Civic Issues Blog 2: When Education is a Lottery

The cage spins. The papers rattle. A hand plunges into the pool of fate and pulls out someone’s destiny. This is the lottery system. A student’s education can be determined by this lottery. It’s random, yet the chances are equal. Some will leave with smiles, some with tears.

Why do we let the education of the many of the next generation up to a lottery?

Because there are too many students and parents hoping for a better education, yet there are not enough schools that can provide one.

The lottery system is a system used by charter schools when the school receives more student applicants than spots available. It is a system required by the US law. According to the District of Columbia Charter School Board, during the lottery process, all completed and accepted applications submitted during the enrollment period are PUBLICLY drawn in random order until all spots are filled. It is said to be the way for all children to receive an equal opportunity to enter the charter school, as chance is fair; everyone has equal probability to get picked. Kids aren’t handpicked.  But it’s receiving quite a lot of criticism. I was exposed to this system in the documentary by David Guggenheim “Waiting For Superman” and it opened my eyes to some of the issues regarding public education in America and has in fact inspired me to discuss the issues regarding education equity. The thing that surprised me the most was the lottery system, and thus I am here to investigate it further and expose its use in our education system.

Let me pose a question. Is this system truly fair? While within its own context, yes. There is no bias as to which children get picked; it’s completely up to chance where statistically, the probabilities for all children entered are equal. In addition, supporters describe the benefits of this random mix of students from different backgrounds. It prevents a socially exclusive school.  But is it a random mix? That’s the thing, all those that entered in the lottery system have an equal chance. Which students can apply brings upon a barrier for some, and stratification is the consequence. Applying to charter schools is self selective; those that are unaware of the application and physically cannot apply or do not have the resources to apply, due to unstable family, for example, have yet again less opportunity to receive a better education that they would have at their local public school. Thus, those that cannot apply do not have the same chance as those who can apply, and even among the ones who can apply, some children do not have luck on their side. Lottery winners gain tickets to success, an education that can provide them a career and thus sustainability for their own children, for themselves, for their family. Those who do not get that golden ticket are left in the inferior public school education that is battered by lack of teachers, resources, and motivated children.

According to politicsdaily, 68% of eighth-graders cannot read at their own grade level, more than 6,000 students drop out, and half of these dropouts under age 24 cannot receive a job.

Is it fair that these children, due to their lack of income, lack of a stable lifestyle cannot receive the same chances as other children? Is there another solution?

And who says charter schools can really provide a better education than those of public schools?

That’s a big point of contention that I will dissect next time.

For those that are interested, this is the trailer for “Waiting For Superman”. I highly recommend the documentary; it’s an eye opener, and it has changed my commitment to education. Now it has become an important part of my values. Watch it here:




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1 Response to Civic Issues Blog 2: When Education is a Lottery

  1. Priyanka Solanki says:

    I think that you pose a very interesting issue – how is it possible to reconcile the fact that some students are treated “better” than other students. You’re right that it’s not fair for those students who aren’t picked, but does it have to be fair? I mean, life isn’t fair – everyone doesn’t have the equal chance. Maybe this lottery system almost serves as a precursor system for what the students will actually experience in the future. I don’t think that it’s right to blame the schools because they really can’t be blamed if there are too many students applying. Take Harvard, for example. Can you blame it that it’s acceptance rate is like 3%? But, I do think that maybe the charter schools should make it even more selective so not only will the “best” students be given the “best” opportunities, it would almost be fairer than the lottery system. For the previous statement, I’m not trying to be snobbish, rather realistic. I mean, isn’t that how life works. And, for all the students in the lottery system: May the odds be EVER in their favors. (P.S. We miss you in Sarah’s class!)

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