• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Morning Bell: Hollywood Steps Up in "Won't Back Down"

    A new movie opens in theaters today that couldn’t be more timely. The school year is hitting its stride, and the teachers union in Chicago just captured the national spotlight by strong-arming that city to meet its demands—at the expense of students and taxpayers.

    The time is ripe for a story like Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as mothers who can’t stand to watch their school fail any longer.

    Gyllenhaal’s character is a single mom advocating for better educational opportunities for her child. Davis plays a teacher in the school who wants to improve it. This is a crucial partnership: parents and teachers working together to create a better future for students. While teachers unions have already denounced the movie, Heritage education expert Lindsey Burke has urged that criticizing unions and criticizing teachers are not one and the same.

    Criticizing education unions for standing in the way of reform should not be conflated with criticizing teachers… The unions have blocked reforms such as performance pay and charter schools…have opposed alternative teacher certification that would help mid-career professionals enter the classroom, and have consistently fought the implementation of school choice options for children.

    Rather, the message of Won’t Back Down is one of empowering parents. In the film, parents are attempting to “take over” the school, referring to a type of law called a parent trigger law. Seven states have a version of this law, which gives parents the power to intervene in failing schools. If a majority of parents in a school want to reform it, these laws give them options, often including converting the school into a charter school and replacing school staff.

    Charter schools are typically run by non-profit community organizations, freed from the regulatory burdens on public schools. Heritage’s Jason Richwine has explained that “Charters have more leeway to experiment with different teaching methods, curriculum content, disciplinary procedures, and levels of parental involvement.” Parents have reported very high satisfaction with charter schools.

    The state of public education is ripe for reform. Just look at this year’s trends:

    Public school per-student spending is at an all-time high. Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year.

    SAT scores are at a 40-year low. This is only one marker of where the education system stands. Burke reminds us that “graduation rates have been stagnant since the 1970s, reading and math achievement has been virtually flat over the same time period, and American students still rank in the middle of the pack compared to their international peers.”

    Teachers unions are losing members. The National Education Association expects it will lose 308,000 members in the next couple of years.

    Support for school choice is at an all-time high. Forty-four percent of Americans now favor allowing taxpayer dollars spent on education to follow the student, enabling them to choose a private school to attend if they desire. As Burke reports, “School choice favorability has jumped 10 percentage points since last year, a sign that the proliferation of options such as vouchers, education savings accounts, and online learning is creating a welcome choice for families across the country.”

    Viola Davis, one of the stars of Won’t Back Down, expressed the desire of so many parents recently when she told Jay Leno:

    I am a parent. And as a parent, I have a child and I know that the only way she’s going to get a part of the American Dream is through education. And so if that great education is a public school, I’m going to send my kid to the public school. If that great education is a charter school, I’m going to send my kid to a charter school. If it’s a private school, I’ll send her to a private school. I think that it’s about wanting do what’s best for your kid.

    Read the real-life story of the first school in the country where parents successfully used the parent trigger to convert a failing public school into a charter school.

    Quick Hits:

    • See what Chip Flaherty of Walden Media, which produced Won’t Back Down, had to say about the movie when he visited Heritage this week. Watch the video.
    • Students at a New Jersey high school are considering a “lunch strike” in protest of restrictive federal guidelines stemming from first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.
    • The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway explains how media “fact checkers” made themselves of service to President Obama in the welfare reform debate.
    • Following next week’s presidential debate in Denver, conservatives will gather at the first-ever CPAC Colorado. Heritage has six speakers on the agenda. Advance registration rates expire Sunday.
    • With today’s debut of Won’t Back Down in theaters, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke will answer your questions in an online chat about education reform at noon ET today.
    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    15 Responses to Morning Bell: Hollywood Steps Up in "Won't Back Down"

    1. Pingback: Hollywood y la opción escolar

    2. Pingback: NetRight Daily » ‘Won’t Back Down’ creates important discussion on who controls student learning

    3. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      The teachers' unions are behind this. It's not a conspiracy theory. The teachers' unions are fighting school choice. The teachers' unions are fighting charter schools. Teachers in Chicago don't send their kids to Chicago's public schools. Why? Because there's only a 50% graduation rate in the Chicago Public Schools. Teachers in the Chicago Public Schools send their kids to private school. Obama also sends his daughters to private school. Up until Obama was elected, or selected, by the unions, Washington, DC, had a scholarship that allowed parents with kids in inner city schools in inner city Washington, to send their kids to schools of their choice. Including private schools. Why did Obama oppose it? Because it allowed them to send their kids
      to a religiously based private school___including a Catholic school. The WB series Gilmore Girls was about a
      single mother who sent her sixteen-year-old daughter to a private school. The fictional Chilton School in Hartford, Connecticut. Remember the Michelle Pfeiffer movie Criminal Minds? That was about an ex-soldier who was a teacher in inner city Los Angeles. It was also based on a true story.

