You Can’t Support LeBron’s New School and Be Against Charter Schools

bill

By Bill Waychunas

LeBron picked a team this summer that turned a lot of haters into fans and raised questions about what the fans are actually cheering for. I’m not talking about the Lakers or even basketball. I’m talking about schools.

There has been a lot of buzz around LeBron contributing millions to open the I Promise school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

And, as the kudos have rightfully rained down for LeBron’s commitment, many people have qualified their support of I Promise with the point that it is a traditional public school and NOT a charter school. It’s good for kids because he’s on our team.

So, as many raise banners to support LeBron’s school, they also raise the question, do they support the education of children, or do they support traditional public schools? What kind of fans are they anyways?

But education isn’t sports. In sports, you can have a favorite team. In sports, there are winners and losers. I would argue that societal tolerance of certain students “losing” in schools is the greatest historical and current injustice in public education. When it comes to education, we can’t have teams or sides. We should cheer for all children, families, and communities, not just if they happen to be on our team.

More frustrating is the irony of those touting I Promise as a traditional public school who don’t realize that it functions more like a charter school. Like that player on other team that you can’t stand, but secretly wish was on your team (think any player from Duke or these guys), LeBron’s school is exposing many of his supporter as hypocrites as they embrace a school which they previously would have criticized if it was a charter school.  

Let’s first acknowledge the hypocrisy around philanthropy. When charter schools accept donations, they are allowing privatizers to influence schools in an attempt to destroy public education. How is LeBron’s money different? If LeBron wasn’t a basketball player, but a Wall-Street type with ties to Akron, would his philanthropy receive the same welcome, even with the same good intentions? Not likely. We shouldn’t need to rely on celebrities to support public institutions like our schools anyways, but when money is given for the benefit of children, it shouldn’t matter what team (or type of school) is cashing the check.

The I Promise model, which is being touted as a long-awaited miracle for students, is based off the successes of urban charter schools, such as KIPP and Rocketship. These include, “longer school days, a non-traditional [longer] school year, and greater access to the school, its facilities, and its teachers” with the aim of “reducing the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers.” When charter schools do the same things, they are accused of exploiting teachers, having deficit views of children, and being overly focused on standardized testing.

I Promise fans should also acknowledge that, like charter schools, LeBron’s school is a school of choice. According to Time, “[t]he school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance,” used a random lottery to decide who was admitted, and made phone calls to the families, asking “How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.”

Let’s unpack that a bit.

Giving parents the option of “something different” implies that something isn’t working with their current public-school option, a foundational argument in favor of school choice. This also means that the kids selected would otherwise be going to neighborhood public schools. With funding being allocated on a per-pupil basis, for every student who goes to LeBron’s school, they take away a little more than $10,000 from their originally assigned school. That means less money for teachers, supplies, technology, and other supports.

The best teachers from Akron are also being extracted from the neighborhood schools. They even had to approve a separate union contract for these teachers, further implying that something isn’t working with the status-quo in the school district. If these students and teachers were leaving their traditional public schools for charter schools, it would be draining resources from neighborhood schools. But again, right player, right team. That means instead of extraction or injustice, it’s opportunity.

The selection kids by lottery may most clearly expose elements of hypocrisy for some fans who support the #WeChoose movement, which is associated with Journey for Justice Alliance and the Badass Teachers Association. They claims that charter schools are a scam and don’t offer a real choice to families, in part because the “choice” of quality schools is only available to some lottery winners, while leaving the rest behind. They advocate for well-funded schools with wrap-around services for ALL students, not just the lucky ones that won LeBron’s lottery. Clearly, the I Promise school is a step in the right direction, but it surely doesn’t serve all students or all schools. What about the students that are left behind? Clearly, one can’t claim that advancing the interest of some in LeBron’s school is progress while criticizing progress for some in charter schools is a problem.  

The bottom line is that the services and model at LeBron’s school would be good for kids, families, and communities no matter what type of school he opened. That’s what we should be focusing on, not the type of school.

If we’re going to be fans, let’s be fans for all kids, not just the ones on “our team.”

 

1 Response to “You Can’t Support LeBron’s New School and Be Against Charter Schools”



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