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.

The Lottery Video Analysis

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The 2010 release of the film The Lottery, directed by Madeleine Sackler, documents the lives of four families living in New York City who hope to get the winning ticket to educational success for their children via the Harlem Success Academy.  The filmmaker started documenting the families’ lives two months prior to the lottery leading up to the draw, which determined the fate of their futures.

Screenshot from The Lottery 08:54

The quality of education is a hot topic for parents, teachers, and politicians alike because the existing system is said to not provide students with the necessary tools to succeed. The widening achievement gap between African American and Latino students and their white counterparts is gaining more attention. There is a lot of pressure on people in the education sector to find the most effective solutions to stop the growing problem once and for all. Sackler highlights the growing interest in parent choice as the education reform effort to close the achievement gap and provide better educational opportunities for students overall.

Although there are a number of different school lotteries (example magnet school lotteries) Sackler focuses on a charter school. Charter schools are receiving a lot of attention; there are a great number of advocates such as President Obama and non-supporters of the movement. Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Success Academy, explains that charter schools are similar to traditional public schools because they receive public dollars. However, they are different because they are not burdened by the constraints brought on by teachers’ union in traditional public schools. The number one priority is in the interest of the children being served and not of the teachers (The Lottery 08:09- 08:49). Without the constraints of attendance boundaries and its perceived success, the Harlem Success Academy is becoming the most sought after school in New York City for people looking for the best education that money does not have to buy. In addition to the lack of teachers unions, charter schools provide longer school days and school years for students to receive the appropriate amount of instruction to ensure success.

Screenshot from The Lottery 1:14:23

The filmmakers took an interesting approach by focusing the story of the lottery process around four African American families with students entering the kindergarten who believed that compared to their zoned school, the Harlem Success Academy would provide the necessary resources for their children to succeed. The families prided themselves in being active in their children’s education but also knew that their efforts alone would not be enough.

The decision to include families in the film whose students were entering kindergarten subtly imply that the fate of students’ success in school and beyond is determined in his or her early years of education. Many critics, including William Tate from Washington University, feel that film does not provide solid statistics on the performance of the students who attend Harlem Success Academy, but instead just highlight parents who feel like it is their child’s only hope to a bright future (Review of “The Lottery”). Is the Harlem Success Academy truly successful? How are the successes calculated?  The filmmaker should have explored these questions more to give viewers a more holistic view of the project.

Despite the Harlem Success Academy’s advocates declarations of success in their schools, not everyone favors them. One of the most crucial scenes in the movie highlights parents and community members voicing the opinions about not allowing the Harlem Success Academy to take over the building of a zone school that was being closed due to poor performance.

Screenshot from The Lottery 0:31:55

This is one of the few moments in the film where viewers are not solely listening to people who are in favor of charter schools. Viewers can see the raw emotions felt by the parents and community members involved as they rallied against the expansion of Harlem Success Academy. The charter school advocates feel that their opposition has misconceptions about their efforts. Throughout the public forum, Harlem Success’s advocates tried to stress their successes without fully backing up their statements with hard data. After the forum, the Department of Education’s decided not to allow Harlem Success Academy to move into the new school building.

Another crucial scene is lottery day where the fates of the four children were revealed. Two of the four children enrolled in their zone schools while the other two were lucky enough to receive spots at Harlem Success Academy while the other two children had to enroll in their zone schools because they did not have any other options.

Screenshot from The Lottery :09:30


Although the lottery process is not full proof as seen in the film, the filmmaker’s ultimate goal was to drive the parent choice initiative as the next best solution to the education crisis. Charter school advocates will see this film as a great way to support their efforts in the charter movement while others who are have not bought into to the charter school movement will continue to question their effectiveness due to lack of data. All in all this film made a bold statement and should be seen by anyone who is interested in education reform efforts alike.


Works Cited:

Sackler, Madeleine. The Lottery. Video documentary, 2010.

