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“Won’t Back Down” fuels education reform wars

Liz SullivanLiz Sullivan is an OUSD grandparent, a former teacher and a community organizer. The views expressed in this article are her own.

“Won’t Back Down” will be released in theaters on September 28, but the new film is already stirring up controversy. Produced by the team who brought us “Waiting for Superman,” the movie stars Maggie Gyllanhaal and Viola Davis as two moms who use a “parent trigger” law to turn around a failing school. Michelle Rhee screened the movie at the Democratic and Republican Conventions, and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, attacked the film in a press release, saying: “…the movie resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes.” The film is the latest dust up in the school reform wars. One side blames teachers’ unions for blocking change, and the other side characterizes school reform as a corporate privatization scheme.

The movie’s story line should feel familiar to local folks. Oakland’s parents and teachers have created scores of new schools over the last decade. Yet school reform Oakland-style does not fit easily into the overheated narratives competing on the national stage. The rhetoric of school reform resorts to gross oversimplifications that play well to a crowd. The reality of school reform involves real people navigating a marvelously complex world.

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