bureaucracy and the unions, the schools will improve” (Kelly). The film
fails to depict vital parts of the transformative process. Just how is it
done? How is the culture of the school changed? Does hiring new
teachers make the difference? Is change accomplished by devoting
more money to improving student literacy? Is it the extended school
day that propels students to succeed? What are the changes made by
the new management team that help to turn around a failing public
This gaping hole in the film plot highlights an important point
that is often omitted from conversations about public education
reform. Reforming a failing school is not just about systemic change or
gaining the freedom to make management changes without restrictive
district oversight; it is also about intra-school reform and changing
school culture to foster learning. There are two steps to education
reform: first, systemic change, enabling schools to have more
individualized management by allowing them freedom from strict
district oversight; and second, school reform, implementing effective
management strategies within the school, and cultivating a learning
environment that allows teachers to meet their students’ educational
needs. As Kelly notes, “parent trigger is simply a lever to push for
school-level reform, not a solution.” Gaining control of the
administrative management of a failing public school might be the first
step in reform, but it is not the answer.
While Won’t Back Down might not be a how-to guide for fixing
public schools, it calls attention to the need for public education reform,
and it highlights the inequity of resources that plague high-poverty
schools. In a poignant moment during the film, single mother Jaime
Fitzpatrick proclaims, “I can’t wait with ten thousand studies about how
being poor affects education. I can tell you being poor sucks, and my
kid can’t read.” These lines speak a depth of truth about America’s
public education system: it’s not equal opportunities for all. In fact, it’s
a rather skewed distribution with the best schools in the wealthiest areas
and the worst schools… well, they don’t matter that matter that much.
It’s not equality for all but something very far from that ideal.
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