Putting Education Reform To The Test

Hollywood Dramatizes Parent Trigger Legislation At Tampa And Charlotte Political Conventions


Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in "Won't Back Down," Hollywood's take on parent trigger legislation.

A Hollywood drama focused on education made its way to Tampa and Charlotte in the last week.

“Won’t Back Down” is a fictional movie about two moms who set out to transform a failing inner city school.

Of course, this is no easy task as they must convince bureaucrats to look beyond traditional thinking.

The film was screened for panels at the Republican and Democratic conventions.

The movie is a dramatization of what the use of parent trigger legislation would look like. The idea is that parents should be able to take over a perpetually failing school and determine the best course of action to fix it.

A majority of parents at chronically low-performing schools could choose to fire staff or administration, convert the school to a charter school or close the school.

For supporters, a parent trigger law makes perfect sense. But critics see it as a way of turning over public dollars to for-profit companies, like charter school operators.

The film screenings were organized by StudentsFirst, a nonprofit formed by Michelle Rhee. She’s the former Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s public school system who aggressively worked to turn around D.C. public schools.

She also riled teachers and voters with her brusque — and self-promotional, critics claim — style.

During her three years on the job, Rhee closed a couple dozen schools and fired hundreds of “low-performing” principals and teachers.

Now, she leads a group whose mission “is to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.”

The screening at the Republican National Convention in Tampa was co-hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush founded the group and serves as Chairman.

Bush told Education Week he loves the film because “it puts a human face on nerdy policy.”

“This is a much more effective way of communicating the challenges that our country faces,” Bush said.

The screening at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte was co-hosted by Democrats for Education Reform.  Founder Joe Williams told the audience, “I think there’s real momentum on the Democratic side over the last few years for reform, and that momentum is only growing.”

The group Parent Revolution was also there. Founder Ben Austin, who served in the Clinton administration, said “there’s a growing group of liberal voters who don’t want to keep pouring money into things that aren’t working.”

Organizers say the panel discussions in Tampa and Charlotte yielded support for the movie’s message and brought bipartisan calls for change.

Bipartisan opposition to the parent trigger has been just as strong.

The parent trigger bill didn’t pass Florida’s Republican controlled Legislature this year. It failed on a tie vote in the Senate after Republicans like Lakeland Senator Paula Dockery led an effort to defeat the measure.

Bush says the issue will return with lawmakers next year, and likely will be the highest-profile education issue of the legislative session.

“Won’t Back Down” opens in theaters on September 28.

Read all of our parent trigger coverage here.


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