Tate, William. Review of “The Lottery.” Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2013 from

“The Lottery” Review

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“The Lottery” is a documentary released in 2010, directed by the young Madeleine Slacker, which reveals both the emotional and political strain of the turf war between Charter and Zoned schools in Harlem, New York City. The film follows four families who have young, African American children vying for spots at “The Harlem Success Academy,” one of the few charter schools in the area. These charter schools hold annual lotteries giving nearly 400 students a chance, completely by luck, to choose between the charter school and the zoned school assigned by the city. This documentary portrays the vast difference in the education a student can obtain at a charter school compared to an assigned a zone school. Furthermore, this film, though presenting both sides to the charter v. zone school debate, seems to advocates for parental choice and the best interest of children.

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

Before introducing these families, the documentary explicates just how dire the situation is for many students, for the zoned education system does not present a positive outlook for children. Gripping, terrifying statistics are presented, such as the incredibly low success rates of zoned schools; such figures are, for example, the literacy rate of students who attend Harlem schools. Furthermore, the documentary looks into race, and presents the statistic that “the average black 12th grader performs as well as the average white 8th grader.[1]

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

The stories of the families that this film follows are heart wrenching, as each family desperately wants the best education for their children. One father in particular, whose wife and first son live in Africa, have only come to America in hopes that their youngest son can attend a great school and get an education. This father talks about the incredible opportunities America can offer his son, and even states, “The American Dream is so wonderful.[2]” Yet the film presents this dream like a scam, as if the American Dream is a lottery just as is the chance of getting into a great school.

The opposition to charter schools comes mostly from parents, teachers, and public officials who support teacher unions. Unions allow teachers to have tenure, and assured benefits within the school system. However, the film reveals that there is practically no procedure put in place for monitoring teachers in schools that are considered “failing,” or that have high-dropout and low success rates. In fact, the film reveals the staggering statistic that, “According to the Department of Education, of 55,000 tenured teachers, 10 were fired in 2008. In New York City, the cost to fire one incompetent tenured teacher is about $250,000 of taxpayer money.[3]” It appears that in New York City, it is more cost efficient for the city to keep “incompetent” teachers, rather than find staff who will increase the success rates of children. Charter schools, which are financed by taxpayer dollars under a five-year, renewable charter for experimental learning, do not hire unionized teachers. Teachers who work at charter schools are hand selected, and are willing to work longer hours, follow a particular teaching method and more intense curriculum, and work without tenure[4]. Those in favor of unions, such as Betsy Gotbaum, an elected public advocate whose husband conveniently once ran the greatest teaching union in New York City, believes that Charter Schools should not be in existence, for they demoralize the unions.

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

In an interview published by the Wall Street Journal right after the film’s release in 2010, director Madeleine Sackler states that, “Going into the film I was excited just to tell a story,”…but instead, she “stumbled on this political mayhem—really like a turf war about the future of public education.[5]” Just at Sackler states, this film is split between the stories of four families and the politics behind the great education war in Harlem. The opinions of those who advocate for zoned schools are expressed at a hearing, and are shown in the documentary. However, the film seems to advocate for charter schools and the higher success rates that they are offering through the statistics presented. This position is also backed by a scene in this film that highlights the documentary’s perceived favor, wherein CEO Eva Moskowitz of the Harlem Success Academy (a charter school in Harlem), is addressing a council in hopes of obtaining the space occupied by P.S. 148, and turning it into Harlem Success Academy #2. At 51:24 into the film, Moskowitz is viciously attacked by counsel member Carmen Arroyo, whom questions both the integrity, motives, and conduct of the woman who is trying to bring about a greater success rate for students.

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

(Image screen-shot from The Lottery purchased on iTunes)

In sum, this film reveals much about the struggle to bring about a great education to students of all races and incomes. Though some officials believe that economic class is the problem, some believe that racial discrimination is the issue, this film presents something that is unbeatable: there needs to be a change. So the question remains: How is such a change made, and who is going to make it?




[1] The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Variance Films, 2010. Online Viewing.

[2] The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Variance Films, 2010. Online Viewing.

[3] The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Variance Films, 2010. Online Viewing.

[4] The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Variance Films, 2010. Online Viewing.

