this problem, we need to spread awareness in order for local public schools to have qualified teachers to educate the students. The more educated students we have in our country, the better the country will be.

Works Cited
The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Perf. Eva Moskowitz, The Goodwine Family, The Yoanson Family, The Horne Family, and the Roachford Family. 2010. DVD.
Louis. “‘The Lottery’ Documentary Shows Education Is a Sure Bet.” NY Daily News. Daily News, 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

An Education Reform Infomercial

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Madeleine Sackler’s The Lottery wholeheartedly expresses the urgent need to support local charter schools. Specifically, the film illustrates this urgency through the failed attempt to establish Harlem Success Academy 2, in New York City (0:56:56). The documentary highlights how Harlem Success, and the broader charter school movement are determined to end cycles of poverty by turning around America’s failing education system. Moreover, the film emphasizes how charter schools only have a limited capacity to admit a small portion of students who apply to enroll in schools like Harlem Success via lottery, which is a public event that gives everyone in a designated school district an equal opportunity to benefit from a high-impact tuition-free charter school education. The need for charter school reform is realistic and evident throughout the vivid imagery of rundown communities and large prisons. The film explains how there are up to four year “achievement gaps” (0:02:53) in education among different schools, races and minorities, and that people expect and plan for a percentage of these underserved students to go to prison. Despite the film’s effective display of the need for education reform, my thesis is that, the documentary is harmful to the broader education reform movement, because it creates enemies and further divides partisan interests and beliefs.

The need for charter schools is at the forefront of every edited clip, and the counterarguments displayed by public school advocates are weak to none. The Teachers Union and local government officials are demonized and pinned as the enemies of education reform, while charter school advocates and parents shed tears, share heartfelt anecdotes and pray to God that they will receive a spot at Harlem Success. The documentary opens by explaining the proven success of charter schools across America, then asks: “why don’t we have more of them [charter schools]?” (0:03:38) The question is raised in many different forms throughout the film, and is indirectly answered by pointing fingers at those who prevent the growth of charter schools. Among every modified scene and statement, the entire film is designed to meet its ending message: (Sackler, 1:16:54).

The last scene of Madeleine Sackler's The Lottery, asking viewers to Mentor, Teach, Donate and Vote to support the charter school movement.
The Lottery, 1:16:54. The last scene of Madeleine Sackler’s documentary, asking viewers to Mentor, Teach, Donate and Vote to support the charter school movement.

As a result, the targeted audience seems to be uninformed community members or participants in America’s education system, because public schools advocates and those who are actively engaged in educational policy will probably not be persuaded by the subjective nature of the film.

In summary, the focal points of the film: schools, parents, students and low-income communities, implicitly align with the charter school movement’s theory of change: If schools have excellent high-performing teachers, proactive parents, and the larger community provides support, space and funding, then any student from any neighborhood can achieve at the same or higher academic levels when compared to their wealthier counterparts, and will move on to earn a college degree. However, the United Federation of Teachers, local government and protests by local organizations such as Acorn, are restricting the opportunity for an equal education and alternative schooling options in low-income districts. Meanwhile, 365,000 struggling students who deserve a better education hopefully wait for a chance to reserve their seat at a charter school.

Throughout the film, the Teachers Union and local government are shown to be the antagonists of education reform and equality. President Obama addresses the need to fix America’s achievement gap, and his comments imply that local governments are to blame for widening the opportunity gap. The film supports its argument with evidence from a recording in 2008, when the President of the Teachers Union, Randi Weingarten, says there should be a “due process procedure” (0:19:50) for firing underperforming teachers, and then seemingly lies about the amount of tenured teachers fired that year. At a City Council hearing on charter school expansion, Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Harlem Success, silences a council member after he attributes her schools’ success to its class sizes (0:52:53), and makes another council member appear untrustworthy after she doesn’t believe that Ms. Moskowitz lives in Harlem (0:53:40). One of the most shocking attacks on the Teachers Union occurs when Ms. Moskowitz mentions the “thuggish,” and “Godfather-like tactics” (0:49:04) that the Teachers Union has used to threaten her. Thus, the film depicts those who are opposed to education reform as nothing more than selfish, aggressive and irrational liars.

