Won't Back Down has opened! Here's a little required reading:
Why is there controversy surrounding the movie “Won’t Back Down”?
Many people believe that the film “Won’t Back Down” promotes the notion that privatizing public schools will improve them, capitalizing on and exacerbating a political climate in which teachers are unjustly disparaged and blamed for the effects of poverty and the inequality of educational resources & opportunities for children across the United States.
What is “Won’t Back Down” about?
The film tells a story about a group of parents and teachers who use a law often referred to as the “Parent Trigger” in order to take over a school that is failing their children. While the movie is billed as being “Inspired By Actual Events,” it is only an inspiring work of fiction.
Who Is Behind “Won’t Back Down”?
“Won’t Back Down” is produced by Walden Media (owned by Philip Anschutz) and is distributed by 20th Century Fox (owned by Rupert Murdoch). Mr. Anschutz also co-produced the controversial film Waiting for "Superman" in 2010, which is often derided as “anti-teacher.” After taking over his father’s drilling business in 1961, Mr. Anschutz became a natural gas billionaire and major proponent of laws that permit hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as “fracking”) across the nation. He also contributes to organizations that oppose gay rights and support teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution in public schools.
What does the Parent Trigger do?
The Parent Trigger Law enables parents, when they present a petition to local authorities with at least 51% of parent signatures, to force one or more of the following actions: 1) The school district replaces the leadership & half the staff (district turnaround); 2) The school is closed; 3) An outside agency is hired to convert the school into a charter school.
From where did the Parent Trigger come?
The Parent Trigger was first conceived by a Los Angeles-based organization called Parent Revolution (founded by a charter school operator and funded by the Eli Broad, Sam Walton, & @Bill Mels). The legislation was introduced in California by then-State Senator Gloria Romero, who now heads the California branch of the pro-privatization organization, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Parent Trigger legislation, promoted by conservative organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), has been passed in a handful of states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, (but not Pennsylvania, where the film takes place) and is being considered in others (theparenttrigger.com/in-your-state).
Has the Parent Trigger worked before?
As of today, there have been only two instances when the Parent Trigger was put into effect. Both attempts happened in California and neither attempt was successful. In both instances, efforts were led by billionaire-funded supporters of public school privatization and have sparked acrimony and division in their respective local communities. Opponents of Parent Revolution refer to the Los Angeles-based nonprofit as an "astroturf" organization fronting for outsiders who want to privatize public education (Astroturf: well-funded non-profit organization that falsely claims to have grown organically from the grassroots). The first time the Parent Trigger was attempted, Parent Revolution paid folks to go into Compton, CA to ask parents to sign a petition asserting that their local elementary school should be turned into a charter school. Some parents who signed the petition said later that they been misled and, after becoming mired in lawsuits, momentum ultimately fizzled (nytimes.com/2011/09/24/education/24trigger.html?pagewanted=all). More recently, folks paid by Parent Revolution urged parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, CA to sign two different petitions. One petition called for smaller classes and other positive reforms, while the other petition demanded that the school be turned over to a charter school operator. After Parent Revolution submitted only the latter petition to local authorities, nearly 100 parents asked to withdraw their signatures. Even Gloria Romero, the author of the Parent Trigger law, criticized Parent Revolution’s tactics, saying that the use of two separate petitions was “needlessly confusing.” (news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2012/02/24/california-school-district-rejects-parent-trigger-petition).
What’s wrong with Parent Trigger?
Most parents want to see their neighborhood public schools strengthened with small classes and less emphasis on standardized testing. Even Ben Austin, the Director of Parent Revolution, has admitted that most parents are not interested in turning their community’s schools into charter schools, but would rather focus on improving them as they are (edsource.org/today/2012/new-year-brings-new-expectations-for-parent-trigger-law/4479). Some question why a public school, which is built and maintained with taxpayer funds, should be handed over to a private concern only because 51% of current parents are persuaded to sign a petition.
What about Parent Empowerment?
Parents usually have less input into charter schools than public schools. Many impose harsh disciplinary procedures and some support religious activities. According to a major study out of Stanford University, only one in six charter schools are more successful than nearby public schools and have even less accountability to parents. If a parent is unhappy at a public school, they may go to the principal, the superintendent, the school board, or even the state. At a charter school, parents can go no higher than an individual charter school’s board of directors. If a child is bullied, punished unfairly, or has been expelled unjustly (which sometimes happens in anticipation of state tests to ensure higher scores), the parent must either return the child to the local public school or search for another charter school. Either way, the parent is alone. Organizations like Save Our Schools (https://www.facebook.com/OnTheMarchToSaveOurSchools), Parents Across rosAmerica - North Carolina, & United Opt Out National support true parent empowerment with real solutions devised from the ground up, not imposed from on high (parentsacrossamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/LSCmodel1-28-12.pdf).
What about Teacher Unions?
NC is a right-to-work state, which means that there is no collective bargaining or striking allowed. Unlike the story portrayed in “Won’t Back Down,” it is not necessary for parents to rise up against teachers and their unions in order to improve our schools. Because teacher’s unions do not exist in every state, the argument that unions are impeding our student’s education is a fallacy. In reality, the US states with the lowest student test scores are also the ONLY states without teacher unions.
How Can I Help?
Last spring, Florida parent groups, including Parents Across America, banded together to fight Parent Trigger legislation that had been introduced in the state legislature. By holding rallies and press conferences, calling elected representatives, and speaking out about how the Parent Trigger benefits charter operators and not children, Florida parents prevented the legislation from being passed (miamiherald.com/2012/03/09/2685824/tense-fight-over-parent-trigger.html). Speak out in your state to give real parents a real voice. We need real change in our schools, not false solutions.
One Parent’s Reaction:
"’Won’t Back Down’ really nailed the frustration of both parents and teachers with the school system and its lack of results for students. As I'm getting ready to put my child in her first days of third grade, what bothered me about the movie is that, if a parent can get all those signatures, make t-shirts for hundreds, and get teachers on board to change the school, couldn't she have started a seriously killer PTA?! If she was able to get over 150 parental signatures and have them come out for a televised march on the school, couldn't she get those very same parents to participate in the school culture itself and make changes that way? All before fomenting a coup d'etat in the hood? With all the time Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character spent outside of the school getting those signatures, couldn't she have been in the classroom volunteering, setting up a school breakfast or just helping around the school for whatever they needed? Perhaps if she had volunteered in the classroom or spent time with the teacher, she could have found either that the teacher could be worked with or through her perseverance and relationship with the school, found a way for her daughter to be transferred out. Schools actually do try to accommodate reasonable requests."