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‘Won’t Back Down’ Movie Features Parent Trigger, Championed by The Heartland Institute

September 27, 2012

On Friday, the movie “Won’t Back Down” opens in more than 3,000 theaters nationwide. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, the film is an inspiring story about how a single mother takes on the broken and corrupt public school system – and wins.

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On Friday, the movie “Won’t Back Down” opens in more than 3,000 theaters nationwide. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, the film is an inspiring story about how a single mother takes on the broken and corrupt public school system – and wins. This is the first major Hollywood production to champion the cause of school choice for parents who are desperate to give their children a better future. The mechanism the mother uses to reform her school is akin to the Parent Trigger, a school-reform tool championed by The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank based in Chicago.

The Parent Trigger is an education reform mechanism that gives power to parents whose children are trapped in a persistently failing public school. When a majority of parents sign a petition requesting reform of the school, the school leadership must implement the option directed by the parents: shut down, become a charter school, or undergo another type of reform.

You can review Heartland’s extensive work on the Parent Trigger – including policy studies, op-eds, news article, and podcasts – at, at, and at Heartland’s policy document database, PolicyBot.

The following statements from education experts at The Heartland Institute may be used for attribution. For more comments, refer to the contact information below. To book a Heartland guest on your program, please contact Tammy Nash at and 312/377-4000. After regular business hours, contact Jim Lakely at and 312/731-9364.

“‘Won’t Back Down’ is already inspiring parents across the country to return to their privilege and joy: raising their children, which includes securing a good education. The movie illustrates how egregiously and unjustly the system is stacked against parents and teachers who just want to do their jobs well. This is true not only for failing schools, but for the entire public school system, which universally treats parents as afterthoughts rather than central, responsible, and free guardians of their children.

“Like the main character, single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick, nearly all parents will strive like the dickens to do right by their kids. They just need this power returned. This movie signals to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that it’s time to let parents call the real shots – meaning money and universal school choice – or perpetuate injustice.”

Joy Pullmann
Research Fellow, The Heartland Institute
Managing Editor, School Reform News

“This film will inspire parents, policy makers, and those concerned about the failures of America’s public schools to make Parent Triggers available so that parents can choose desirable schools for their children. The link to the Heartland’s page on the Parent Trigger can bring to all those interested the details on it works and how to enact fitting policies.”

Herbert J. Walberg
Senior Fellow, Education
The Heartland Institute
Distinguished Visiting Fellow
Stanford University, Hoover Institution

“Hooray for Hollywood! For once, one of its films has a shot at channeling emotional energy behind a positive cause (parent-initiated school choice) that unites citizens across partisan and racial divides. Plus, “Won’t Back Down” can only bolster the morale of long-time advocates as they realize that parental choice finally has become sexy.”

Robert G. Holland
Senior Fellow, Education
The Heartland Institute

“Thank goodness for the teachers unions. Really and truly. Without the howls of indignation from the American Federation of Teachers and its allies, it’s possible – even likely – that this inspiring film would not be receiving as much attention as it is. That kind of publicity is hard to buy.

“And what are the unions bothered about? ‘Won’t Back Down’ is all about parental empowerment and choice in the face of an entrenched bureaucracy and teachers union intransigence. According to the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, about 70 percent of likely voters nationally support the idea of a parent trigger. Those are Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Now just imagine a Hollywood motion picture giving credence to the idea.

“Public opinion is moving away from the old teachers union line toward greater choice and empowerment. That’s a great thing.”

Ben Boychuk
Policy Advisor, Education
The Heartland Institute

“This film demonstrates that a new, better understanding of the issue of school choice is rapidly pervading our society: It is a civil rights issue. Trapping poor people in bad schools perpetuates poverty, dependency, crime, and human misery. The current system is in fact an outrage against the nation’s basic values, and that is the stuff of great drama – and the rapidly growing support for reform the nation has experienced in recent years.”

S.T. Karnick
Director of Research
The Heartland Institute

“Since the late 1980s, there have been many opportunities to make inspiring movies about parents fighting for a better choice of schools for their children. There is the story of Wisconsin State Rep. Polly Williams, who fought alongside inner-city parents during the 1980s to improve the Milwaukee public schools before settling on vouchers as a vehicle to empower parents. There is also the story of the suburban parents who fought for better education for their children in the Princeton public schools during the 1990s and finally succeeded in creating a charter school.

“These stories haven’t yet been scripted, but more recent reform efforts by parents in California appear to be the basis for a new movie about school choice called ‘Won’t Back Down,’ which is about the Parent Trigger. The Parent Trigger is a new education reform mechanism, but its power has already caught the attention of Hollywood producers.

“The first step in initiating school reform is to inspire parents to action. This movie has the potential to do that. It provides an uplifting message to parents about what they can do to improve their child’s school. They hold the power to do that in their own hands – they just have to use it. I hope someone is already working on ‘The Polly Williams Story.’”

George A. Clowes
Senior Fellow, Education Policy
The Heartland Institute

The Heartland Institute is a 28-year-old national nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our Web site or call 312/377-4000.

Article Tags
Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of The Federalist, a web magazine on politics, policy, and culture. @JoyPullmann
Dr. Herbert Walberg is a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute and a former member of its Board of Directors.
Robert Holland, a journalist and author who has championed school choice throughout his career, is a Heartland Institute Senior Fellow addressing education policy. @PeripateticPop
S. T. Karnick is a senior fellow and director of publications for The Heartland Institute.
George Clowes is former Heartland senior fellow addressing education policy. He served as founding managing editor of School Reform News between November 1996 and January 2005.

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