After months of pre-release publicity, including a televised, ironically titled “Teachers Rock” concert in Los Angeles, the pro-parent trigger movie “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter, opens tonight. The film, produced by the same people who backed “Waiting for Superman,” tells the story of a mother and a teacher who join forces over union objections and use a parent trigger law to take control of a failing school.
Although the film claims to be “inspired by actual events,” CTA and especially our members in parent trigger targets Compton and Adelanto know that this is a work of pure fiction. It does not show the chaos, division, and educational disruption created by the parent trigger law when outsiders with a national political agenda invade a community and begin their one-sided signature-gathering campaign.
The film has opened to predominately poor reviews. One critic said, “‘Won’t Back Down’ is to school reform what ‘Reefer Madness’ is to drug policy.” That review and others are linked below.
To further boost the film’s visibility, Michelle Rhee’s Students First and the Chamber of Commerce have announced a “Breaking the Monopoly of Mediocrity” tour, featuring the film and panel discussions. To help you respond to the film and to its promotion by Rhee, parent trigger author and Prop. 32 spokesperson Gloria Romero, and others, we are providing these key message points and some useful links.
Dean E. Vogel
Fictionalized accounts of public schools that pit parents against school employees may make an interesting story line and generate dollars at the box office, but the dramatic story lines don’t reflect the on-the-ground reality. In school districts throughout California, educators and parents are working together closely to improve public education and find sustainable solutions that put children at the center of reform. In Compton and Adelanto, the first two places in the country where the trigger has been attempted, our local associations have been deeply involved, working with parents on reform efforts district-wide and at the targeted schools.
Educators and parents are on the same team—we’re all accountable for student success and need to form a united front, putting students at the center of reform.
Instead of simplistic “silver bullets,” we need to work together to identify sustainable solutions.It’s time to make smart investments that are proven to help advance student learning: small classes, early childhood education, up-to-date textbooks and computers, and classes like history, art, PE and music.
Simplistic reform efforts like parent trigger that begin and end with a petition drive shortchange students, parents, and the education process. Unlike other efforts that utilize petitions — ballot measures, for example — the parent trigger has no requirement for open discussion of the issues or debate. Parents hear one-sided and sometimes misleading arguments, and once the signature threshold is met, that’s it. Both places where the trigger has been invoked, numerous parents have wished to rescind their signatures once they actually hear another side of the issue.
Wherever the parent trigger has been invoked, we’ve seen school communities harmed by disruptive political-style campaigns that have interrupted student progress and done long-lasting harm to relationships among parents and other stakeholders. Actual efforts to improve student learning were sometimes roadblocked, while efforts by pro-trigger forces to prevail took immediate precedence over what should be more important concerns.
California’s parent trigger law was hastily drafted as part of a failed attempt to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds. The legislation was authored by then-Senator Gloria Romero, in part to raise her profile in a buildup for her unsuccessful run for state superintendent of public instruction. Although California didn’t get the RTTT funding and Romero didn’t get the office she sought, students, parents, and educators are still stuck with this poorly written, divisive law. In California, two parent-trigger attempts orchestrated by an outside group with a national political agenda have failed, but left the school communities of Compton and Adelento divided.
Parent trigger laws place all blame for underperforming student progress (or at least, low test scores) on an entire school staff without any serious analysis of all the factors that may be holding students back. Parent trigger laws ignore factors like high student transiency, language barriers and poverty, and therefore no serious discussion on how to mitigate those factors takes place while the trigger reform option is chosen.
CTA and NEA Resources:
· NEA’s Won’t Back Down page
· CTA’s webpages on Family Involvement and Parent Trigger
· CTA’s Quality Education Investment Act brings all stakeholders together
· NEA Priority Schools: Family School Partnerships—20 Collaborative Strategies to Advance Student Learning
· California Educator on Won’t Back Down
· CTA Blog on Parent Revolution Distortions and Tactics
· Rotten Tomatoes Review Congregate
· “Grossly oversimplifying the issue at hand, writer-director Daniel Barnz's disingenuous pot-stirrer plays to audiences' emotions rather than their intelligence.”—Peter Debruge, Variety
· “The plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe.”—Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
· “The film casts the teachers' union in the role of the story's villain, an option that's far too simplistic and unfair.”—Majorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle
· “The hot-button issue of public school reform gets unsubtle treatment in this pedestrian and insultingly tendentious drama.”—David Rooney , Hollywood Reporter
· "Won't Back Down" is an offensive, lame, union-bashing drama, which somehow stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal”—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
· “‘Won’t Back Down’ is to school reform what ‘Reefer Madness’ is to drug policy”—Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune