Articles on “Won’t Back Down” & “Teachers Rock” Concert

This page is a resource for references on the subjects of the movie Won’t Back Down, the Teachers Rock program and concert, and Parent Trigger Schools.  Find a collection of essays from various sources here.


FAQ re the film “Won’t Back Down.” The Parent Trigger

Originally posted at Parents Across America on August 13, 2012
On Tuesday, August 14 a Concert called TEACHERS ROCK presented by Walmart & promoting the movie “Won’t Back Down” will be held in LA: with appearances from Carrie Underwood, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Morrison, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Usher, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and others. On Friday, August 17 the concert will be aired on CBS.

The movie itself, “Won’t Back Down,” will premiere September 28. This film already has sparked much controversy. Below see an FAQ explaining why. This fact sheet is also available as a donloadable pdf.– Leonie Haimson

I’m hearing there’s a lot of controversy about the movie “Won’t Back Down.” Why? Many people believe the film promotes the privatization of public education and inflames a political climate in which teachers are unjustly disparaged and blamed for the effects of poverty and educational inequity.

What is the movie about? The movie tells the story of a group of parents and teachers who use a “Parent Empowerment” law, better known as the Parent Trigger, to take over a school that is failing their children. Parent Trigger legislation, promoted by the right-wing organization American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been passed in several states, including California, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and is being considered in others. But while the movie depicts an inspiring story of parental revolt, actual efforts to use the Parent Trigger have been driven by billionaire-funded supporters of privatization, and have sparked acrimony and division. None of these efforts has actually improved a school. [SeeBeyond the parent trigger hype and propaganda: just the facts

Who is behind the movie? The movie, due to open September 28, is produced by 20th Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Walden Media, owned by Philip Anschutz. Murdoch’s right-wing politics are well known. Anschutz is an oil-and-gas billionaire who co-produced the anti-teacher film, “Waiting for ‘Superman’.” He contributes to organizations that oppose gay rights and support teaching creationism in schools. Anschutz has also donated to Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers, which opposes environmental regulations and union rights, and to the political career of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

What does the Parent Trigger law call for? If 51% of parents at a school can be persuaded to sign a petition calling for any of a narrow set of options – either firing all the teaching staff, closing the school, or privatizing the school by turning it over to a charter operator, this must occur. None of these options has any track record of success.

How did the Parent Trigger law originate? The Parent Trigger was first conceived by a LA-based organization called the Parent Revolution, founded by a charter school operator and funded by the Broad, Walton and Gates Foundations. The legislation was introduced in California by then-State Senator Gloria Romero, who now heads the California branch of the pro-privatization organization, Democrats for Education Reform.

Have Parent Trigger laws worked? The first time the “parent trigger” was tried, Parent Revolution sent operatives into Compton CA, to ask parents to sign a petition saying that their local elementary school should be turned into a charter school. Some parents who signed the petition later said they been misled, the effort was mired in lawsuits and ultimately, fizzled

More recently, operatives trained and paid by the Parent Revolution urged parents at the Desert Trails School in Adelanto CA to sign two different petitions: one calling for smaller classes and other positive reforms, the other demanding that the school be turned over to a charter operator. After the organizers submitted only the charter petition to the authorities, nearly 100 parents asked to withdraw their signatures. Yet a judge has ruled that parents could not rescind their signatures and the conversion to a charter school should go forward.

Even Gloria Romero, the author of the Parent Trigger law, has criticized the organization’s tactics, and said that presenting Adelanto parents with two different petitions to sign was needlessly confusing.”

