While “Won’t Back Down”—currently showing in movie theaters nationwide—is Hollywood’s fictionalized treatment of parents who invoke a parent-trigger law to take over a struggling school, another movie, “Parent Power,” has been making the rounds in more than 50 cities across the country since it premiered in fall 2011.
Viewed at dozens of community events over the past year, including a presentation at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C., the documentary is intended to inspire, inform, and support local education organizing efforts.
Through the voices of parents, “Parent Power” chronicles 15 years of effective parent organizing in New York City. These parents have managed to block budget cuts, increase school funding, and influence the adoption of a citywide lead teacher program. Produced by a senior policy analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR), the film was created in collaboration with a video production firm.
Asked to compare the documentary to the message in “Won’t Back Down,” Richard Gray, Jr., ASIR’s director of Community Organization & Engagement told Education Week, “One of our concerns about parent trigger: While it’s great that it does create the opportunity for parents to have the power to change policy, once that takes place, there’s nothing to say parents continue to have the powerful ability to mold education.”
Contrasting the ASIR approach to the parent trigger movement, Gray said, “Our conversation is about, how do parents build that long, sustaining power, to produce the best education for the kids in their community?”
Gray has participated in screenings and discussions of the movie, and talked to parents and community members about “the essential elements of parent power, which are about investing in the organizations that have a demonstrated commitment to a community—the roots, relationships and resources in neighborhoods,” he said.
A synopsis of the film describes it as shedding a spotlight on three stages of parent organizing, from 1995 to 2010, across New York City’s African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
First, parents in a neighborhood-based after-school center build a local action group to improve a poorly performing neighborhood elementary school.
Second, the parent action group helps build a regional coalition of similar community-based groups that works with school officials and teachers’ unions to create a teacher mentor program that significantly reduces new teacher attrition and improves student achievement.
Third, the film details how the regional collaborative builds a citywide parent organization that mounts a successful campaign to improve the city’s struggling middle schools and then works with the school system to implement the reform program.
The organizing depicted in the film was supported by AISR staff, who helped with data analysis, publicity, and fundraising and also linked organizing groups and coalitions to elected leaders and education reform experts.
“Pending funding, the plan is to conduct screenings in 30 cities during 2012-13, at events hosted by community organizing and advocacy groups, as well as for large, national organizations such as teacher unions,” according to Philip Gloudemans, AISR’s director of strategic communications.
A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.