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Morning Bell: Hollywood Steps Up to Education in 'Won't Back Down'

Amy Payne - The Foundry
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September 30, 2012
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Won't Back Down Trailer 2012 (CieonClips)

A new movie opened in theaters last week that couldn’t be more timely. The school year is hitting its stride, and the teachers union in Chicago just captured the national spotlight by strong-arming that city to meet its demands - at the expense of students and taxpayers.

The time is ripe for a story like Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as mothers who can’t stand to watch their school fail any longer.

Gyllenhaal’s character is a single mom advocating for better educational opportunities for her child. Davis plays a teacher in the school who wants to improve it. This is a crucial partnership: parents and teachers working together to create a better future for students. While teachers unions have already denounced the movie, Heritage education expert Lindsey Burke has urged that criticizing unions and criticizing teachers are not one and the same.

    Criticizing education unions for standing in the way of reform should not be conflated with criticizing teachers… The unions have blocked reforms such as performance pay and charter schools…have opposed alternative teacher certification that would help mid-career professionals enter the classroom, and have consistently fought the implementation of school choice options for children.

Rather, the message of Won’t Back Down is one of empowering parents. In the film, parents are attempting to “take over” the school, referring to a type of law called a parent trigger law. Seven states have a version of this law, which gives parents the power to intervene in failing schools. If a majority of parents in a school want to reform it, these laws give them options, often including converting the school into a charter school and replacing school staff.

Charter schools are typically run by non-profit community organizations, freed from the regulatory burdens on public schools. Heritage’s Jason Richwine has explained that “Charters have more leeway to experiment with different teaching methods, curriculum content, disciplinary procedures, and levels of parental involvement.” Parents have reported very high satisfaction with charter schools.

The state of public education is ripe for reform.

Read more at The Foundry

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