To Read the Full Text on Save Our Schools Please Click on the title Parents Across America; FAQ re the film “Won’t Back Down” and the Parent Trigger

Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit

Promoting Education Reform Film


Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company, Star-Studded Benefit

By Josh Eidelson
Originally Published at In These Times on Monday August 13, 2012 8:57 AM

Viola Davis, shown here with her SAG award for Outstanding Performance by an Female Actor in a Leading Performance for “The Help,” will be appearing soon in anti-teachers union propaganda at a theater near you. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

The world’s largest private-sector employer and the country’s most prominent conservative entertainment company have teamed up to sponsor a fundraiser called “Teachers Rock.” Backed by Walmart and Anschutz Film Group, the August 14 event will feature live performances from musicians like Josh Groban and appearances from actresses like Viola Davis; it will be broadcast August 18 as a CBS special with messages from actresses like Meryl Streep. And it will promote the upcoming feature film Won’t Back Down, Anschutz’s entry in the “education reform” wars.

Won’t Back Down is reportedly a highly sympathetic fictional portrayal of “parent trigger” laws, a major flashpoint in debates over education and collective bargaining. Under such laws, the submission of signatures from a majority of parents in a school triggers a “turnaround option,” which can mean the replacement of a unionized school with a non-union charter. Such laws have been passed in several states, but due to court challenges, the “trigger” process has never been fully implemented.

“It’s another Waiting for Superman,” says Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher and board member of the Center for Teacher Quality. “You have these popular actors, who as well-intentioned as they may be, they may not know all the facts, but they’re willing to back up a couple of corporate friends or people maybe they’ve become familiar with” in “trying to promote this sort of vision.”

Parent trigger is one of the model bills pushed by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Adamantly opposed by teachers unions, parent trigger bills (as I’ve reported for Salon) have often been spearheaded and supported by Democratic politicians. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed slamming teachers unions, Campbell Brown highlighted Won’t Back Down as evidence that “teachers unions have become a ripe target for reformers across the ideological spectrum” and Hollywood “has turned on unions.”

Walmart, Hollywood and Anschutz Unite
According to a July 24 joint press release, Tuesday’s concert is “presented by” Walmart and by Won’t Back Down , which the release describes as a “powerful story – inspired by true events” about “determined mothers who will stop at nothing to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy and a system mired in traditional thinking, they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.” Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the non-profits Teach For America, Feeding America and

According to the release, the benefit will “feature scenes” from the film, and Viola Davis, one of the film’s stars, will be among the performers making “special appearances” at the event. The CBS TV special will include additional appearances by celebrities including Streep, Adam Levine of the band Maroon 5 and NBC’s The Voice, and Matthew Morrison, who stars as a beloved high school teacher on Fox show Glee. Representatives of Streep, Levine and Morrison declined requests for comment; representatives of Davis, Groban, and CBS did not respond to inquiries.

To Read the Full Text on Save Our Schools Please Click on the title In These Times; Walmart, Right-Wing Media Company Hold Star-Studded Benefit Promoting Education Reform Film By Josh Eidelson

‘Won’t Back Down’: Realities the movie ignores

Originally Published on August 20, 2012 at 2:53 PM ET in The Answer Sheet. Washington Post.
By Valerie Strauss

Though the film “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is not being released in theaters until the end of September, its backers are already drumming up support for it and its subject: the controversial “parent trigger” laws that have passed in a few states and are being considered by many others.

Screenings are being shown and a huge concert was staged and then broadcast on CBS — funded in part by Walden Media, which is owned by entrepreneur and Christian conservative Philip Anschutz, whose foundation has supported a number of organizations and causes that include campaigns against same-sex marriage and single parenting.

I will publish a number of pieces on this movie, which promises to be this year’s “Won’t Back Down, a 2010 film that purported to be a documentary but was a tendentious look that vilified teachers unions and advanced the notion that charter schools were the answer to public education’s ills.

I haven’t seen “Won’t Back Down” yet but a number of people have, including parent activist Rita Solnet, who wrote the following. Solnet is a former director of leadership development at IBM, an organizational consultant and a longtime parent activist in public schools. She is the vice president of the Community Academies Board for Palm Beach County, Fla, a member of the county’s School District Curriculum Advisory Council and a founding member of the advocacy group Parents Across America.

By Rita Solnet

“Change a school, change the neighborhood.

