Getting In: Charter School Lottery Anxiety
Charter schools have been sweeping the United States as the proposed solution to our failing education system. The past five years have seen countless charter schools popping up and promising a brighter future for children of all ages who attend. First, however, these kids have to get in.
The documentary film, Waiting for “Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim – the director of the popular film An Inconvenient Truth – exposes the anxieties of parents and their children, who are hoping to escape their public schools and get themselves on track for a better future. Most of these families are low-income, Black or Latino, and come from major cities. Chicago, New York, and New Orleans, for example, are three cities that have been major hubs for rising charter schools.
Waiting for “Superman” plays a lot off of the idea that charter schools are a solution, but its major goal as a film is to expose the anxiety around getting into charter schools. Because charter schools fall squarely in the realm of public education, they cannot require any admission fees or exams (although they receive funds from the state) and so instead operate on a lottery system. If families choose to try to get their children in, then these kids are often competing with hundreds of other children from similar backgrounds for, depending on the school, a dozen or so slots.
With this in mind, prospects seem grim. The charter schools that require a lot of good luck to get in tend to be the ones that are very well known and regarded, but the odds are against kids who are trying to escape their failing neighborhood schools. In some cities, like New Orleans, charter schools are becoming more the norm than neighborhood public schools. This brings up an interesting statistic, however: only one in five charter schools actually achieves the promising results that the reform movement touts as the solution to the education problem in the U.S.
A study conducted by Stanford University economists concluded that students’ progress in mathematics in charter schools, versus traditional public schools was, in fact, inconclusive. 17% of charter school students scored higher than those at a matched traditional public school; 37% scored lower; and 46% had no difference in academic results. With this in mind, the enormous amounts of anxiety surrounding the lottery seem a little out of place. With such uncertain results stemming from the results seen in charter schools, it’s no wonder why people across the country are questioning their existence.
Check out the trailer for the film Waiting for “Superman,” a documentary about charter schools and the charter school lottery system. For more information and for a critique of the film, see author and activist Stan Karp’s talk, “Not Waiting for Superman.”
PDF version on Slide Share – The Chicago School Reviews