CAPPS - Avocacy and Communication Professional Development

California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools

The Struggle for Education Reform Goes to the Movies

10/02/2012

Fox & Hounds - September 28, 2012

Opening in movie theaters today is “Won’t Back Down,” the story of a parent and teacher teaming up to improve the bad conditions at their local school. Pushback has come from the teacher’s unions, who feel unions are the villain of the piece.

The story reflects the movement for the “parent trigger” which allows parents by petition to change the administration of a poorly functioning school. California was the first state that passed a parent trigger law. Ben Austin, president of the Parent Revolution, has written on this site about the battles in California that could serve as a model for the screenplay.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so no review here. The movie review site Rotten Tomatoes reports only 32% support from critics at this writing while reviews from the audience are 62% positive. How much of the public vote is generated by a campaign against the movie is hard to say since the number dropped dramatically in 24 hours.

Here are a mix of the critics’ comments on the Rotten Tomatoes website:

A film where typecasting and color-coding makes it easy to predict which characters are good or bad.
Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Warm and idealistic, it’s a good attempt at dramatizing an enormous problem.
Charles Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press

The plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe.
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

The big moments work, the big scenes pay off and the big emotions are earned in this plucky movie about a couple of people realizing that they can make a difference.
Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

You’ll have to judge for yourself.

Newspaper stories covering the movie focus on the role of teacher’s union in the fight over parental control. The question that has to be asked in each case: Are the children learning? If not, institutional changes must be made and the parent trigger is a tool to make those changes.

The controversy over the teachers unions in the movie highlights real life battles and a changing political landscape, most recently played out in the Chicago teachers strike.

In today’s Washington Post, Michelle Rhee of Sacramento, head of the advocacy group,StudentsFirst, writes about the move of Democratic elected officials to stand up to teachers unions for the benefit of students.

As Rhee, a Democrat, states in the piece about the Chicago strike, “for union leaders, this strike was never about what was best for kids.”

The movie, whether its artistic values are compelling or not, is another expression that when it comes to education reform the focus must be on students.