That’s a line from the controversial, star-studded movie, “Won’t Back Down,” scheduled to be released on September 28th.

I attended a Washington D.C. screening of this compelling movie over the weekend. I carried a small notebook and a long list of preconceived notions about what I expected to see in this film. I walked out with a long list of questions as to what I didn’t see portrayed in the film.

The synopsis describes this movie as: “Two determined mothers, one a teacher, who look to transform their children’s failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education of their children.”

However, the messages in this feel-good, underdog-winning movie go far beyond what this summary depicts.

Within the first few minutes, projected on the screen in large letters are the words, “Inspired By True Events.” That conveys the message that parents and teachers took over and ran a school somewhere in our nation. That never happened. I suppose that sells better than opening the film with, “This is Fictitious.”

Outstanding performances by star-studded and new young actors will put this movie on the Academy Award nomination list, I’m sure. The actors did a superb job of drawing you into the movie.

I cried several times despite knowing that this movie was funded by charter school privatizers seeking fistfuls of dwindling education dollars.

I cried despite knowing that the story behind the “failing” school was not told.

I knew that the divisive and unsuccessful “parent trigger” laws that have been passed in California and a few other states — and are being considered in about 20 others — was intentionally disguised in this movie as a fictitious law cleverly named “Fail-Safe,” yet I still wept.

I wanted to jump into the movie and help these moms win. The audience audibly cheered for the underdogs every step of the way. Who wouldn’t? Moms in the face of adversity knocking down barriers to help their kids chances for a better future. Of course, I’m on their side.

Unfortunately, this film depicts a story that is more about good vs. evil than about the truth behind public schools today and the movement to privatize them. Portraying a complex public education system as irretrievably broken — and blaming abusive, older teachers and their rabidly protective unions is much easier than illustrating the complicated truth, I suppose.

Realities that make true school reform so hard were left out of the film.

Despite many classroom scenes, you never once saw a child even taking a test — and we know that standardized tests take many weeks out of instructional time, with even more for test prep.

You never heard why the school was labeled “failing” or what the criteria was for receiving a “failing” grade. Instead you heard teachers in their unusually large break room complain about other teachers who had “the highest salary with the lowest performance.” You heard comments like, “We don’t coach teachers here; we protect teachers.”

As a parent volunteer in public schools for 16 years, it startled me not to see anyone working on the problems together in this movie. I didn’t see parents talking to teachers to help improve the school.

To Read the Full Text on Save Our Schools Please Click on the title ‘Won’t Back Down’: Realities the movie ignores By Valerie Strauss and Rita Solnet

Review: Anti-union movie ‘Won’t Back Down’ is a step backward

Originally published September 28, 2012 at eschoolnews.

If you believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with America’s public schools, there are plenty of complaints to choose from.

Teachers might say that parents have abdicated their responsibilities. Parents might say that tax cuts have eroded the revenue base. Revenue generators might say that teachers unions have protected bad educators.

And a reasonably well-educated film critic might say that nobody in this complicated equation is teaching kids or their taxpaying parents to think critically, making them vulnerable to slick propaganda such as Won’t Back Down.

This heart-tugging movie claims to be “inspired by true events.” It’s true that in California a couple of years ago, parents in an underperforming district petitioned to turn a local school into a charter operation.

But this fake-populist movie doesn’t tell us that the “parent trigger” option got codified into laws that were drafted and promoted by an anti-union group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is financially supported by billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Philip Anschutz. The latter owns America’s largest movie-theater chain and the pseudo-studio that produced this deceitful attack on teachers unions (as well as the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’).

The story has been highly fictionalized and exported to Pittsburgh, where struggling single mom Jamie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is appalled that dyslexic daughter Malia (Emily Alyn Lind) is neglected by a tenured teacher who is more interested in her cell phone than in her students.

To Read the Full Text on Save Our Schools Please Click on the title Review: Anti-union movie ‘Won’t Back Down’ is a step backward