Want a Better Education? Draw a Number (by Guest Blogger Janice Nakamura)

the lotteryThis week I watched the acclaimed documentary, “The Lottery.”  This documentary is about Harlem Success Academy, a public charter school that emphasizes on helping students achieve higher reading or math results.  Now, I won’t give you entire synopsis of the documentary, that is for you to watch!  However, I can give you a slight bit of the rundown of the issues they addressed in the film and what we are currently covering in our capstone class.

The film focuses on four families trying to get their child in a spot into Harlem Success Academy, in hopes of a better academic life and future.  Founder Eva Markowitz has dedicated her life to revamping and creating the charter schools to be accessible to as many students as possible.  Her goal, as well as Harlem Success Academy’s goal is to say to students, “I am going to help you become a college graduate.”  That said, families are willing to do what it takes to have their child into the academy, which does an annual lottery system to select students that are admitted to their school for the following academic year.

 From what the film states, there is a massive achievement gap that is growing bigger and bigger each year, currently a four year gap between the average African-American twelfth grader having the same abilities as a Caucasian eighth grader in all subjects.  The interesting view I noticed in the film was that some school board members, state representatives or whatnot, have all said that they know what it takes for a school to be successful.  Harlem Success Academy is doing just that, but the question I keep asking myself is, why aren’t we seeing this elsewhere and why aren’t there anymore other schools like it? 

Back home in Hawaii, there were two charter schools that started about ten years ago.  Both still exist, but I do remember in the newspapers about how these two charter schools were shutting out students that wanted to attend but could not due to funds or students who were not able to make it in the regular school system, were eventually brought over to the schools.  I honestly had a bad impression of charter schools growing up and was clouded over stereotypes over the fact that it was either children who did not do well in school or were misbehaving, went there.  Children who’s parents could afford it, went there.  Parents negatively thinking our public school systems did not qualify, they sent their students there.  Those were some interesting things to think about.  Honestly, now that I learned more and continue to learn more in the topic, I think charter schools are positive ways to help students who struggle, but also students who want to be there as well.  In the film, none of the students that were filmed struggled with reading difficulty, but it was parent preference that they sent their children to Harlem Success Academy.  So, charter schools enable families to have a choice in what school they want their children to attend rather than zoned schools.

However, I’m beginning to wonder how does this become the choice for everyone?  I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it was heartbreaking that during the film some people did not get chosen for the lottery.  I think that the context of ‘lottery’ is a bit negative, especially when this golden ticket sets the path for a child, and one that does not receive the good news, well…try again next year or go somewhere else.  So, why are we making the future a gamble?  Shouldn’t everyone have a fair shot?  Of course, in our culture, the American Dream, we are told that if we work hard, we will succeed.  In this case, what if your cards don’t play out?  I believe that charter schools are an excellent way to improve a child’s academic life, but I still believe there is so much money, resources, staffing, and more that needs to be done to ensure that this opportunity is given to all students, not by the draw of a hat.

Thanks for reading,



12 thoughts on “Want a Better Education? Draw a Number (by Guest Blogger Janice Nakamura)

  1. Before this class and our discussions of charter schools I also had a bad impression. I didn’t realize that they were publicly funded and thought that students who’s parents could afford it and work around the schedule went there. I also thought it was for students who misbehaved or had issues in the regular public school system. I only knew one girl who went to a charter school, we were in middle school when I met her with a friend of mine and we sat outside with her while she smoked…in middle school! I was not used to that kind of behavior and I thought it was really bad at the time and that was the main basis for my bad impression of those schools being for trouble makers.
    I now agree with your post that charter schools have the potential to make a big difference for students who struggle in our standard education system. There is so much flexibility in a charter school system and the types of students they can provide service for. I did not see the movie but it sounds like, from your writing, that the parents wanted this academy for their children and put in the effort to get their child into the lottery. I read #30 ‘Little house in the Hood’ in our class text City Kids, City Schools pg.290 where it talks about the changing Harlem neighborhood and what the impoverished residents fought for such as a local grocery store. This text also talked about the rush to upscale this neighborhood and how it will effect the “stable” residents, those families who are poor and struggling but have lived there always. These are the students that most need this type of charter school and worked hard to have that recognition and access to the services. It is sad that its based on a lottery system and so many children have to be turned away to struggle elsewhere. This makes me wonder how the impact of gentrification will effect the underprivileged students access to Harlem Success Academy or their ability to stay living in the neighborhood as it improves and inevitably raises the cost of living.

  2. Thanks for your post Janice. It appears to me that charter schools give students and parents a choice and some control over their education. The failings of our public school system and the distrust that results from our inability to offer equal access to quality education for all students is well documented. No wonder families want to remove their children from public education and place them in schools that appear to put the focus where it should be, on the students achievement. Still, something about this doesn’t sit well with me.
    I know that there is on-going debate about the structure, funding, and even the motivation of alternative schools. I have heard charges leveled against charter schools including accusations about the mismanagement of funds and even theft. I don’t know enough about those issues to give an opinion. But I do feel strongly that the United States should offer a quality education to all of it’s children, and that this education should be free of cost, and equally accessible for everyone. Even as I write this I feel like some kind of idealist, like this is a pipe-dream, and that’s a shame.
    I don’t know if charter schools are the answer. I wish they weren’t needed at all. I suppose that if public education remains the shambles that it is now, what choice do people have but to look elsewhere?

  3. Hey Erik,

    You make an excellent perspective about public charter schools and how they in a sense downplay our public education. I believe that if in a perfect world, perhaps we had ideas of how to create excellent public schools without families feeling the need to label public schools as bad. Sure, I went to a public school for my last 2 years of high school and it wasn’t amazing. But, it is up to families and the support of the school to do what they can for their students and to assert themselves in a situation. If one is able to find the silver lining in bad or good situations, we can also develop as better individuals based on what we have and what we have to work with. So, I also feel that the charter schools will work, but I often am at this conflict that the charter schools will only work for a select few families. So, are we really solving the problem of the schools and giving everyone an opportunity to choose elsewhere? Are we conflicting our values of our education?


    Janice N

    • Labeling schools is a challenge, I thought my high school for example was fine, I had friends who loved it and I knew people who hated it. Every student and family is different and feels differently about the schools they attend. I feel that is where the role of charter schools comes in, they can provide that flexibility that is truly needed by some. But determining who those who truly need them is tough and what about the rest who don’t realize that is an option or lack the ability to advocate for their children to attend this type of public education. I think charter schools are important but they cant be the main means of education in our country until there is a system in place that protects the students and families that use them.

  4. I, too, had a bad impression on charter schools and the whole lottery thing before our class discussion. I do feel like charter schools are also contributing to the achievement gap not only in New York, but all over the US. I also agree with you Janice on how the lottery shouldn’t dictate a child’s education career if they don’t get that magical “golden ticket” into the charter school they want. What if a child is SUPER excited to get into a specific charter school, and they don’t make the cut….? Then the child is disappointing and not as motivated in school because they have to go to the “other school”, or another charter school that isn’t in as good of a neighborhood? These are all issues that I would think about as a parent and the school board members/state representatives should be discussing and thinking about as well.

  5. What I’m finding interesting here is that so many of us had a bad impression of the charter school model before the reading we did this week. It makes me wonder, have we been wrong all along or did we just read articles that put a more positive light on the schools?
    I grew up in a rural area with a charter school, and I had the same impression Janice, Nicole, and Amanda had, that kids who didn’t make it in public school, had behavior problems, or had a child were sent to the charter school. I think the idea is good, and I think that people should be given a choice in their child’s education, but in practice is this really working out? If it is, why are so many people let down by this lottery system each year and why do so many of us, each from different areas, have such a negative view on charter schools overall?

    • I wonder if part of the reason we didnt know much about charter schools is because we did okay in regular school settings. I as a student at the time had no idea what charter schools really were and had no reason to become informed and neither did my parents. It seems that most people just assume there child will go to a regular public school and that’s that. Those students who we knew that went to “specialty” schools had a reason for their parents to learn about them or have it recommended to them by counselors and teachers who were informed. That could be why we saw the majority of students in charter schools as those students who had a reason to be there instead of in the same school that we attended.

  6. Janice,

    I think the line “…why are we making the future a gamble?” really summarizes your whole piece. If it is in fact an inalienable right for children to get a quality education, why is it that we can only provide it to a select few? How will the charter school system perpetuate itself so that all students have equal access to education?
    It seems like a bit of a long shot. Too few spots for too many children.

    • Bradley,
      That line stood out to me as well. I think it illustrates the fact that although charter schools may be a valuable option for certain students, that’s the problem: only certain lucky students reap the benefits. In the long run, why rely on a solution that is so exclusive to only a certain number of students? While I think there are certain aspects of the charter school system that could be integrated into a greater solution, we need to find a way to improve the education system for everyone.

    • So true! And what happens if your child doesn’t get in the first time, is that it for good? What if you have multiple kids, is there a guarantee that they’ll get to go to the same school? If not, something is seriously wrong with this picture…

  7. Hey Janice,
    Great post and ideas! The concepts and models that are presented in this movie make me question what type of educational options my future children will have. Will they receive an education that I feel is adequate enough to prepare them for the real world? I’m not entirely sure. I want my future children to have the best education possible, as many parents do, but how can I ensure that?

  8. Janice,

    I, like some of the above responders, also believe that charter schools could be a very beneficial response to the public school problems that are prevalent today. I do, however, have a problem with the lottery system that is used to admit student’s into these institutions. Personally, I would prefer an application, that would take into consideration each student’s unique qualities, achievements, and experience. This appears to be a good way to ensure that all student’s that are admitted, were admitted for their personal accomplishments. However, this does not make admission equal for all students. Those students who do not have any achievements or did not receive any opportunities to create a portfolio would be at a disadvantage. Those students whose parents did not take an active role in their education are also at a disadvantage. Using charter schools to better our educational system appears to be a good idea and place to start, but is the lottery the best way to admit students? Could the application process be implemented to ensure that all student’s have an equal chance of admission?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s