Can a feature-length movie help promote the reform of our schools? That is the obvious question being raised by many who have seen Won't Back Down, the new film being released nationwide this week. The movie, which was inspired by the California parent trigger law, stars award-winning actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a teacher and parent who come together to take over their failing public school. The parent trigger law was enacted in late 2010 and allows parents with kids in a failing school to force the local school district to replace the school's leadership, if 51 percent of those parents sign a petition calling for the change. The movie takes that theme and adds another component that includes teachers as part of the petition process. So, as the movie plot develops, low-income parent Gyllenhaal coaxes teacher Davis into agreeing to the idea of starting a new school and, in turn, they both then must get signatures from 51 percent of both the parents and teachers at the school.
Unlike the recent documentaries that have dealt with the failings of our schools, Won't Back Down does more than just showcase the challenges found in our school system -- it also entertains. A buzz about acting nominations for Gyllenhaal and Davis has already begun. There is no doubt that millions of Americans will see the movie and become aware of the complex school reform issues that many of us have tried to highlight for years.
But the real benefit of the movie for everyday Americans is that it clearly demonstrates the power of parents in the school choice movement. As local school districts inch toward reform, sometimes at a snail's pace, legions of parents, from all walks of life, are asserting themselves more and demanding more from their schools and for their child's education. In fact, that demand led to the original parent trigger law.
As a growing number of states consider their own version of the law, pockets of parent empowerment groups are placing increased pressure on their elected leaders for more charter schools, opportunity scholarships and other quality educational options. The education reform movement is now in full bloom because parents, like Gyllenhaal's character in the movie, are becoming more engaged and determined to fight for change for their kids.
As a poor, uneducated single mother in a working class Pittsburg neighborhood, Gyllenhaal's dogged desire for a better future for her daughter fuels the entire movie. Though uneducated, she clearly knows that education is the great equalizer, and she will not give up! Her character reminded me of so many parents that I have met who possess that same dogged determination and hope for their children's future.
With all due respect to the education reformers and elected leaders who have been fighting for change, it is these parents who will ultimately pave the way for quicker reforms and improved schools nationwide. You see, for parents, a quality education for their kids is personal. And our tedious approach to reform is only increasing their numbers. That's bad news for those who continue to support the status quo, because these parents won't back down.
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