With Friday’s release of “Won’t Back Down,” Hollywood has brought to theaters the real-life struggle of millions of parents. The movie features Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent-and-teacher duo who team up to turn around a chronically failing public school. Rather than acquiesce to the certainty of a subpar education for the children, they fight back–rallying other parents and teachers to the cause of wrestling control of their school from the local school board and putting it in the hands of devoted educators.
It isn’t fantasy. The movie is based on new “parent-trigger” laws, a very real policy solution that–depending on the state–gives parents and others the power to reform failing schools; close them; or, in some states, transform them into charter schools. The first parent-trigger law was passed by California in 2010, with bipartisan support in a Democratic legislature.
Today, across six states, parents of more than 14 million students can trigger the turnaround of their local school if it is failing. The laws vary, but in general once a school has been on a state’s list of underperforming schools for a specified period, a majority vote by parents and others specified by law can trigger the reform process.