Mark your calendar for Friday, September 28, when the feature film Won’t Back Down hits theaters. Based on real events in California, the movie depicts a group of parents’ efforts to reform a failing school.
Hollywood stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Away We Go) and Viola Davis (The Help) play two devoted mothers who gather signatures for a petition to take over their children’s school, one that has underserved students for years.
California is one of four states with a “parent trigger” or “parent empowerment” law that allows parents to petition to convert a traditional school into a charter school or replace school leadership. Under these laws, at least half of the parents in a failing school must support the transition. California, Texas, and Mississippi passed laws in 2010 and 2011, while Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Louisiana’s law earlier this year.
The Arizona State Senate passed a “parent empowerment” bill last March, though the measure eventually stalled in the House. Lawmakers in at least 20 other states are considering the reform idea.
Two weeks ago, Businessweek explained how the parent empowerment law has given parents in Adelanto, California new hope. Doreen Diaz joined with other Desert Trails Elementary parents in 2010 and petitioned to turn their school into a charter school. With the help of Parent Revolution, a non-profit based in Los Angeles, Doreen gathered signatures and began a grueling battle with school and district leaders.
While the fate of Desert Trails remains unresolved, Doreen insists drastic action is needed to help its students. “I hope that more people see [Won’t Back Down] and are inspired to stand up and fight,” Doreen says. She can point to McKinley Elementary, where parent engagement spurred the creation of a charter school nearby—a school that outperformed McKinley in the first year it was open—or the dozen states considering parent empowerment laws.
I hope Won’t Back Down inspires lawmakers to give parents the freedom to turn failing schools into success stories.
Goldwater Institute: Momentum Building for Parent Empowerment
Bloomberg Businessweek: In California, Public School Parents Stage a Coup
Parent Revolution: STAR Test Results Show Celerity Outperforming McKinley in All Subject Areas
IMDB: Won’t Back Down