Parent Trigger: The Movie?

Viola Davis 2012 SAG
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As parents in the city of Adelanto debate whether to pull the so-called "parent trigger" and reconstitute their children's school, the New York Times reports that there's already a "parent trigger" movie in the works.

It's called "Won't Back Down" and starts Academy Award nominee Viola Davis ("The Help") in a fictional story of a parent trigger fight in Pennsylvania. The fight is fictional because the parent trigger has not successfully been pulled anywhere in the United States -- the tool is too new. The backer of the film is a company owned by Phil Anschutz, best known in California for his firm AEG, which runs the Staples Center in LA and is trying to bring NFL football back to the city.

Hollywood's embrace of the "parent trigger" says a lot about this particular school reform tool. The idea of having parents take over failing schools is dramatic, even cinematic, but in practice, it's a tricky business -- so tricky that the trigger itself is unlikely to become a widely used tool for school reform.

A movie about the parent trigger runs the risk of putting too much emphasis on an uncommon tool -- and distracting us from the difficult, long-term task of raising standards in schools. That work should be based on research and data -- not the silver bullet of parent takeovers.

On the other hand, a public conversation about parent involvement in schools can be a good thing. And sparking conversation is the best thing about the parent trigger itself. Parents may not be the best people to make decisions about school policy, but when the trigger is used, it sparks controversy -- and debate -- about schools. And while the controversy around the parent trigger has been used to criticize the tool, the creation of controversy around local schools, and the attention that follows controversy, is mostly healthy.

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