[5] Weiss, Bari. “Storming the School Barricades.” The Wall Street Journal [New York City] 5 June 2010: n. pag. The Wall Street Journal Online. Web. 24 Feb. 2010. <>.

When did quality education become a gamble?

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The Lottery takes an interesting approach to looking at education. The opening scene starts at a public lottery, the system through which students are selected for charter schools. Eva Moskowitz, founder of Harlem Success Academy, states the thesis of the film in the first 3 minutes of the film, “The notion that one has to get lucky to get a first-rate free public education; it shouldn’t be that way” (The Lottery, 2:22). The film takes a wide span approach to looking at the charter school process. The director touches the unionization of teachers, parental opposition in communities with failing schools, and the public costs of prisons and schools. Charters can provide an exemplary education at or below per pupil expenditure, but the public school system cannot (The Lottery, 18:19). Using this contrast, the film blames the bureaucracy of the educational system for holding back those schools.

The first major point of criticism is the teacher union for holding back educational change and improvement. One principal in the Bronx, Gotlin, discusses the difficulty of firing underperforming teachers in comparison to employees of a business (The Lottery, 18:46). In an interview by Charlie Rose, Weingarten, president of the largest teachers’ union, she avoids the question, “Should teachers be fired if they are not doing a good job?” and argues with a statistic given by the Department of Education (The Lottery, 19:40).

The statistic is then displayed across the screen as if to invalidate Weingarten, “According to the Department of Education, of 55, 000 tenured teachers, 10 were fired in 2008” (The Lottery, 20:40). Moskowitz, founder of Harlem Success Academy, discusses the teachers’ union contract as “the government structure for schools.” The prescribed length of teacher prep periods and the barring of supervision in the classrooms by administrators without notification are holding back schooling (The Lottery, 21:24). These examples of restrictions on teachers at public zoned schools are compared to structures at successful charter schools. This moment serves to provide evidence against teacher unions and advocate for a change in that aspect.

Another statistic that may serve to surprise audiences touches briefly on the costs and expansion of prisons. Looking at failing rates of fourth and fifth grade black males, prison cells begin to be built for the future; the cost of prisons per year more that doubles that of a school: $13,000 per year go to a school versus $37,000 per year that go into a prison (The Lottery, 40:47). This discrepancy pushed the point of tax dollars and spending on pupils. Though only briefly discussed in this way, the use of one of the fathers of a prospective lottery student and his testimony from prison pushes not only this point, but also the need for change. His emotional testimony broken into multiple scenes illustrates a devastating potential outcome for these and all charter waitlisted students.; “365,000 children are on waitlist for charters” (The Lottery, 35:30).

This is a particularly useful tactic for advocating change. Through the use of testimony and statistics, the film serves to question the standing governmental structure of public education.

One particularly moving scene of the film is the city council hearing on charter school expansion, beginning at 48:54 in the film (The Lottery). One council member accuses Moskowitz of not living in Harlem (The Lottery, 53:40). This accusation is bold and unrelated to the course of the action. Moskowitz shares her personal experience of zoning of her children into failing schools (The Lottery, 55:16). This excerpt shows the accusation of Moskowitz for demonizing teacher unions, but proceeds to demonize the council member. While I found this excerpt moving in terms of supporting the charter school movement, I felt the emotional pull here after a range of statistics throughout the film leaves the opposing views unheard.


Earlier in the film, a scene from a public space hearing shows aggressive parents defending their public zoned school. When trying to host Harlem Success Academy 2 in a building of a failing public school, a protest of community leaders breaks out before a public space hearing (29:45). Democratic leaders, parents, and children claim to “fight for justice.”At the hearing, PTA President and parents accuses the Harlem Success Academy 2 of separating neighbors (30:37). The parents of students at the public school become aggressively defensive of the school being taken over by charters. They do not feel the charter school will help the community. Parents of the charter discuss the improvement of education through charters. While showing the opposing views of the parents, the film shows calm parents of Harlem Success students in contrast to yelling parents of the students at the public school. Charter advocates and leaders in the educational movement explain how and why parents do not understand the charter system.

This film tells the story of a flawed system of public zoned schools while praising the charter school movement, pushing for change towards better opportunities. The closing scene of the public lottery in Harlem pulls at the heartstrings of audiences by illustrating both the excitement of one family and child but also the disappointment and loss of hope for those families not being placed in these schools. While the message of the film may be hard to tease out, it is not only for change for more charters. In looking into the website of the film,, audiences are asked to sign a petition for more choices, more funding, and better standards for education. 

Criticism of the film typically highlights the lack of tangible evidence of improvements made by charter schools and lack to recognize downfalls of the system, other than the lack of space and funding. Tate accuses The Lottery of lacking “social science researchers with expertise on charter schools” (Tate, 2).  This scholarly review goes on to point out the lack of empirical research and the lack of “any balanced presentation of evidence” (Tate, 3). Chaney writes in the Washington Post, “”The Lottery” could have done a more thorough job of telling the other side of the story” (Chaney, 1). Both critics bring up valid points. I found the movie to demonize the opposing view without allowing viewers to get the full facts and make their own decision about advocacy. It did not take into account reasons for support of teacher unions or the harsh reality of those students left behind by the lottery system. Their claim that more charter schools for more student opportunities to “win” the lottery is bold, but are they proposing a charter school only system? While their petition is not, it is hard to extract this sentiment from the film itself.

Works Cited

Chaney, Jen.  “Competing for a chance to succeed”,  Washington Post, June, 25, 2010, accessed February 19, 2013,,1164454/critic-review.html

Tate, William. Rev. of The Lottery, directed by Madeleine Sackler. Web. 2 Feb. 2013 

The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Great Curve Films, 2010. Online.


You Win Some, You Choose Some: Charter Schools and the Choice Movement in The Lottery

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In the year 2010, there were 365,000 children on waitlists to attend charter schools across the United States. A poignant documentary that provides a look at the education system in Harlem, New York, The Lottery places a special emphasis on charter schools in New York City School District 5, namely the Harlem Success Academy. We watch as Eric Roachford, Jr., Gregory Goodwine, Jr., Nadiyah Horne, and Christian Yoanson, five-year-old charter school hopefuls, and their parents wait the agonizing two months before “the lottery,” the random drawing of applicants that decides who will attend the Harlem Success Academy and who will attend one of the public schools in District 5. The documentary includes testimonials from a handful of educators and political figures that are prominent individuals in the education system, including Harlem Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz.

All children are capable of success. Moskowitz and other proponents of charter school education argue that the current system employed in the United States does not provide students with fair and equal learning opportunities. The Lottery illuminates the achievement gap between students of different racial groups, citing the four-year disparity between white and black students: “The average black 12th grader performs as well as the average white 8th grader” (The Lottery 0:02:49) and “58% of black 4th graders are functionally illiterate” (The Lottery 0:03:06). Nevertheless, Moskowitz suggests that students of every race, background, and circumstance can, as her school’s motto suggests, become college graduates. The message is clear: the system is flawed the children are not. Every student deserves a phenomenal education, and if they are allowed one, they can achieve great success.

The overarching debate concerns the benefits and disadvantages of the choice movement and charter schools versus the public school system. The theory depicted in The Lottery on school reform is that public education is subpar and the problems lie with teachers’ inadequacies rather than the shortcomings of students or unsupportive, disinterested parents. Short-lived school reform programs have been implemented in public schools time and time again with unsatisfying results. There is a need to shut down failing public schools, according to filmmakers, and the presence of charter schools in districts with floundering public schools is a way to increase parental choice and student achievement.

Public Hearing. The Lottery (0:30:27)

The film includes shots of every day life in Harlem, endearing clips of teachers engaging their young students, and most powerfully, a public hearing in Harlem full of passionate parents and educators debating what is right for District 5. These scenes are so crucial because they demonstrate the reality of the situation and remind viewers that this is fact not fiction.

