What the movie Waiting for Superman did for charter schools, a new movie called "Won't Back Down" hopes to do for the parent trigger movement. That is a national movement started by charter companies to organize parents to take over their schools.
That is quite a risky business in my opinion since those groups of parents actually want to turn the public schools into charter schools. I fear it will cause a school to cave in to parents who are not educators, who are not informed as to effective teaching skills, and who might be using such an effort to avoid responsibility for their children as students. They are being manipulated by the billionaire education reformers.
The cast and the backers:
How far teachers have fallen since the “Lean on Me” days.Due to be released in September, “Won’t Back Down” stars Viola Davis as a Pennsylvania teacher who joins with unexpected parent advocate Maggie Gyllenhaal in the push for a parent takeover of their school. Apparently the story hinges on so-call parent trigger laws, which allow parents to turn public schools into publicly funded charter schools if they can prove the teachers, administrators and curriculum are not serving the students. In real life, a handful of states have parent trigger laws on the books. To date, no trigger laws have turned a school over to parents, though today officials will decide whether to allow for just that at a desert school in Adelanto, Calif.Indeed it does have a political agenda. I am going to quote Diane Ravitch, the former assistant Secretary of Education under George HW Bush.
Parent trigger laws have many big corporate backers, including the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. This movie is being financed in part by Walden Media, which is backed by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. Walden Media also helped finance the making of “Waiting for Superman,” the 2010 documentary that made the term “charter school” as household name and also promoted teacher testing and an end to teacher tenure.
Talented and popular actors like Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, plus a plot as riveting as “Silkwood” or “Erin Brockovitch,” will make this a tempting movie to see, it’s pretty clear there’s a political agenda behind the story.
Supporters of the Parent Trigger say it empowers parents, especially poor parents, and gives them a tool with which to change their school. They say that it enhances not only parent power, but school choice.Here is more about the movie. The article questions the wisdom of promoting a tool to enable parents to do what should be based on research and data. I agree.
But consider who created the Parent Trigger. The promoter of the legislation was a group called Parent Revolution, which is funded by charter school operators (it has some affiliation with Green Dot, whose chief executive officer sits on the board of Parent Revolution) and by venture philanthropists (including the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation). Its executive director, Ben Austin, a lawyer, was appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to California's state board of education (and removed by Gov. Jerry Brown when he took office in 2011).
Parent Revolution is what is known as an "Astroturf" group, an organization pretending to be representative of ordinary parents, but actually promoting a charter agenda.
It's called "Won't Back Down" and starts Academy Award nominee Viola Davis ("The Help") in a fictional story of a parent trigger fight in Pennsylvania. The fight is fictional because the parent trigger has not successfully been pulled anywhere in the United States -- the tool is too new. The backer of the film is a company owned by Phil Anschutz, best known in California for his firm AEG, which runs the Staples Center in LA and is trying to bring NFL football back to the city.In one California school it is dividing parents. Some feel they signed a petition that was misrepresented to them.
Hollywood's embrace of the "parent trigger" says a lot about this particular school reform tool. The idea of having parents take over failing schools is dramatic, even cinematic, but in practice, it's a tricky business -- so tricky that the trigger itself is unlikely to become a widely used tool for school reform.
A movie about the parent trigger runs the risk of putting too much emphasis on an uncommon tool -- and distracting us from the difficult, long-term task of raising standards in schools. That work should be based on research and data -- not the silver bullet of parent takeovers.
“I don’t think parents need to have that much control,” said Yuan, whose first- and third-graders attend Desert Trails. “I understand that as a group we should have a voice in our children’s education, but I don’t think that necessitates power over a school. And I think that we have a board, a principal, staff in place that if we did have legitimate concerns that we raised, they would be addressed sufficiently.”The article points out that the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation are helping to fund the Parent Revolution, providing a place to house their headquarters.
The current principal, David Mobley, only arrived in October. Yuan questions why parents wouldn’t wait to see if he’s able to implement changes as a new leader before resorting to the forced reform.
But parent union leader Doreen Diaz, who said she found out her fifth-grade daughter with special needs was reading at a second-grade level, argues big changes are necessary to cultivate a culture of excellence at the school, now ranked in the bottom 10 percent in California.
Yuan questions the power struggle that may be at play in attempts to force reforms, and whether well-meaning parents have the expertise and knowledge to help run a school. She joined with members of the California Teachers Association at some recent meetings for interested parents to learn more about the Trigger law, charter schools and rescinding signatures.
Teachers in the public schools do not have the kind of money and power to fight back against such groups. They don't a voice in the media either when such movies like this and Waiting for Superman get a big glitzy splash.