Monday, January 07, 2013

"The Lottery": a documentary about minority underperformance in public schools (it is about a lot more than a lottery to get into a charter school)


In Madeleine Sackler’s 2010 film  “The Lottery”  (Great Curve Films and Breaking Glass Pictures), parents enter four kids from the South Bronx and Harlem  into a lottery to attend a charter school in Washington Heights.  Although the film follows the kids, it pays more heed to straight-out documentary, interviewing teachers, administrators and politicians (like Newark NJ mayor Corey Booker) about the poor performance of African-American students in American Urban schools, relative to whites and Asians. 

The film points out that 58% of African Americans in fourth grade are functionally illiterate, and twelfth graders (in NYC) perform at an eighth grade level. 
   
When I subbed in northern Virginia (2004-2007) I found the same trends among Hispanic students, but that might not track everywhere.
   
“The problem is not the parents, the problem is not the kids, the problem is a system.”  The film spends some time documenting the pressure from the Teachers Union to go easy on teachers.  In New York City, teachers go to a rubber room and very few have actually been fired, and not that many have been removed from classrooms for poor performance. The film interviews Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who agrees, begrudgingly, that non-performing teachers should not stay in the classroom. Remember, in 1975, it was the Teachers Union (under Shanker) that helped ease New York City out of its financial crisis and default threat (after the “Ford to City, drop dead” headlines).  I was living in NYC then.
  
The film “Waiting for Superman”  (Oct. 1, 2010 on this blog) had shown a similar lottery to get into a Washington DC school which was also a boarding school.  Working there would have been a challenge.

Recently, the Washington Post has reported that charter schools are much more likely to expel mildly disruptive students (or less serious kids) than regular public schools.  In any case, such kids wind up at alternative schools.  I've subbed at some of those, and the atmosphere at them is quiet, subdued.  Lunch is trucked in from "real" schools.  But they do have PE.  
   
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