The LeBron James Strategy for Saving Schools

Private initiative is boosting the public sector
August 16, 2018 Updated: August 16, 2018

Basketball superstar LeBron James has a vision of what a public school should be, but in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, there was nothing that resembled what he envisioned.

Instead of complaining, lobbying, or nagging Congress “to do something,” he used his name and influence to get the local school district to help him create the public school of his dreams—one that helps kids like himself, the son of a teen mother who went through great hardship to raise him.

With his investment of about 25 percent of the money needed to get the I Promise School running, James got a great deal of praise for not doing what other personalities have over the years. 

Unlike tennis star Andre Agassi, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Pitbull, Jalen Rose, and others who have opened charter or private schools, James took on the task of bringing his vision to reality in a public-school setting. Before him, other celebrities chose to have the freedom to dictate how the schools should operate and pick who would run them, by moving away from traditional public schools.

James was given unprecedented freedom with the I Promise School, even as taxpayers are footing about 75 percent of the bill. Still, the school is not his, and he won’t be picking the staff: I Promise School is an Akron school-district facility. And while the school will take on about 120 students per grade who lag their peers in classwork, that’s just one-quarter of the district’s at-risk students.

So why did so many people cheer when James announced his plan?

With so many athletes and even music stars like Chance the Rapper working so hard to elevate the public school system through private efforts, isn’t it clear to the public that private enterprise, and not the government, is what gets things moving?

What Governments Can’t Conceive, Private Hands Can Build

Whether James’s school takes off and becomes an example to other public schools in the nation remains to be seen. The buzz created by just his announcement shows just how far a private figure can go.

Thanks to his involvement, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that at-risk students picked to attend the I Promise School will go above and beyond to excel beyond everyone’s expectations. But could the Akron school district have done that on its own?

The short answer is no, and that’s because the public-school system has been failing students for decades. It took the initiative of a private and famous individual to get this project off the ground.

If what matters is boosting traditional schooling and making it a priority, then why would the public rely so heavily on figures like Chance and James to help better the system? Clearly, what matters here isn’t people’s good intentions when it comes to supporting public education, but whether the government can deliver in an area only the private market can.

Still, the private option continues to be widely accused of helping undermine public education, prompting us to ask ourselves if the irony of this accusation is lost on private-education critics.

Chloe Anagnos is a writer whose work has been featured by Fox News, USA Today, CNN Money, and Wired. This article was first published by AIER.org

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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