From movie to measure

Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in \”Won\’t Back Down\”

California, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana have already passed such laws. Groups that write model legislation, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have drafted model bills for legislators to introduce in their home states.

Parent trigger laws allow for dramatic changes at a school if more than half the parents of the student population sign a petition requesting the changes. Parents with children in connected elementary and middle schools can also participate in the petition. The requested changes can range from turning a school into a charter school to giving students vouchers to attend a private facility.

A movie centered on the parent trigger option, Won’t Back Down, was released in theaters Sept. 29. A special screening of the film was held in Oklahoma City on Sept. 24.

The film has an Oklahoma connection, having been produced by Walden Media, which is owned by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz. Last year, Anschutz — who also financed a 2010 documentary about education reform, Waiting for Superman — purchased OPUBCO, the company that publishes The Oklahoman. The newspaper ran a favorable editorial about the film on Oct. 1.

Anschutz has a history of financing conservative organizations such as the intelligent design group Discovery Institute and the anti-indecency group Parents Television Council. He also owns Clarity Media Group, which publishes the Examiner newspapers and The Weekly Standard.

The liberal group Center for Media and Democracy reported that some of Anschutz’s companies have been ALEC sponsors in the past. His foundation also funds groups that sat on ALEC’s Education Task Force that put forth the parent trigger model legislation. These connections have been confirmed by IRS documentation.

The movie has had several early screenings to groups around the country, including the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Oklahoma City’s early screening was sponsored by OPUBCO and the Inasmuch Foundation.

David Holt

Oklahoman Publisher
Christopher Reen gave opening remarks to the packed theater prior to the
screening at AMC Quail Springs. He said the parent trigger issue
transcends partisan lines.

movie takes a position, but I want to be clear it doesn’t take a
Republican or Democratic position,” said Reen, “It is an attempt to ally
teachers and parents to take an active role in rescuing failing

Reel life
movie, inspired by a real-life story, stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a
single moth er determined to change the abhorrent conditions at her
daughter’s failing school. Viola Davis plays a schoolteacher hoping to
bring change to the school system.

two fight bureaucratic hurdles and the teachers union along the way.
The story focuses on the characters as they go through the process of
carrying out the parent trigger law.

same day as the early screening, state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma
City, announced that he would introduce a measure next legislative
session for a parent trigger law in Oklahoma.

“As a rule, I think local control of education is best, and
there’s nothing more localized than the parents at a neighborhood
school,” he said. “The parent trigger model isn’t going to work in every
situation, and it’s only an option where everything else has probably
already failed. But I think there’s something inspiring about giving
parents a tool they can use to fundamentally change the failed school
that is attempting to educate their children.”

Holt, who is a member of
ALEC, said he got the parent trigger idea from a group known as Parent
Revolution. Holt said he has not seen studies on the effectiveness of
parent trigger laws, but plans to look at all relevant data prior to and
during the next legislative session.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi — who, like Holt,
also attended the special screening — said she will work with Holt on
the issue.

understand the passion of parents,” she said. “What I’m interested in
doing, if that does happen, is to make sure that if parents decide to
[use the parent trigger], we’re there to assist them and make sure they
have a great plan for the school.”

Opposing voices
Not all are excited about the law or the movie.

Hampton, president of the state teachers union Oklahoma Education
Association, said the legislation would pit parents against teachers
rather than fostering a positive relationship between the two.

feel like Oklahoma has a sense of community and a trigger law goes
against that sense of unity because it tends to focus on problems and
not solutions. And we want to focus on what works in Oklahoma,” Hampton

She said other
issues, such as Oklahoma’s relatively low per-pupil spending level and
low teacher pay levels, should be prioritized before parent trigger

Hampton said she has not seen Won’t Back Down, but from reviews and trailers, believes the fictional work to be just that: a tale of fiction.

is what it is, it’s a movie,” she said. “Its goal seems to be to pit
parents against schools. It might be an interesting storyline or
generate money at box office but it doesn’t reflect reality of what is
going on at schools now.”

Clifton Adcock

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