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Stanford Professors Weigh In On California’s “Parent Trigger” Law, Latest Blockbuster Won’t Back Down

Publication Date: 
October 06, 2012
Stanford Review
Salil Dudani


Professor Bill Koski spoke with the Stanford Review's Salil Dudani about "parent trigger" laws and how in addition to holding schools and school districts accountable for providing children with a good education, the state needs to be accountable as well. 

Set to hit theaters nationwide on Friday, Sept. 28, Won't Back Down is the controversial Hollywood rendition of education reform's the "parent trigger."


First passed two years ago in California, the parent trigger law allows parents to "take over" troubled schools once a majority of parents sign a petition. In Won't Back Down, a mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a teacher (Viola Davis) struggle to win over skeptical parents, a hostile teachers union, and a bureaucratic school district in their fight to turn around their failing inner-city school. Though not easy, the reform process they follow appears well established, and the film claims to be "inspired by actual events."

"What's going to be ironic about this movie is that it's going to make it seem like this law exists in a lot of places. This law isn't anywhere. This law is brand new," said Dr. Bill Koski of Stanford Law School and the Stanford School of Education. Since California enacted the law as part of the state's failed bid for federal funds under President Obama's Race to the Top program, six other states have passed their own parent triggers, though Pennsylvania—where Won't Back Down is set—is not one of them.


This catch-22 in which the parent trigger precludes cooperation in the very communities where it might be most necessary, worries Dr. Koski.


As Dr. Koski put it, "While it is important that our schools and school districts be held accountable to our communities for providing children the education they deserve, accountability alone will not succeed unless children have the resources to learn, teachers have the resources to teach, and administrators have the resources to lead. For that, the state should be held accountable."