An underprivileged mother (Gyllenhaal) determined to do the best for her child, takes action on discovering the failing situation of her daughter's inner city school. Her daughter cannot read and even comments that the school doesn't care about punctuality or the fact that many students are suffering and struggling with learning difficulties. After her daughter is punished and locked in a closet by an incompetent teacher because she didn't 'follow the rules', the mother decides enough is enough and enlists the help of a desperate teacher (Davis), whose son is also struggling to learn to read and write, to help her take over the school. They put everything on the line to battle through the teacher's union, challenging and incapable teachers, and a sceptical principal and make the school (and therefore the violent gang and drug ridden neighbourhood) a better place for underprivileged children.
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