Won't Back Down Movie

Parents give movie a thumbs-down say “Parent Trigger” reality distorted to fit corporate school reform message

Leaders Resources for Teachers Rock

A new movie, opening in September, featuring two mothers who join forces to take on their failing public school has received the thumbs down from parent groups.

The family drama "Won’t Back Down" (formerly Still I Rise) is based on a true story, but parents groups say the film is misleading and meant to discredit public education. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a parent and Viola Davis as a teacher who work together to marshal support in the community for a petition to overhaul the school. The movie focuses on "parent empowerment" through the use of so-called "parent trigger legislation", similar to what was proposed during the 2012 Legislative session.

Won't Back Down Movie Clip
The so-called Parent Empowerment in Education Act (SB 1718) was framed as allowing parents at a public school to vote to “turn around” their school by employing several options, including charter conversion.  Fortunately, it was defeated in the  Florida Senate on a 20-20 bipartisan tie vote. Yet, advocates for parent-trigger laws have already started using it to leverage the star-power of this widely anticipated film to push for anti-union and anti-public education laws across the country.


The nation’s first parent trigger law was passed in 2010. The law squeaked through the California legislature but has had led to no school turnarounds.  Instead, it has ignited chaos and controversy in the two communities where petition campaigns have been tried. In Compton, the effort collapsed amid allegations of fraud on both sides. Some parents who signed said they had misunderstood the petition, or had been misled about what it called for. Some Parent Trigger supporters said they had been harassed. Angry parents protested at a Compton school board meeting. The district created a clumsy signature verification process that Parent Revolution branded intimidation. Parent Revolution went to court to quash that process; district officials reviewed the petition signatures and declared many of them invalid. Parents there have twice tried to pull the metaphorical trigger, and twice ended up in the courts. Recently, a San Bernardino Superior Court judge sided with parents in Adelanto, northeast of Los Angeles, who want to take over an elementary school and convert it into a charter. The district’s school board was reported to be considering an appeal. The situation meant to help students has not transformed in better learning conditions.

Similar bills have been introduced in as many as seven states around the country, with language written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), an organization that promotes a right-wing agenda.  But despite the misleading accounts of representatives from the Astroturf organization Parent Revolution, flown in from California to testify before the Florida legislature, the law has never been used successfully in that state or anywhere else. The potential outcome of a Parent Trigger drive – disrupting and dismantling schools – is likely to harm vulnerable students and communities in which the local public school is often a key stabilizing force. The Parent Trigger was first conceived by an organization called Parent Revolution, founded by a charter operator and funded by the Gates, Broad and Walton Family Foundations (the latter of Wal-Mart fame).

Walden Media and Walmart have partnered to put on a benefit concert around the movie Won’t Back Down entitled TEACHERS ROCK. The concert will be held on August 14 (tickets go on sale Friday, July 27 – prices start at $40). Benefits of the concert will go to TFA, Feeding America, and DonorsChoose.org. The event will feature musical appearances and an appearance by Viola Davis.  On August 18 (8-9pm ET/PT) it will be televised and include taped performances and many additional celebrity appearances.  


Recently,  National Conference of Mayors had a leadership meeting in Philadelphia, PA.  Kevin Johnson and others led a panel discussion with Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin and the Won’t Back Down producer, Mark Johnson on Thursday (7/19), after a private screening of the film.  http://usmayors.org/pressreleases/uploads/2012/0723-release-edureform.pdf

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