ACORN Protesters. The Lottery (0:26:34)


There is a point of view notably absent from this documentary. The only perspective viewers get on those who disagree with the establishment of charter schools is that of an aggressive, hostile opposition. The documentary paints those who combat the charter school movement as uninformed and irrational. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), for example, vehemently oppose the charter school movement. Although ACORN is now defunct, at the time of filming, protesters gathered in the streets of Harlem vilifying the charter school movement and those who encourage it. The Teachers’ Union in New York City is also portrayed in a very negative light. Moskowitz accuses the UFT of utilizing “Godfather tactics” to bully anyone who opposes their views. Due to the size of the union, democratic politicians cannot possibly win elections without its support, making the Union a force to be reckoned with. The Lottery does not adequately provide the audience with an objective look at this side of the debate. The film is borderline propagandistic in favor of charter schools due to its one-sided nature.

Nevertheless, the film is moving. As viewers get to see the personal lives of four Harlem families, emotional attachment to these smiling five-year-olds becomes impossible to avoid. The filmmakers do a wonderful job at showing viewers that, contrary to public belief; parents in failing school districts are not always the problem. In fact, many of these parents are driven to help their children succeed. In an interview with film critic Thelma Adams, director Madeleine Sackler explains, “What gives me the most hope is the reason I made the movie: there are so many parents that are eager for something better” (Adams 1). At the very end of the documentary, viewers are called to action; called to “Mentor Teach Donate Vote” (The Lottery1:16:53), and in that moment you will never have wanted to do that quite so badly.

The Lottery (1:16:53)

Works Cited

Adams, Thelma. “Charter School Controversy: A Q&A With The Lottery Director Madeleine Sackler.”   The Huffington Post. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.

“FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions About Charter Schools.” California Charter             Schools Association. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.

Sackler, Madeleine, dir. The Lottery. 2010. Film.

An Analysis of The Lottery

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The Lottery is a compelling and thought-provoking documentary directed by Madeleine Sackler.  It came out in 2010 and since then has generated a large amount of controversy and debate.  The film follows four families from the Harlem and Bronx who have entered their child in the charter school lottery. The charter school that is highlighted is the Harlem Success Academy, which has gained recognition in the New York City area due to its impressive results. Charter schools must be tuition-free and accept children based on a lottery system to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of being admitted. Harlem Success Academy has two schools (named one and two, respectively), but because of a limited number of seats many more children miss out on receiving this unique charter-school experience. The Lottery begins by introducing these four children and their families, and then segues into the work of Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Harlem Success Academy, as she attempts to expand the Academy into more low-income communities and the challenges she faces while doing so. The film also goes into detail about the strained relationship between teacher unions and charter schools, as well as those who are against allowing charter-schools to be a publicly funded alternative to traditional district public schools. There are many interesting interviews with charter-school advocates and employees of district schools.

The overarching theme of The Lottery is the importance of equal education for all children, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. The film highlights the substantial achievement gap between African American children and white, upper to middle class, children. It is clear that Sackler created this documentary to expose the problems that exist within public schools systems and the strict regulations that they are force to follow. It is fervently against teachers’ unions, and portrays them as one of the major obstacles holding back student achievement on all levels. One particularly compelling moment in the film begins at 20.15, when then union president Randi Weingarten is interviewed on Charlie Rose. When asked if the statistic that out of 55,000 teachers working in the education sector, only 10 were fired, is true, she denied it on all accounts. There was a clear disconnect between the interviewer and Weingarten, which was highlighted by Sackler’s directive touch. After the short segment, the screen shifted to black and was filled by the words, “According to the Department of Education, of 55,000 tenured teachers, 10 were fired in 2008” (The Lottery 20.33), which directly contradicted what Weingarten said moments earlier. This was a powerful part of the film, and cemented it in a clearly anti-union light.

Randi Weingarten, President of the teachers' union, is interviewed (The Lottery 20.15).

Moskowitz is portrayed as the clear protagonist amongst many other people that come in and out of the film advocating for charter schools. The obstacles she faces as the leader of the charter school movement are carefully depicted throughout the film. At 29.44, a segment begins with Moskowitz speaking at a public hearing in order to try and move Harlem Success Academy 2 into the space of PS 194, which had recently shutdown and labeled due to its failing status. She is attacked by several community members who do not want a charter school to move into the neighborhood, as well as local politicians who question whether she is actually a resident of Harlem. Sackler carefully constructs this segment to portray Moskowitz as the victim who is confronted by challenge after challenge, all because she wants to implement a school that educates students no matter what the circumstances are.

