School Choice & Charters

Battle Over ‘Won’t Back Down’ Won’t End Anytime Soon

By Sean Cavanagh — September 28, 2012 2 min read
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“Won’t Back Down,” Hollywood’s fictionalized account of an attempted takeover of a struggling school, opens in theaters today, and the race to define the film as either an triumphant motivational tool for the school-reform set or an cartoonish depiction of teachers and assorted school bureaucrats is well underway.

A “must-see movie,” concludes Jonathan Butcher at the conservative Goldwater Institute, who hopes it will inspire policymakers “to give parents the freedom to turn failing schools into success stories.”

An “extreme example of Hollywood running with its biases,” argues Anne Bryant of the National School Boards Association, who sees the film as a misguided endorsement of parent trigger legislation. “Along with depictions of good teachers and bad teachers,” she writes, “the characterizations of school board members are equally stereotyped.”

A “gripping, emotional, and entertaining film,” says the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, one with the “power to spark a national discussion about how to ensure that America’s public schools deliver education and equity for all students.” The philanthropy urges audiences to see the film, bring a friend, and forward its email.

A vehicle for the movie’s “billionaire backers,” and “right-wing politicians and for-profit firms” to “promote the transformation of the American public school system into a for-profit enterprise,” shouts the the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.

An “undoubtedly inspiring” film, writes the Center for Education Reform, which plugs the film and the center’s own “parent power index,” an interactive tool meant to tell parents how much power their states afford them—as defined by access to charter and online schools, school choice, and other policies.

A more-nuanced view is offered by the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn, who says the film periodically slides into cliché-ville, but also gets some things right, particularly the “politics and charged emotions” at work in bad schools weighing major overhauls.

I’m partial to the review offered by my Ed Week colleague Ross Brenneman, who notes that the film defies some of the expectations of fans and critics alike. “There are parent-trigger laws,” he says of the movie. “There are teachers. There is a real place named Pittsburgh. But ‘Won’t Back Down’ is inspired by a true story in the same sense that ‘Gladiator’ was inspired by the true story of Rome existing.”

These folks presumably had advance screenings. I’m inviting you, the ticket-buying public, to post your own reviews here, after you’ve had a look.

Image from “Won’t Back Down,” courtesy Walden Media.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.