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Won't Back Down

Film pulls trigger on education reform.

Imagine discovering that an over-worked teacher locked your crying child in a storage closet at school as punishment for not following the rules. Scenes like this are getting the Hollywood treatment in the 20th Century Fox film "Won't Back Down," to be released in theatres on September 28.

The movie touches on parent trigger laws, a takeover movement that grants frustrated parents the right to petition for sweeping changes in low-performing schools.

The law is designed so that if 51% of parents in a failing school agree, they will be given the power to replace teachers, change curriculum, close schools, or convert to a charter school. Charters are publicly financed, independent schools that receive waivers from public school districts in exchange for promising better academic results.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a single mother who teams up with a passionate teacher, played by Viola Davis, to lead a revolt and take charge of their elementary school. The two come head-to-head with a teacher's union rep, played by Holly Hunter, as she spearheads the fierce politics of the trigger laws.

The film is proving to be controversial and is billed to be "inspired by actual events." Yet, many critics argue that the assertion is false as the battle for the trigger law is currently being fought and has yet to come to fruition. California, Texas, Ohio and Connecticut are the four states that currently allow a trigger process.

According the The LA Times, a real life legal battle over a proposed charter school is unfolding in Adelanto, California. Parents, aided by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit, accused petition opponents of fraud and asked the courts to order the Adelanto school board to stop blocking their efforts to select a charter school.

The local board claims that one-fifth of the parents who signed the petition have since revoked their signatures and voted 3 to 1 to reject the parents' chosen charter option, saying there was insufficient time to start one this school year, and instead selected a different overhaul plan.

The original test of the trigger law happened at McKinley Elementary School in Compton in 2011, where 51% of the parents signed a petition to convert the school to a charter. The move drew opposition from the school board and the local teachers union, eventually ending in a legal challenge that led a judge to dismiss the petition on technical grounds.

It seems that the release of "Won't Back Down" is timely. The film was screened at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. It was also screened at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., raising tensions between the Democratic Party and teachers' unions, who make large, political contributions to the Democratic Party. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union, raised objections to the film in an open letter, calling it "divisive" and saying it "resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes."

According the The Huffington Post, the movie's director, Daniel Barnz, said in an interview Saturday that he was "disappointed" by Weingarten's letter:

"I think that people are a bit tired of the finger-pointing and scapegoating within this world. I think they just want to see a way in which our schools can improve. That's the spirit of the film," said Barnz, who described himself as a "liberal Democrat" from a family of educators. "I think this film is an absolute celebration of teaching. It is pro-teacher and celebrates all the incredible things that teachers do," Barnz said.

As of now, 20 states, including Georgia, are pushing for a version of California’s controversial parent trigger bill, even as that state struggles with how to put the law into action.

Has your child had an experience at a public school that made you want to demand reform? Would you support the 'parent trigger' law in your state? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Athens Mama September 15, 2012 at 01:58 AM
@NGW - No, Oconee County schools are some of the best in the state. I don't think all teachers are the same at all. Teaching is a DEMANDING occupation that requires almost total self-sacrifice. I have immense respect for many. The reason I rant and rave is because I am unhappy with the system that tolerates abuses. There should be a parent trigger law when a school board will not rectify classrooms that are not nourishing to students. My "fantasy classrooms" are not just in private school systems! They are right down the street! In Clarke, in nearby counties! That's why it is such an injustice when people justify their bad behavior by blaming it on the kids. I do not embellish! I have no other venue through which I can report! I have to get it out there or it eats at my soul. I would like to try to influence local education, but I think it will be involved with a charter school. Something entirely fresh.
Rebecca McCarthy September 15, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I believe in putting any child in the right educational environment. I have friends who have one kid in public schools in Athens, one at Athens Academy and one at Athens Montessori School, and one is being home schooled. Of course, they have the financial means to pay close to $20,000 in private school fees, and my friend is happy to do the home school thing. But they also support the public schools in a major way.
Athens Mama September 15, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Well, I can't afford Italian clothes - but there's no shoe made better than an Italian pair.
Athens Mama September 15, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Hats off to you and your friend for tending to each of your children individually - and going above and beyond to develop the potential of the children. I imagine it was very difficult to accept interventions/services when your child was just 3 years old. I think some parents wait because they hope that the developmental delay will catch up with age. I think it depends a lot on the issue. Autism is important to address early. Learning disabilities are important to address early. Some emotional/behavioral disabilities can be balanced better with intense positive intervention and social skills instruction. On that same issue though, I've seen 2 year olds medicated for their "ADD." That is tragic to me. Some 2 year olds are biters, and hitters, and head bangers. That doesn't mean they won't grow out of it or that they have ADD. There's far too much overdiagnosis of ADD - especially for kids who don't get outdoors enough.
Edward September 17, 2012 at 02:55 PM
@AM...it's always the teachers fault seems like a bit of a scape goat to me, for the parents out there that use the school system as a form of day care, a way to get the kids out of the house, find a place to hide those bad kids while the work to keep the lights on. Let's face some real facts here folks, kids in school today are not the same as they were 30 years ago. Today kids spit, curse, yell back, demean, threaten etc etc teachers all day long and what do they get for it....DETENTION!!! When we send our kids to school for an education does it end there? When the kids come home, and they go to their rooms to catch up on FaceBook, watch the latest reality show or play video games, and the parents spend hours on the phone gossiping about Mrs. Johnson's new pool boy and the dads stay out late at happy hour with their co-workers, it tells me one thing, THE SUSTAINING OF EDUCATION FOR OUR KIDS WHEN THEY COME HOME IS IN "DETENTION".

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