Lower Merion: Are Public Schools and Elected School Boards Obsolete?

Here in Lower Merion, PA, heads are spinning from the Lower Merion School District's loss of a lawsuit brought by Arthur Alan Wolk.

Some people are appreciative of Mr. Wolk's questioning the transparency of the tax situation, but many of us are concerned about a much larger issue – the protection and preservation of local school board control and the quality of education for our children.

Is it a coincidence that Mr. Wolk stated to a reporter that, "He wants district administrators removed from office... and plans to launch a 'Dump the Lower Merion School Directors' movement to run a slate of independent candidates"?
It is still too early in the game to know for sure, but threatening local control through aggressive and hostile attacks—well, that is just what corporate education reformers do.

In this post by former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, the big issues are brought to light about the aggressive movement by charter school investors & the politicians they support to end local school board control. There is no reason, other than personal financial gain, that these non-education experts are sticking their noses into the education of America's children. Just because people went to school does not make them experts in education. 

The only obstacle to charter schools in Lower Merion is a school board that does not want them. If we lose local control, we are ushering in charter schools and the demise of LMSD. For every student a district loses to a charter school, a large percentage of their spending per student leaves with them. This is what has destroyed nearly every district that has allowed them. As we have seen in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, LA, and around the country, charter schools are no friends of public education or the families they serve.

Read below:
"Chester Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Brandon L. Wright declare in the Wall Street Journal that public schools and elected school boards are dying a slow death and being replaced by charter schools. All three are associated with right wing think tanks (Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Walton Family Foundation).

Bear in mind that some 50 million children attend public schools, and fewer than 3 million attend charter schools. Bear in mind also that voters have never voted to replace public schools with privately managed charter schools. Americans have never been asked whether they want to pay their taxes to private corporations to run schools that can choose their students. The charter movement has flourished because of massive investments by billionaires like Gates, Broad, and Walton, political support by right wing groups like ALEC, right wing governors, and the unfortunate support of the Obama administration. 

Public education, open to all, has for many years been considered an essential democratic institution and a basic cause of the great economic, social, and cultural success of our nation. Finn & friends hope for and celebrate its demise. They tacitly acknowledge that charter schools don’t get higher scores than public schools. They note that some charter operators are frauds. What they don’t admit is that they welcome the hyper-segregation of American society. One of the reasons our society functions as well as it does is because public schools bring children from different backgrounds together, across lines of race, religion, class, gender, and ethnicity. It doesn’t happen enough, but the authors don’t care if it happens at all. They welcome the return of segregation as a step forward, not as a retrenchment from our ideals. 

Similarly, they see no value in democracy. Elected school boards are a fundamental exercise of democracy. They are established in state constitutions. Yet the authors would wish them away and replace them with privatization. 

This article and the book it is based on comes at a time when the privatization movement is staggering. Charters were just recently criticized by the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives, a collection of 50 organizations. Charter scandals are breaking into the mainstream media, most recently with the admission by an online charter founder in Pennsylvania that he stole $8 million from the school. And the CREDO study finding that students in online charters learn close to nothing. And then there was the John Oliver program on the shoddy and corrupt practices of charters that close overnight and charters that steal and cheat taxpayers. And there was the Washington State and NLRB decisions that charters are not public schools."

 Watch this John Oliver segment and be prepared to learn.

"When the charter movement began, Finn and Manno wrote about the promise of charter schools: in return for public money, they would be held accountable for better results at lower costs. Now we know that charters are not held accountable, do not produce better results unless they cherry pick students, and do not cost less." 

Respected education blogger and teacher, Mercedes Schnieder, responds to the Wall Street Journal piece here.

Diane Ravitch reports, "[Schnieder] says there is no mass movement to charter schools. Instead, there is a movement bought and paid for by billionaires, millionaires, and others who have embraced free-market ideology."

"Finn et al. are just a part of the well-financed corporate ed reform mass of think tanks, billionaires and hedge funders trying to foist reforms onto the American public in the name of a “quiet revolution."

Sure, watch the district's spending. Absolutely, ask for transparency. But don't sleep at the wheel for a second on the issue of local school board control.


  1. Our tax money is not being used well, instead of better supplies and education, Lower Merion continues to waste or tax dollars on "Smart" Boards that aren't being used, outdated textbooks that are unhelpful and inaccurate. I'm glad to know that some people care about our community and take a stand against unjust actions.

  2. We can certainly discuss the best ways to spend our tax dollars and I happen to also be wary of unnecessary technology purchases, etc. That said, we live in a democracy and our school board was elected by tax payers. I support each of us having our own opinions, so get the neighbors out to vote when the time comes! Let democracy work. This lawsuit is not the answer.

  3. I've never heard the words "charter school" mentioned by anyone except this LM teacher. It seems far fetched that having the current school directors replaced by democratically elected LOCAL independent candidates equates with loss of local school board control followed by charter schools. A scare tactic?

  4. It depends on who provides the money backing an "independent" slate. As is often the case, follow the money to find the people with an agenda, an agenda frequently having nothing to do with the desires and well-being of the community.


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