It's not an exaggeration to say that Won't Back Down, the fictional movie that lionized the charter school movement, had many of us in the "real" reform camp worried. The premise was clearly ridiculous, but films like this are truthy enough that they can change public perception. That it was backed by the deep-pocketed and homophobic Philip Anschutz didn't help.
Luckily, Won't Back Down went on to have arguably the worst opening of any major commercial film in history. But that didn't stop me from imagining a sequel...
Won't Back Down II: The Sequel
After credits roll, fade up on school office. A worker is taking down a sign that says "Adams Elementary" and putting up one that says "KKIP Super Success Academy." In walk Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Nona Alberts (Viola Davis), smiling and chatting, clearly excited by changes in the school.
They enter the principal's office, where they are greeted by the new school leader, Geoffrey Barth-Moskowitz (Anthony Hopkins). He stands and shakes their hands.
Geoffrey: Jamie, Nona, how good of you to come. Welcome to the KKIP Super Success Academy!
Jamie: Thank you so much, Mr. Barth-Moskowitz!
Geoffrey: Oh, please, no need to be formal; call me Geoff.
Jamie: The school looks wonderful, Geoff! I can't believe how many new computers you have!
Geoffrey: Well, that's all part of the generous funding we receive from the KKIP Foundation; we are able to spend more per pupil than Adams Elementary was.
Nona: Really? Why couldn't we get that money before when we were a public school?
Geoffrey: Oh, I think you'll find our funders are far more amenable to giving money if the schools match their ideological predilections. Now that you ladies have pulled the "parent trigger" and brought us in to take over this school, you'll find there are many changes coming.
Nona: Yes, well, that's one thing I wanted to ask you about. I figured that we would have a few computers in every classroom, but it looks like there are enough so that every child will have his or her own. Isn't that a little excessive?
Geofrey: Oh, not at all. You see, KSSA is now a "blended learning" school. We'll be delivering content to our customers... uh, sorry, "the children"... digitally, using software developed by K9 Inc. In fact, K9 Inc. will be running the entire school from now on.
Jamie: Wait a minute; this school is supposed to be non-profit. K9 is a for-profit company.
Geoffrey: True, but that was easy enough to get around. We merely set up a non-profit shell, with a board of directors sympathetic to our point of view. And the state and city politicians are all in our pocket... uh, I mean "on our side"... anyway.
Jamie: But that's not what we wanted at all! When we used the parent trigger, we thought we were getting a community-run school!
Geoffrey: Oh, Jamie, I'm sorry to tell you this, but all you did with the trigger was force a change. No one said you would have any say in what that change would be. No one made clear who would make the decisions about how the school would be structured or who would run it. No one had a procedure to appoint a board of directors. I'm sorry Jamie, but when you allowed this school to be converted to a charter, you gave up many of your rights as both a taxpayer and as a parent.
Jamie: Well, I'll go the local school board! They'll force this charter school to have parental involvement!
Geoffrey: My dear Jamie, you didn't think this through, did you? Charter schools offer you "choice"; they do NOT offer you "involvement." If you don't like the way we do things at KSSA, you can "choose" to leave; that's what school "choice" is all about. But your local district, even though it must give us money to run the school, has no say in how we run the school. We are, in effect, our own district now.
Jamie: Well, I don't like it, but it must be better than what we had before at Adams Elementary. So I'll just enroll my daughter and see how it goes...
Geoffrey: Ah, about that. I'm afraid I have some bad news: I've asked you here to help "counsel out" your daughter.
Geoffrey: Yes, unfortunately, your daughter has a learning disability, isn't that correct?
Jamie: Of course; she's dyslexic. That's the whole reason I organized the "Parenttroopers," because her needs weren't being served by those awful unionized teachers!
Geoffrey: Yes, it's funny that. Unions, like those in Chicago, have demanded that districts hire more special education teachers to serve students like your daughter. But they've been criticized for protecting those teachers from layoffs and evaluation systems that could penalize special education teachers. [Update: more here.] Ironic, no?
