High Stakes Education

By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
A new movie is premiering in theaters across the country. Titled, “The Lottery,” this film isn’t about hitting the jackpot and winning millions of dollars. It is actually about much higher stakes: the future of millions of individual American children. The film takes a particular focus on low-income families and their attempts to have their children flee the public school system each year.
“The Lottery” follows four families from Harlem and the Bronx who register their children in a charter school lottery.  As the film demonstrates, there is simply not enough room in charter schools for parents who want to take their children out of the failing public school system. So, as in many big cities, New York City has a lottery system to determine which students and families will have that choice. As most of the children coming from these families and attending public schools are functionally illiterate, being picked (or not picked) in this lottery could make a world of difference.

One of their biggest obstacles to increasing charter schools and expanding other parental choice programs is teacher unions. As highlighted last month by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, teacher unions collect hundreds of millions of dollars each year from teachers and taxpayers, and they often go to all lengths to prevent any kind of parental choice. As Governor Christie said, children are “trapped by an educational bureaucracy” who care more about protecting their own interests than about the most vulnerable children in inner cities across the country.

Disagree? I challenge you to watch “The Lottery.” It is playing in select movie theaters – or you can buy a copy on DVD. Renting a whole movie theater for a week would be much less than the teachers unions are going to spend to continue the monopoly public schools have on your children’s education.

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Responses to “High Stakes Education”:

  1. FN says:

    And if there is such a demand for education in these lower-case stratas—since as you say, people are fleeing this cage of public education—why hasn’t the free market simply filled this gap? If KFC and McDondalds and Pizza Hut and Dominos thrive in these areas, why hasn’t the (your) free market solution simply obliterated the option by providing an option which these people can afford?


    My take: Public schools are not successful in these areas not because they are public; rather, they are not successful because these areas are poor, because they are populated by peoples who do not, compared to their bourgeois neighbors in, say, Manhattan, meet the cultural standards of success or education. It is called cultural capital, and these populations’ ‘deficiency’ in it—in speech, vocab, manner, interests, style, culture—in comparison to their richer, more afluent peers, gives them less of a chance to function or succeed in any bourgeois school setting, let alone in a ghetto, where consumption itself buries people in more poverty. Fix the poverty and you’ll have kids doing better in education.



  2. Francisco says:

    FN. I couldn’t agree with you more. Public schools in more affluent areas most often have better facilities, more experienced teachers, and an environment with less distraction. Not to mention, the students attending schools in the inner cities often have more distractions: drugs, gang violence, not to mention their parents are often struggling to make ends meet.

    This is one reason we need changes in our education system. The school you attend should not be determined by a 5-digit zip code at the end of your address.

    Wealthy families already have school choice. They can afford to send their children to private schools or keep them in the public school in their neighborhood. Poor and many middle-income families do not have such choice. This is why we need to expand choice to them. One way that is being done is through “the lottery” system that gives a certain number of those low-income families an opportunity to attend a charter school. Another is through a tax credit scholarship, such that is offered here in Florida (http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/Information/ctc/)

    I actually take issue with part of your assumption though. You say that we need to “fix the poverty” and we’ll have kids doing better in education. How do you “fix the poverty?” I believe providing more choices in education, giving these students more opportunities to succeed, will ultimately be part of fixing that problem.

    The current system of throwing money at welfare programs and public housing has only proved to leave families and communities in a perpetual cycle of poverty for nearly a half-century now. Let’s not just give these folks a fish to eat. Let’s teach them how to fish. The first step is giving them a choice.



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