There is no doubt that The Lottery is extremely one-sided in its take on the hype surrounding charter schools.  It is opinionated and conveys the message that the underlying solution to the problems facing education is charter school implementation. The film’s final plea to its audience is to support great schools in the community, and to Sackler great schools come in the form of charter schools. One of the most profound quotes within the film that illuminates the importance of charter schools comes at 46.37 when Cory Booker, elected mayor of Newark, New Jersey, states that we should “make time the variable and achievement the constant,” (The Lottery) as charter schools do with their lengthened school day and year. The Lottery is uplifting in the sense that it provides a promising solution to public school education and establishes a clear villain—teachers’ unions. However, this biased approach naturally leaves several holes in the documentary and omits other possible solutions or problems that contribute to the large achievement gap and low graduation rates within inner-city schools.

The film fails to mention the negative results of charter schools, or what the possible effects of planting a charter school in the middle of a traditional neighborhood could be on the surrounding community. The problems that having a lottery system that admits students and essentially determines their academic success is problematic as well, and a theme the film only briefly mentions. The portrayal of the union as the enemy is also complex. Though the limited evidence the film brings up is interesting and undeniably supports charter school implementation, there are other issues that contribute to failing public schools. Insufficient funds, unsatisfactory teachers, and larger policy-related issues are not addressed, as William Tate addresses in his review of the film. He states that, “While no studies are presented in the documentary, there are plenty of descriptive statistics tossed about” (Tate 2). There is a lack of research and studies that support Sackler’s claims, and while testimonies are incredibly moving, it is easy to see how The Lottery generated so much debate when it was first shown. The depiction of the Harlem Success Academy is unbalanced, and we are shown very little of the success or results of these charter schools compared to their district counterparts.

Works Cited:

Tate, William. Rev. of The Lottery, directed by Madeleine Sackler. Web. 2 Feb. 2013

The Lottery. Dir. Madeleine Sackler. Great Curve Films, 2010. Online.

The Lottery

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“The Lottery” is a documentary that follows four different families with the focus on four children, Eric Jr., Greg Jr., Christian, and Ameenah. Through the lens of these children, the film tracks their hopes of being admitted into a local charter school Harlem Success Academy through luck of the lottery. The film presents the knowledge of these individual children as well as the parents desires to send their children to an excellent school, which they believe is Harlem Success. It intertwines these personal stories with interviews that demonstrate the benefits of charter schools as well as the debate and controversy surrounding charter schools.

A movie review by the New York Times, highly criticizes the film “The Lottery”. In fact, the review critiques, “With a little tweaking “The Lottery” would fit nicely into the marketing materials for the Harlem Success Academy”.[1] The review continues to group this documentary with others such as “Cartel” for advocating for charter schools. However, unlike some other documentaries like “Cartel”, “The Lottery” pulls at the heartstrings of the viewer, hoping to convince people that more charter schools are needed.

In concordance with the New York Times review of the movie, the filmmaker makes very little effort to hide the support of charter schools. The movie comments on the ever-pressing achievement gap between white students and black students as well as the achievement of white students and Hispanic students. Without blatantly or directly stating that charter schools will fix this issue, the film actually comments on the importance of a good school, the value of motivated teachers, and the influence of parenting and the family life on a student’s performance. The filmmaker obviously believes that a good school consists of engaged teachers who can stimulate their students, while also having a strong support system of the family. In fact, the movie even states that it is not the children who fail the system, but rather it is the system that fails the children because all children are capable of learning.

The film also addresses some of the problems that public schools face. Through an interview of a principal at a local public school in Harlem, the bureaucracy that “saddles” the public school system, as Eva Moskowitz calls it, is presented. However, the film is making an attempt to not be completely biased by getting her opinion.  Furthermore, Ms. Moskowitz comments on the issue with teachers unions and tenure. She argues that public schools have difficulty firing teachers that are not qualified or good teachers while at the same time insinuates that Harlem Success Academy is so successful because they can fire poor teachers without the bureaucratic process.

