What It Means to Win the Lottery
by Eric Adler, Co-founder and Managing Director, The SEED Foundation; trustee, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
For all of us who care deeply about ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access to a quality education, the fall of 2010 marks an exciting—and long-awaited—moment. Finally, our national conversation seems poised to address a critical question: what kind of commitment does it truly take if we are serious about preparing all students for college success, not to mention enriching lives and 21st century careers?
Today, education reform is in the headlines, both locally and nationally. In October, the topic will take on a very public and human face with the release of Waiting for Superman, an extraordinary documentary film by Academy-Award winning director Davis Guggenheim. The idea: to do for the topic of public education what Guggenheim did years ago for climate change with An Inconvenient Truth.
For all of the statistics Guggenheim cites in Waiting for Superman, it is the stories of five families that stand out. The film follows these families through five different public schools’ “lottery nights.”
For 13 years I’ve attended SEED school lotteries, in which hundreds of families gather in the school gym to find out if their child will be given the chance to attend SEED. At the lottery, families sit in folding chairs and nervously wait and watch as our head of school draws numbers from a Bingo wheel. If he draws your child’s number, your child is accepted to SEED.
For some children, “winning the lottery” is literally the difference between graduating from high school and attending college or not finishing high school. At SEED, 91 percent of our students who enter their ninth grade year graduate from high school, and 95 percent of our graduates go on to four-year colleges and universities. Comparatively, in our students’ traditional neighborhood schools, only 33 percent of students graduate from high school, and far fewer go to and graduate from college. In short, the stakes of the lottery could not be much higher. The emotions behind this reality come across powerfully in Waiting for Superman.
SEED, like the other innovative schools featured in Waiting for Superman, has proven that if we provide children with the educational tools and supports they need, they will succeed, regardless of their socio-economic status, zip code, or race. So why, as one of the world’s wealthiest and most highly-educated countries, are we denying them of this basic need?
Even amidst the excitement of the happy children who win the opportunity to attend SEED, lottery nights are heartbreaking to me. After you see the film and witness the raw emotions of these hopeful families, I think you’ll agree with me that it simply isn’t fair that a child’s future rests on the odds of the “right number” being pulled from a Bingo wheel. We simply must build more great public schools in underserved neighborhoods.
Waiting for Superman celebrates the difference a great teacher, a caring faculty member, and an excellent public school can make in the life of a child. I’m hopeful that with this kind of national attention, one day soon all of our schools will be held accountable to the highest educational standards and that we simply will not be satisfied until every student is given a real opportunity to succeed in school and in life.
This transformation is within our reach. The wonderful faculty at SEED and the leaders and teachers featured in all the schools in Waiting for Superman give me hope that it is within us to fix a seemingly unfixable system. Further, charitable institutions such as the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region remind me that behind the schools and successes highlighted in Waiting for Superman are thousands of committed supporters, people who share with me the belief that every child can succeed if given the chance. If you doubt this, I know you won’t doubt Anthony. An 11 year old who is featured in Waiting for Superman, Anthony hopes to attend SEED. When asked why, he answers quick and simple: so I can provide my child with a better life. Anthony’s words sum up why we do what we do and why we are so grateful for your support.