The Lottery, a new documentary about charter schools in New York City, is changing the debate on parental choice in education.  Madeleine Sackler, a 27 year old graduate of Duke University and creator of the film, follows 4 students who have been entered into a lottery to be selected for one of the spots at Harlem Success Academy (a transformative system of charter schools that is catching the eyes of policymakers across the country.) The film will be screened today at 5:30 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Details below the jump.

In addition to the four students and their families, the filmmaker interviews local council members, a writer for New York Magazine, Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker, and many others for their perspectives on why charter schools are an important part of the school choice landscape. Mayor Booker notes that he can’t even attend the lotteries anymore in his city because they break his heart watching the hundreds of applicants who aren’t selected.  Officials from the local chapter of the United Federation of Teachers as well as the National Education Association were invited to present their views. However, they declined.

One scene in the film involves an exchange between a local public official and Eva Moskowitz, founder and principal of Harlem Success Academy.  The official claims that Moskowitz is lying about living in Harlem and demands she tell her and the entire council and residents in attendance her actual address.  This councilwoman is an ardent supporter of traditional public schools and the teachers’ unions.  She attempts to use threats and intimidation to scare Moskowitz away from championing reform with parental choice in education.  Moskowitz is taken aback by the accusation but agrees to swear an oath in private that she 1) went to school in Harlem as a child 2) lives in Harlem and 3) isn’t some outsider trying to wrest control of the schools from the local community.  The chairman of the council interrupts the exchange and personally verifies that Moskowitz does live in Harlem.  Distractions like this only serve the personal interests of the union-political-education complex and not children and parents.

Despite all this, Harlem Success Academy has closed the achievement gap.

  • 95% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the New York State English Language Arts exam, with nearly a quarter achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #2 out of all public charters in the state.
  • 100% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the New York State math exam, with 71% achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #1 out of all public charters in the state.
  • Harlem Success Academy ranks #32 out of 3500 public schools in New York.
  • No public school in the state scored higher than Harlem Success on the math exam.

However, the unions aren’t backing down.  During the annual meeting over the Independence Day weekend, the National Education Association offered resolutions, which ultimately failed, to produce a $25 million documentary against charter schools. The NEA did pass a resolution directing the NEA and its affiliates “to expose and educate the media and the public about allegedly grassroots, pro-charter ‘parent groups’ that are popping up with greater frequency on both the national and local level.”

The best way to end the stranglehold the teachers’ unions have on the nation’s public schools is to allow for parental choice in education, be it vouchers, charters, tax credits, or scholarships.  When parents are empowered, children win.  When the status quo is strengthened, children lose.   This film demonstrates the power of school choice and will leave you in tears at the end.

A free screening of The Lottery at the Pickford Theater inside the Madison Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., today at 5:30 PM. Following the film, there will be a panel discussion. Click here to RSVP.

Michael Wille is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: