The King & the Chosen Ones, the "I Promise" School

If you have seen footage from the opening of the new “I Promise” school built by Lebron James and haven’t been moved, you just might be a Tin Man. And maybe one of the most powerful pieces of the school’s marketing was the choice to call the students who attend the school “the chosen ones.” As someone who has experienced students’ pain when they lag behind for a number of reasons, watching these struggling students feel empowered as the”chosen ones” instead of ostracized in the classroom was inspiring.

It has been interesting to see the education reform world respond to Lebron James and his “I Promise” School. Even more interesting are the jabs at charter schools and choice due to the King’s decision to make the “I Promise” school an Akron public school. School choice dissenters write as if those who are pro-choice are only fixated on free-market principles, when more often than not, those who are pro-choice are simply for kids over a broken system. Still, the “I Promise” school does not look like the average public school. It mirrors many common elements present in charter schools such as longer school days and professional development days for teachers. So, what’s our take? What does Effective Education have to say about Lebron James and his school? Readers asked, and here’s our response:

Well done, Lebron. Thanks for giving the kids of Akron, Ohio more opportunities for success, more opportunities to experience effective education. Ultimately, our desire is to see that children are not forced to attend poor-performing schools. And for certain areas of Akron, there are few choices other than poor-performing schools. According to greatschools.org, one must move away from the city for better public schools. In the heart of Akron, most public elementary schools score a 3 or 4/10, while on the outskirts of Akron a family can find a school that’s a 9/10:

great school ratings Akron Ohio

And as commonly seen in cities where middle-class families leave for better schools, the economic segregation of the community mirrors the school quality. In Akron, poverty is concentrated along school district boundary lines, and the people who live in the city are the people who cannot afford to escape to better school districts.

  Map from EdBuild.org

Map from EdBuild.org

So, in essence, Lebron has removed the district lines for a select few. If selected as a “Chosen” student, education is no longer tied to the quality of a child’s neighborhood.

We are excited to see how the “I Promise” school makes a difference in the lives of those 200-and-some third and fourth graders and their parents. But we are also still interested in making a difference for the remaining families trapped in school districts like Akron.  As an organization that wants to change whole communities, we recognize that impacting the economic vitality of a community also means impacting what’s happening inside the classrooms.

Lebron seems to understand this concept too as he insisted on having on-campus resources for parents trying to earn GEDs and interviewing for jobs. These are great steps. The “Moving To Opportunity” project found that when poor families received housing vouchers to move out of areas of concentrated poverty, children experienced significant lifetime benefits (more education, higher income, etc.). But it would be nearly impossible to move all people away from poor communities. What seems more possible? Targeting areas of concentrated poverty with incentives that keep people from stratifying by income level. With more school choices available, poor families are less likely to be left behind in dying communities.

We applaud Lebron, and we look forward to watching this new Akron public school impact the district. And we also recognize generous celebrities aren’t the only ones with the power to change a community. There are ways we can make a change today without winning an NBA Championship. Check out some of our work to see how you can make a difference today.