"The Lottery" - 0:20:49

The filmmaker uses a taped interview with Charlie Rose and the speaker for the Teachers Union as well as statistics to drive this point home.[2]

A direct consequence of the Teachers Union that Ms. Moskowitz argues against is that it prevents the collaboration of teachers, principals, and other people of authority such as herself to improve their teaching skills. In order to be able to participate in this engagement of collaboration though, Ms. Moskowitz feels it is necessary to be able to observe the teachers in their classroom, especially unannounced. However, public schools do not have that privilege because the Teachers Union prevents unannounced observations of teachers.

Continuing with the theme of playing on the emotions of the viewers, the principal of the Harlem Success Academy speaks of the public school where he formerly worked. To add to the dramatics, the principal tears up while he speaks of the poor conditions of the school and as a result the system failing the children he taught.

"The Lottery" - 0:26:28

To contrast all the promotion for charter schools, the film interviews the members of ACORN who were outsourced by the Teachers Union to help rally against Harlem Success Academy 2 take over the building of a current public school in Harlem.[3]

"The Lottery" - 0:32:58

Furthermore, the film shows part of a “space hearing” that was held in regards to Harlem Success Academy 2 replacing the local public school. Some of the mothers and families of the children who attend the local neighborhood public school feel very passionately against shutting down the public school and replacing it with a charter school. [4] The argument against the Harlem Success Academy 2 is not necessarily an argument about public school v. charter school but rather it is not necessary to close the neighborhood pubic school in order to create a new charter school.

However, it quickly moves back to appealing to people’s hearts with the scene of Greg Jr. going to visit his dad at the correctional facility.

"The Lottery" 0:42:09

Through segments of an interview with Greg Sr., the father of Greg Jr., he comments on the importance of education and how it may have prevented him from being where he is today. [5] He also reflects on the motto of the Harlem Success Academy of telling the children that their goal is to be a college graduate and says, that in his entire life he has never been told that, which is a powerful thing.

The interview with Greg Sr. is paired with an interview of a Harlem Success parent, Karl Willingham, who speaks of the greatness of the charter school. He says, “Do you remember when you were a child and you wanted to be an astronaut or a scientist or president of the United States and you couldn’t because no one taught you which direction to go to get there. So wanting to be an astronaut seemed as far away as the moon which, um, its really no that far but no one told you that and you just don’t want to see anyone else miss out because no one told them they could have it”.[6] This scene is very powerful because its asking a parent if they want to take away the dreams of their children, while also insinuating that charter schools are the way to put them on the path to the dreams because the public schools will fail them.

"The Lottery" 1:11:44

The last scene of the movie before recapping what the future holds for each child that they followed it the actual lottery. It is not possible to not tear up during this scene unless you are heartless and do not want any child to have a future. [7] That’s the power of the film, it convinces the audience that these kids will not have a future by going through the local public school system, they need to attend a charter school in order to achieve success in their life. The excitement expressed by the mother of Ameenah is relief and hope and confidence all raveled into one that her daughter will now have the best life possible for her because she will be attending Harlem Success Academy.

The film obviously advocates for the education reform movement of choice through the creation of charter schools. Besides addressing the flaw of charter schools taking the place of neighborhood public schools, the film fails to address any other flaws of the charter schools. For instance, it never addresses any of the statistics that state charter schools are not always more successful than the local public school.  However, the film does do a rather impressive job of addressing the perspective of the children, the parents, the teachers, the members of the Teachers Union, and the principals. On the other hand, most of these people are advocates for charter schools.


[1] Jeannette Catsoulis, “Education by Chance”,  New York Times, June, 10, 2010, accessed February 19, 2013,

[2] The Lottery, directed by Madeleine Sackler (2010; Variance Films), 0:20:49.

[3] The Lottery, 0:26:28.

[4] The Lottery, 0:32:58.

[5] The Lottery, 0:42:09.

[6] The Lottery, 0:55:55-0:56:53.

[7] The Lottery, 1:11:44.