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'Won't Back Down': A film to spur parent-led coups on public schools? (+video)

'Won't Back Down' portrays a parent and teacher leading a takeover effort at a failing school. It has become a centerpiece in debates over the best ways to make troubled schools better, and more responsive to parents.

'Won't Back Down' trailer
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For parents who have struggled to navigate school bureaucracy on behalf of their children, the new film “Won’t Back Down” may offer a great opportunity for vicarious empowerment.

The film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a frustrated, feisty parent and Viola Davis as a dedicated teacher who together lead a takeover effort at a failing public school. It’s fictional, but by touting itself as inspired by actual events, it has become a centerpiece in real-world debates over the best ways to make troubled schools better, and more responsive to parents.

Critics of the film say it glamorizes “parent-trigger” laws – mechanisms already passed in seven states by which a majority of parents can force out the staff of a low-performing school or transform it into a public charter school. These laws are about parents in name only, some opponents say, and are just another way to turn schools into autonomous charter schools where normal district rules, such as traditional union contracts, sometimes don’t apply, and where profit-motive can come into play.

The film’s backers say it reflects the problems parents face in public schools, and can prompt them to be more involved in finding solutions.

“It’s not about any one law or any one event.... Our goal is to entertain and inspire through the spirit and the empowerment of the characters – parents and teachers working together to overcome challenges,” says David Weil, CEO of the Anschutz Film Group, which includes “Won’t Back Down” production company Walden Media.

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