"The average black or latino 12th grader reads at the same level as the average white 8th grader" ... starts the video trailer to The Lottery.
The problem is a system that protects academic failure, along with unions like the United Federation of Teachers protecting the whims of adults at the expense of the children. The war against charter schools is a turf war.
In the spring of 2008, Ms. Sackler, then a freelance film editor, caught a segment on the local news about New York's biggest lottery. It wasn't the Powerball. It was a chance for 475 lucky kids to get into one of the city's best charter schools (publicly funded schools that aren't subject to union rules).
"I was blown away by the number of parents that were there," Ms. Sackler tells me over coffee on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recalling the thousands of people packed into the Harlem Armory that day for the drawing. "I wanted to know why so many parents were entering their kids into the lottery and what it would mean for them." And so Ms. Sackler did what any aspiring filmmaker would do: She grabbed her camera.
Her initial aim was simple. "Going into the film I was excited just to tell a story," she says. "A vérité film, a really beautiful, independent story about four families that you wouldn't know otherwise" in the months leading up to the lottery for the Harlem Success Academy.
But on the way to making the film she imagined, she "stumbled on this political mayhem—really like a turf war about the future of public education." Or more accurately, she happened upon a raucous protest outside of a failing public school in which Harlem Success, already filled to capacity, had requested space.
Finding out that the teachers union had hired a rent-a-mob to protest on its behalf was "the turn for us in the process." That story—of self-interested adults trying to deny poor parents choice for their children—provided an answer to Ms. Sackler's fundamental question: "If there are these high-performing schools that are closing the achievement gap, why aren't there more of them?"
The reason is what Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academy network and a key character in the film, calls the "union-political-educational complex." That's a fancy term for the web of unions and politicians who defend the status quo in order to protect their jobs.
Charter schools and/or homeschooling are the only legitimate answers to the problem.
The responsibility of parents for the education of their children is deeply rooted in the spirit and history of America. In his book, IS PUBLIC EDUCATION NECESSARY?, Samuel Blumenfeld points out that there was no mention of education, much less "public/government" education in either the Declaration of Independence or the federal Constitution. Even if one were to argue that education fell within the jurisdiction of the states, rather than the national government, one is hard pressed to explain why only two of the constitutions of the original thirteen colonies (Pennsylvania and North Carolina) mentioned the subject. This absence of concern for what is today deemed to be one of the most central of government functions (both on the federal and state levels) is not too hard to explain.
Education, both before and after the American Revolution, was certainly not the responsibility of governments. The educational backgrounds of the signers of the Declaration and Constitution attest to the richness and diversity of the voluntary educational environment of the time. Their schooling encompassed "every conceivable combination of parental, church, apprenticeship, school, tutorial, and self-education." As Blumenfeld observes: "George Washington was educated by his father and half-brother, Benjamin Franklin was taught to read by his father and attended a private school for writing and arithmetic," and "Thomas Jefferson studied Latin and Greek under a tutor."  Charles Dabney, in his book UNIVERSAL EDUCATION IN THE SOUTH, reports that "a great advance in educational enterprises of a private and ecclesiastical character followed" the years after the American Revolution. "The wealthy established private schools. Academies and colleges were started wherever a few pupils could be gathered together and teachers found. A new ideal of education was in the making, ... ."