Jamie: Whatever. All I want to know is why you think my daughter won't do well here!
Geoffrey: Well, Jamie, we here at KSSA base our school on best practices. We look at the best charter schools: after all, Education Secretary Duncan himself has said we should close poor performing charters and emulate the best ones. New Jersey is leading the way with this line of thinking; look at this:
You see how the "successful" schools - the ones Governor Christie touts as exemplary - have fewer children with special needs? And fewer children who are in deep poverty? And fewer children who don't speak English at home? That's our plan as well; "counseling out" the children who keep our test scores low.
Jamie: But you can't keep my child out! The law says you have to accept every child!
Geoffrey: Every child who applies at the right time and right place, you mean. We've made that considerably more difficult.
Jamie: I don't care! I won't back down! I'll get her in this school, you'll see!
Geoffrey: And what then, Jamie? What happens if she doesn't fit in? If she isn't compliant with our strict disciplinary policies? If you can't contribute the significant "voluntary" parent contribution, or pay your child's discipline fines?
Jamie: But my child has an Individualized Education Program! You have to follow that!
Geoffrey: Yes - but we get to decide how to implement it. And if that means your child gets more suspensions than the other students, well...
Nona: Don't worry, Jamie, we'll work this out. After all, I'm the principal now...
Geoffrey: Yes, about that; I'm afraid there's been a change, Ms. Alberts. KSSA will not be requiring your services as an administrator.
Geoffrey: Yes, well, I'm afraid that when K9 Inc. was given the contract to become the school's charter management organization, all personnel matters fell to them. We have decided we need a truly transformational leader, so we are bringing in a young graduate of our KKIP Leadership Academy. Don't worry, he has nearly two years of experience in the classroom...
Nona: But I was going to run this school! The parents love me! I'm the best teacher at the school!
Geoffrey: That may be true, Ms. Albert, but I'm afraid their voices are irrelevant here. In any case, a blended learning environment keeps costs low by cutting staff; someone had to go. Now, if you'd like to reapply for your job as a teacher here, we'll see what we can do. Of course, you'll have to take a pay cut...
Nona: A pay cut?! I just got a divorce; I can't afford a pay cut!
Geoffrey: Ms. Albert, you're asking me to put your interests above the students; even worse, you're asking me to put your interests above the interests of K9 Inc.! If you're not prepared to work longer hours for less money, I don't see how you will fit in here.
Nona: But I have years of experience! You need people like me on the staff!
Geoffrey: Actually, experienced, overpaid teachers are the last thing we need. Churn-and-burn is now how we roll. We need teachers who can put in long days and longer school years.
Nona: But I have a son with a brain injury at home! I can't work longer hours than I already am!
Geoffrey: My word, what a selfish attitude. I can see you don't have the proper love of children it takes to work at this type of successful school.
Jamie: "Successful"?! You're counseling out students who are difficult to teach, burning out your staff, putting resources into corporate profits instead of the classroom, disempowering the community - and you dare to say you're "successful"?!
Geoffrey: I think our test scores will speak for themselves - especially after we have the students drill-and-kill on them...
Nona: Well, we're not standing for this! This isn't what we wanted when we pulled the trigger!
Geoffrey pushes red button on his desk.
Jamie: We won't back down! We're going to take back our school, again!
Two very large men enter.
Geoffrey: These ladies were just leaving; escort them off the premises. If they attempt to reenter the grounds, call the police.
Nona: You can't do this! This is our school!
Geoffrey: Not any more.
Jamie and Nona are dragged out, yelling. Barth-Moskowitz turns and looks at camera...
Fade to black.
ADDING: Darcie reviews the original. It ain't pretty.
ADDING MORE: I was all excited to get my $19 million check for this script from anti-gay, environment-raping, Won't Back Down producer Philip Anschutz. Then the box office figures started coming out for the weekend; it looks like WBD is on track to have one of the worst openings in Hollywood history.
Damn. I guess I better cancel that order at the Maserati dealer. Well, babe, that's showbiz...