New movie on ‘parent trigger’ laws gets advance Philly screening

Mayor Nutter and Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams joined over a hundred Philadelphians Wednesday night for a special advance screening of “Won’t Back Down,” a new movie about education reform that is provoking sharp criticism from teacher’s unions.

In the film, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis play a pair of Pittsburgh moms who join forces to fix their kids’ failing school.  Davis’ character is also a teacher at the school.

“Won’t Back Down” is both a major motion picture and a polished example of contemporary issue advocacy. Wednesday’s screening was hosted by StudentsFirst, a California-based non-profit group that has been pushing states to adopt so-called “parent trigger” laws. The laws generally allow parents to petition for a total overhaul of their kids’ schools, if they can get a majority to sign on.

Director Daniel Barnz said his goal was to provoke discussion and action.

“What the films wants to focus on, and what I think many people in the education reform want to focus on, are the kids,” said Barnz.

But the movie’s harsh depiction of teacher’s union didn’t sit well with some, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.  Jordan was particularly put off by a scene in which teachers claim they can’t put in extra hours because of union work rules.

“This is a work of fiction,” said Jordan.  “Teachers in Philadelphia stay after school for hours.”

Mayor Nutter generally tried to strike a conciliatory tone, emphasizing the need for stakeholders from across the spectrum to work together.

State senator Anthony Hardy Williams moderated the discussion.  Williams unsuccessfully tried to get the Pennsylvania legislature to enact a “parent trigger” law last year. He said another version of the bill is “teed up” for consideration later this Fall.

“Won’t Back Down” opens in theaters on September 28th.

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