"Inspired" by real events? The new movie by Walden Media (makers of Waiting for Superman) about parent triggers, is apparently "inspired" by the parent trigger movement in 2010 launched against McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif. That movement, unlike the one in the movie, failed.
Simply put, parent trigger laws allow 51% of parents of a given public school the right to close a "failing school" or replace it with a privately managed charter. So you can guess who is in favor of the laws...Charter Management Organizations, Corporate Reformers and politicians who are pushing charter schools on America despite the lack of research showing that charters offer any advantage over regular public schools.
The evildoer in the movie is, as expected, the teachers union. NEA responds...
It’s no coincidence that “Won’t Back Down” is funded in large part by Walden Media, the same company that bankrolled “Waiting for Superman.” Walden Media is owned by Phillip Anschutz, a right-wing billionaire who has a long history of supporting conservative politicians and causes.Won't Back Down, like Waiting for Superman, describes another battle in the war against public education in America. Diane Ravitch explains why parent trigger laws are the wrong way to help struggling schools.
Public schools don’t belong to the 51 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled this year. They don’t belong to the teachers or administrators. They belong to the public. They were built with public funds. The only legitimate reason to close a neighborhood public school is under-enrollment. If a school is struggling, it needs help from district leaders, not a closure notice.Ravitch asks, should "51 percent of people using a public service have the power to privatize it?" Perhaps corporate reformers might answer "yes" to that question. However, the right thing to do is to improve public services -- not throw them away.
Parents in Florida got it right earlier this month. By organizing, they stopped a parent trigger law. No Florida-based parent group supported it. By their actions, they recognized that collaboration — not hostile takeovers — is the most effective way to improve their public schools.
Parents Across America provides a comparison of the film version, as shown in the trailer (see below), to the reality of the Compton CA action.
Film version: The trailer shows parents, led by the Gyllenhaal character, mobilizing valiantly to take over their school — and only much later contacting an outside organizer for extra support.
Film version: The trailer shows parents determined to take over the school, against all odds.
- Reality: The Parent Trigger attempt at McKinley Elementary School was entirely orchestrated by outsiders – the staff of Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles organization that first proposed the legislation that created the Parent Trigger. Parent Revolution looked around the state for a school to target, chose McKinley and pre-selected a charter school operator called Celerity to take it over. Parent Revolution sent paid operatives door to door in Compton with petitions. Only then did any parents at McKinley even hear about the petition drive, according to the Los Angeles Weekly, which covered the story in detail.
Film version: The trailer shows parents uniting in support of the purportedly parent-led cause.
- Reality: In Compton, there was no discussion of parents taking over the school. The Parent Trigger attempt was intended from the beginning to turn the school over to the Celerity charter school operator.
Film version: The trailer shows a movement destined to triumphantly turn a hellhole into a successful school.
- Reality: In Compton, after Parent Revolution turned in the petition signatures, hundreds of McKinley parents turned out to a school board meeting to oppose the Parent Trigger. Many parents protested that they had been misled into signing the petition and that they didn’t want their school to become a charter school, according to the Los Angeles Weekly.
There has since been a second Parent Trigger attempt, also led by Parent Revolution, at another California school, Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, in early 2012. That effort divided the school community into factions, and is currently mired in court battles.
- Reality: In Compton, the charter operator, Celerity, ended up opening a school near McKinley rather than taking it over. The vast majority of McKinley parents kept their children at McKinley. Only 20 percent of the McKinley families transferred their children to the new charter, according to the Los Angeles Times. “
None of this is to say that struggling schools are acceptable and that we shouldn’t be working to improve them. But the Parent Trigger is not an attempt to improve struggling schools; it’s an attempt to divert public money into private pockets. It’s about empowering opportunistic entrepreneurs, not parents. No star-powered propaganda vehicles can make that reality go away.