My daughter just started Kindergarten at a New York City public school. The process of getting her there began when she was two years old and I started touring schools, fearing that if I didn’t like any of the possibilities we’d need time to move. The past year has felt like a part-time job, my time filled with tours, applications, and even an essay. Fortunately, we’re zoned for a pretty good school, but children in the zone had previously been wait-listed for reasons of overcrowding. Gifted and talented testing (yes, taking your four-year-old for a standardized test) can open up more options. Then there are several schools of choice, meaning anyone from the district can go, but there’s only one way to get in: a lottery.
The school lottery is the central metaphor in the controversial new film, Waiting for Superman, from the director and producer of An Inconvenient Truth. The film follows five students and their dedicated parents as they try to escape the failing school lot they’ve been given in hope of a better education. Of course, there are only so many seats at the schools that are succeeding, so the only fair way to accept students is by lottery. It is absolutely gut-wrenching to watch these kids, seeing two paths laid out in front of them and the path they’ll take is determined by a slip of paper or number on a ball. Bring Kleenex, and lots of it.