In the midst all of the educational and political controversy, viewers are introduced to Eric, and his supportive parents; Gregory, who has a mother that works fulltime and a father in prison; Christian, who lives with his father who recently recovered from a stroke, and are separated from the rest of their family in Africa; and Ameenah, who has a single and deaf mother. Each family anxiously waits for their opportunity to be chosen via lottery, and admitted into Harlem Success. Despite their desperation, only Ameenah ends up attending a charter school. The one-sided argument for the charter school movement is also depicted at a Public Space Hearing, where parents protest the implementation Harlem Success at PS 194. Their comments about how charter schools “divide our neighborhoods,” and “disrespect our [public] schools” (0:30:30) are ephemeral and marginalized. One mother even yells that Harlem Success will only get space over her “dead body” as her child holds her hand and appears to be clueless about what’s going on: (Sackler, 0:32:50).

A son cluelessly watches his mother protest Harlem Success Academy's presence in their neighborhood, at a Public Space Hearing.
The Lottery, 0:32:50. A son cluelessly watches his mother protest Harlem Success Academy’s presence in their neighborhood, at a Public Space Hearing.

In turn, Harlem Success advocates remind parents to think about their children, and the parents who protest Harlem Success are portrayed as angry, self-centered individuals who don’t understand the needs of their children. In an interview with Madeleine Sackler, she says the main reason she made the movie is because: “There are so many parents that are eager for something better” (Adams, 2010), but also shows how some parents are harshly opposed to the charter school movement. Additionally, parents who want better for their children is an innate constituent of responsible parenting, and reflects nothing new.

I believe that the film effectively demonstrates the need for charter schools, but it creates too much conflict by pointing fingers at specific individuals, committees and organizations that impede on the growth of charter schools. If charter schools are realistically going to make a greater impact on America’s education system, they must work together with the Teachers Union and local governments, instead of vilifying these influential denominators. When asked about the most disheartening aspect of the charter school movement, Madeleine Sackler responds: “That the obstacles are so entrenched and systemic, which means that it will require a tremendous amount of political will to overcome it” (Adams, 2010), but her film seems to further entrench those obstacles, and does not speak this broadly about them. Moreover, the film could prompt more political controversy than will. There is a spirit alive in the education reform movement that in an odd way resembles that spirit of other populous movements including the union organizing movement. Common good and finding common ground underpin our democracy in the United States.

While the deeper message beyond the film is that students and parents get left behind because of politics, I believe it spends too much time creating and focusing on enemies. By provoking emotion and anger, the film causes people to take action. But reactions to the film may not be the ones that Madeleine Sackler intended people to take. Jeannette Catsoulis’ article “Education by Chance” in The New York Times calls the film a “one-sided charter-school commercial,” (Catsoulis, 2010) and I completely agree. The Lottery should have hashed out the need for education reform in a more balanced way by interviewing dropouts, then Success Academy graduates; by taking a broader view of a student’s life, and not just showing how badly they want to win the lottery; and by comparing the environment of a Success Academy classroom to a failing classroom. This kind of data is available; and I’m not sure why common ground can’t be examined as part of the urgent quest to improve America’s education system. A more balanced and intellectually honest approach would further strengthen this film’s overall message and impact.


Works Cited

“The Lottery (2010).” N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

Adams, Thelma. “Charter School Controversy: A Q&A With “The Lottery” Director Madeleine Sackler.” The Huffington Post., 15 June 2010. Web. <>.

Catsoulis, Jeannette. “Education by Chance.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 June 2010. Web. 23 Feb. 2010. <>.

Sackler, Madeleine. The Lottery. Video Documentary, 2010. <>.

Singer, Matt. “Review: “The Lottery,” Where Winning Really Is Everything.” Independent Film Channel, 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, 30 Apr. 2010. Web. <>.