Is Education Reform Hollywood Box Office Gold?

20th century fox, education reform

Education reform drama -- soon at a theater near you!

So it turns out education reform policy has the stuff of Hollywood movies. The New York Times‘ Michael Cieply gave readers a sneak preview of a fall-release dramatization of parents’ efforts to take over their failing school.

How far teachers have fallen since the “Lean on Me” days.Due to be released in September, “Won’t Back Down” stars Viola Davis as a Pennsylvania teacher who joins with unexpected parent advocate Maggie Gyllenhaal in the push for a parent takeover of their school. Apparently the story hinges on so-call parent trigger laws, which allow parents to turn public schools into publicly funded charter schools if they can prove the teachers, administrators and curriculum are not serving the students. In real life, a handful of states have parent trigger laws on the books. To date, no trigger laws have turned a school over to parents, though today officials will decide whether to allow for just that at a desert school in Adelanto, Calif.

Parent trigger laws have many big corporate backers, including the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. This movie is being financed in part by Walden Media, which is backed by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. Walden Media also helped finance the making of “Waiting for Superman,” the 2010 documentary that made the term “charter school” as household name and also promoted teacher testing and an end to teacher tenure.

Talented and popular actors like Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, plus a plot as riveting as “Silkwood” or “Erin Brockovitch,” will make this a tempting movie to see, it’s pretty clear there’s a political agenda behind the story.

From the Times:

“We realized the inherent limitations of the documentary format [referring to "Waiting for Superman"],” said Michael Bostick, chief executive of Walden. Now, he said, the idea is to reach a larger audience through the power of actors playing complicated characters who struggle with issues that happen to be, in his phrase, “ripped from the headlines.”

Interesting. Ed policy as exciting as car chases!

Frank Wells, California Teachers Association union spokesman, who is closely watching the outcome of today’s very real parent trigger decision, told the Times that he’s surprised parent trigger laws could be the plot point for a movie. “I can’t wait for ‘Vouchers 3-D: The Movie,’ ” Wells said.

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