In the way the documentary “Waiting for 'Superman' ” became the critics’ pick for charter school enthusiasts in 2010, education reformers are already turning to “Won’t Back Down” to shed light on a new cause: the “parent trigger” law.
And though the film won’t go nationwide until Sept. 28, Nashville is set to receive a special sneak preview.
The education group StudentsFirst — led by controversial former Washington, D.C., School Chancellor Michelle Rhee — has selected Nashville, along with 17 other cities, to receive a special screening of the film. The Nashville premier is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 24 at Regal Opry Mills.
The screening is by invitation only and not open to the general public.
Francisco Castillo, StudentsFirst’s deputy national press secretary, told The City Paper the event in Nashville would include a panel discussion, though the slate of panelists still isn’t finalized.
One notable name already set to attend is charter school champion Mayor Karl Dean. According to his press secretary Bonna Johnson, Dean will give welcoming remarks and stay to watch the movie.
“Won’t Back Down,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, portrays a teacher and a parent’s utilization of a “trigger law” to “turnaround a dysfunctional school,” according to a StudentsFirst description.
StudentsFirst, which contributed to three Metro school board candidates  during recent elections, says a half a dozen states nationwide have versions of “parent trigger” laws. At its core, the measure allows a majority of parents at low-performing schools who sign a petition to trigger a restructure of operations — whether that’s bringing in an outside charter group, firing a principal or even closing the school altogether.
Rhee, who founded StudentsFirst in 2010, has said in the past, “Parent trigger laws give moms and dads real authority to work with educators to transform schools so they work well for all kids.”
A little-known provision in a 2009 Tennessee statute allows the conversion of an existing public school to an outside charter organization if parents of 60 percent of children enrolled at the school or 60 percent of the school’s teachers agree to the move by signing a petition.
There’s one key catch, however, in Tennessee’s law that weakens the trigger: Local charter authorizers — the Metro school board, for example — must approve the conversion. Its decision cannot be appealed to the state.
To date, there doesn’t appear to be a push for a more aggressive “parent trigger” law ahead of Tennessee’s 2013 legislative session.
“Parent trigger” laws, supported by groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are also highly controversial, with local school districts and unions often leading the resistance. California was the first state to enact a “parent trigger” law, and contentious fights have resulted there.
Dean, in a statement, said films such as “Won’t Back Down” help foster discussion on the “education challenges we face in the country and ways to improve public education.” He added, “One critical factor in improving the quality of our schools is by engaging and empowering families.
“For me, this is less about parent trigger laws and more about having a productive discussion on education reforms such as charter schools,” Dean said.
StudentsFirst began its screenings of “Won’t Back Down” at the recent Democratic and Republican national conventions in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., From there, the group held a screening in Las Vegas on Monday.
Other cities StudentsFirst selected for special “Won’t Back Down” screenings are: Atlanta; Bridgeport, Conn.; Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit, Mich.; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Miami, Fla.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Newark, N.J.; New York; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Francisco, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; and St. Louis, Mo.