    4. Patrick Riley says:

      "Advocating for. . ."? Get an editor.

    5. Ron W. Smith says:

      As one who is active in trying to improve the schools in my home state, I'm privy to a lot of the facts and figures involving public education here and abroad. Among countries ranked by the Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. is far down the lists in not only student achievement but in recruitment and retention of teachers. A major factor is teachers are not valued here as much as they are in countries like Finland and South Korea, making recruitment very difficult, retention sometimes impossible. Student loads per teacher here are higher and less is spent per pupil than in countries where teaching is a revered profession backed by parents committed to their children's academic success.
      Yes, unions can be an obstacle, but the object should not be to eliminate them. It should be to make them unnecessary, the easiest way to do so the improvement of teachers' compensation, benefits, and work conditions. All three of those in the U.S. do not compare well with what is being done in countries higher in assessment lists.
      There is a world of information out there, much of it indicting of the low regard in which teaching is held in America. Recruiting the best and the brightest into teaching should be much more important here than it has been, retention of them through professional-level compensation packages and full career and classroom support (without unions as catalyst preferably).
      Look internationally for the best examples, compare them with what we see in so many U.S. locations, and then reform.

      • Shanna says:

        Ron, this is the best commentary I have read on the reality of teaching in an American public school. Great job.

      • ThomNJ says:

        Student loads per teacher here are higher? I don't think that is correct, and I have been to other countries where their teachers have more children in a class than we do. 50 students versus maybe 30 in one of ours.

        In New Jersey, the highest per student spending is in the lowest ranked schools. Who makes out? Only the teachers in those schools, for the children certainly aren't.

    6. The bottom line is we as taxpayers are not getting the service(s) we are paying for. We do not have a choice and must pay and get what we get, something second rate. Personally I have never entered my child in public school. My wife and I home school through Bridgeway Academy (PA) and have legal service through HSLDA. Education is so important to us that we have decided my wife will be stay at home and conduct the teaching. Our child is flying. As a home schooler, is there anything for me. No, Actually I get to pay and pay and pay and pay and pay. But it does not bother me because I would in fact pay 5 times as much and still continue the home school effort. Why because it is working and my child is very bright and advancing and home schooling is one right that is mine that I hold dearly. I did not earn it. It is a right to educate my child without the twisted government bent. To other parents you also have this right but it is also an awesome responsibility not to be entered into just because you have some public school bug. It takes a commitment and it takes talents and it takes time, energy, loss of income and payments over and beyond what would be considered normal. All this is designed to defeat you before you begin. Is it worth it. Hell yes it is worth it in just the satisfaction.

    7. R. L. Hansel says:

      I graduated high school in 1967. For years I've heard the same old, same old about how teachers are so undervalued, under paid and overburdened. Including most of the time I attended public school and most of those saying so were teachers.

      Public school teacher salary along with very generous benefit, at least here in Iowa, are fair considering the yearly hours worked. Much better than they were in 1967. Teacher turnover rate is very low. So low that it's almost impossible for a newly graduated teacher to be hired. Many teacher work years as part time substitutes before becoming full time. If teachers are so underpaid, undervalued and overburdened why do they stay?

      Despite teachers' increased pay, increased benefit and high retention rate, graduations rates have not improved, actually lower and college entrance test scores are lower.

      In the City where I live we have a strong Catholic system, which pays teacher less and gives them fewer benefits. Yet the Catholic school system has a higher graduation rate and the college entrance test scores are higher than that of the public schools. If as the previous commenter contends we are not recruiting the best and brightest, than the only option that I can envision is the removal of all teachers who did not meet this standard, which would be almost be impossible within the framework of Union Teacher Contracts.

      I may be wrong but I had at least seen or read it reported that the United States had, if not the highest, one of the highest spending rate per student in the world.

    8. homeschooling911 says:

      In regard to spending more money on education, as Ron recommends above, that is exactly what the unions want and what our education system does NOT need. There is a direct correlation between the increase in the cost of education and the failure of the public school system regarding performance and graduation rates.

      It is ludicrous to think that more spending will make unions "unnecessary." The Democratic Party is beholden to the unions. We need more conservatives elected who will eliminate the NEA via instituting school choice. As this Heritage article demonstrates, spending isn't the problem, the lack of choice is (and as Mark Levin would point out, why is it liberals only favor about "choice" when it comes to killing babies?)

      One important choice that was left out of this discussion is the choice of homeschooling. I'm in my 23rd year of homeschooling and I assure you that homeschoolers educate their children FAR more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of public or private schools. Homeschoolers drastically out-perform their public school counterpoints by every measure, including "socialization." In general, they outperform every other educational option.

