Above is the trailer for Won't Back Down, an apparent movie-as-road-map for the application of the latest idea buzzing amongst the so-called education-reform* crowd: parent-trigger laws. Such laws, pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), allow parents to gather signatures from other parents and teachers and essentially take over a school.
In Tennessee, a similar law allows for a public school to be converted to a charter school if parents of 60 percent of the schools students, or 60 percent of the school's teachers, sign a petition agreeing to the conversion. It's not much of a trigger though. The law also requires that the local charter authorizer — the Metro school board, for now — must approve the conversion and that parents cannot appeal to the state.
Whatever you think about that idea is one thing. But it's worth noting that all indications are that Won't Back Down is more concerned with evangelism than entertainment. Just look at the trailer. The System Can Fail. Maggie Gyllenhaal loves her kid. Viola Adams will make you cry. Be The Change. What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger!
I haven't seen the movie yet, but The City Paper's Joey Garrison attended a screening last night, which began with opening remarks from Mayor Karl Dean. An excerpt from his report is after the jump.
“Won’t Back Down,” which doesn’t officially hit the theaters until Sept. 28, came to Nashville Monday as part of a series of sneak-peek screenings in 17 cities across the country. The organizations StudentsFirst, led by former Washington, D.C., chancellor Michelle Rhee, and the Tennessee Charter Schools Association sponsored the event. Screenings began at the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Critics will call “Won’t Back Down” propaganda in its purest form. And to their point, the film advances narratives that education reformers have voiced for years.
The movie — which oversimplifies the trigger process — features a tenured teacher who is mean, lazy and uninterested in instructing. The film characterizes teachers’ unions as out-of-touch organizations clinging to the wrong priorities, with its bosses even willing to turn to underhanded tactics to get their way. In the story of “Won’t Back Down,” school districts and central administrative offices are bureaucratic messes where it’s impossible to get anything done.
On the flipside, the film’s all-star teacher is a Teach For America alum. The best school in the city is a publicly financed, privately led charter school with a long waiting list.
Stakeholders in attendance at the packed theater Monday included parents and students from a local charter school, Teach For America supporters, education lobbyists, and the communications director of the Tennessee Department of Education.
Dean, a charter school supporter, called the event “less about the specifics of a parent-trigger law and more about engaging in meaningful discussion about our schools and how we can improve them working together as a community.”
Later on, Garrison quotes Ryan Donohue, deputy national advocacy director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based group that promotes parent trigger-laws, expressing hope that there's interest in "passing a true parent-trigger law in Tennessee" next legislative session. So, pencil that on your agenda next to "statewide charter authorizer."
*I say "so-called" because that's what people generally call the group of people who have generally been pushing for a number of changes to the way public education works, including charter schools, parent-trigger laws, in many cases weaker teacher unions, etc. They like the word reform because they believe that's what they're doing. But since reform is not actually a neutral word — it means to improve — it's worth noting that others don't believe these actions are truly reforms.