      I'm not holding my breath, but if more politicians and think-tanks would come out in support of homeschooling, more parents might consider this option. Not only would their kids be better-educated but it reinforces the building block of our society: the family.

    9. Cindi Sutton says:

      Thought this movie was terrible. As a tenured teacher, I resent the portrayal of the tenured teacher as being a horrible teacher that was in it "for the money." Seriously? Further, I resent that the only effective and concerned teacher was alternatively certified. Would you want your doctor, attorney, pharmacist, etc. to be someone that lacked extensive education, training, experience..and, merely studied to pass a test? Or, would you want them to be educated AND experienced? Why do we allow this type of certification in education? Don't our children deserve better? It is obvious that there is push to fill our classrooms with inexperience, uneducated teachers…and then, …we can't understand why our students fail? How about learning by example? Are students really encouraged to gain higher education when their teachers didn't? Isn't this all just a push to LOWER PAY /LESS SECURITY for teachers? The scene of the school board president observing the "fantastic" lesson presented…seriously…lecture and rote….what happened to most effective learning practices? The only portion that I could support was the inclusion of fine arts for effective learning. Too bad, they couldn't find an actor that could sing in key or keep a beat! Can you say…."PROPAGANDA?"

      • ThomNJ says:

        " … someone that lacked extensive education, training, experience..and, merely studied to pass a test? Or, would you want them to be educated AND experienced? … Don't our children deserve better? …push to fill our classrooms with inexperience, uneducated teachers…and then, …we can't understand why our students fail? How about learning by example? Are students really encouraged to gain higher education when their teachers didn't?"

        Your assumption that an alternative route instructor is somehow beneath you smacks of part of the problem. Why do you assume they have no further education? And blaming them for why our students fail is ludicrous – especially since mainstream teachers occupy virtually all the posts. If I chose the alternate route, I seriously doubt the vast majority of teachers could compete with my engineering and technical training or my MBA and experience running corporate business or technical programs. Gosh, would you want your child educated in science by someone who never saw steel melted, worked in a semiconductor clean room, worked on aerospace materials or other high-tech operations? Would you want your child to be taught by somene with as closed a mind as yours seems to be?

      • Bobbie says:

        What? you need pieces of paper from the federal government that say you went through all the federal requirements? Harmful speculations educated then basic fundamentals educated? Proof is in society! All the FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS IN THE WORLD DOESN'T MAKE THE TEACHER!! Teachers didn't need approval from feds ever before at this magnitude. Why do you think federal intervention AND their limitless costs are productive to the children or to education at all? The most effective learning isn't hindered by government requirements! The most effective learning comes from the teacher uninfluenced by government authority!!!

    10. TX Flamethrower says:

      Cindi,__As someone with a B.A. with EXTENSIVE experience in the business world who trained, educated, and worked alongside young people, I can unequivocally say that my having been 'alternately' certified in no way means that I do not have the experience and education to teach students. There are competent and incompetent teachers on both sides of the traditionally and alternatively certified teacher coin. As a person currently working in the public school system, I have seen tenured teachers who are awesome, and tenured teachers who should have retired a long time ago, but who are there because they want to keep adding to the percentage of their pension by staying longer. I have seen alternatively certified teachers who need more experience, and ones who are on fire and great educators, but get turned down for the ones who are fresh out of college with an education degree but no experience. So, your generalizations do not hold water. Our educational system needs a major overhaul, and throwing money at it will not fix the problem. A voucher system is one of the best solutions to the problem because it allows for competition, which will force all schools – not just private and charter- to promise AND deliver a top-quality product

    11. Ron W. Smith says:

      There's only one way to look at our problems in education. Compensating teachers more in line with what, say, sanitation workers receive than what people in professions receive has been a big mistake. Recruiting the best and brightest and retaining them has, as a result, been a huge problem in K-12 education for years. There's plenty of proof that shows that schools of education do not get the best and brightest as a rule and, additionally, that retention figures are horrible, too many who enter teaching leaving after several years, Discovering that they will be underrewarded, underappreciated, and overworked in careers in teaching turns candidates for teaching off–either before they enter teaching or soon after they do.
      Too many students per teacher, classrooms with populations too mixed in ability to teach effectively, indifferent students and parents, underequipped classrooms and libraries, and endless micromanaging by federal and state legislatures has made teaching pretty unattractive as a profession.
      Look to what's going on in Finland, South Korea, Shanghai and quite a few other places around the world that have far better student achievement than we do in Core subjects. Where teaching is revered, learning by students highest priority, and support systems well thought-out and strong, outcomes are better. It's that simple.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×