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Opinion | There is no reason that Alabama can’t copy LeBron James

Josh Moon

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The anti-public education crowd has to hate LeBron James.

Because he and the public school he started last year are destroying every myth, every talking point, every excuse that any of them have ever offered to explain why they’re always so eager to castigate public education and hand tax dollars to private schools and charters.

On Friday, the New York Times reported on the early success of James’ I Promise School — a 240-student school that teaches only third and fourth graders for now.

Those students have outgained every other school in Ohio this year. A school made up of poverty-stricken students — three-quarters of the students’ families receive government assistance — with behavioral issues — almost every student was previously flagged for discipline problems — and nearly one-third of the student body classified as special needs had more than 90 percent of its students exceed their personal goals.

The students moved from dead last in reading to the 9th percentile for third-graders and the 16th percentile for fourth-graders. In math, they moved from dead last to 18th for third-graders and an astonishing 30th for fourth-graders.

Would you care to guess how they did it?

Well, first, let me tell you how they didn’t do it.

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It wasn’t through competition from private schools or private companies running charter schools. It wasn’t from allowing uncertified teachers to bring the “real world” experience to a classroom. And it wasn’t from busting teachers unions or “finding teachers who really care.”

It was by providing the same level of resources to a school in a poverty-stricken area — one filled with poor, black and brown children — that goes into the schools in the wealthy suburbs.

And that includes things like making sure the kids eat. Making sure they have coats. Making sure their parents have opportunities.

How much does all of that cost?

Less than we’ve spent on one charter school and way less than we’ve spent on our idiotic Alabama Accountability Act, which diverts public funds to unproven and untested private schools.

I Promise takes in the same amount in public dollars as other schools — about $2 million annually. Then, James’ foundation has kicked in another $600,000 so far to pay for more teachers and specialists, to establish food banks and to set up GED and training programs for students’ parents.

Keith Leichty, a coordinator for the City of Akron’s school system and who has worked with district students for more than 20 years, told the Times that the gains achieved by LeBron’s school are unheard of. That such gains usually only occur if a student experiences some sort of significant personal change. They never happen to whole groups.

The reason the changes are occurring, though, isn’t just resources.

It’s attitude, as well.

Each morning, as the students enter the doors of I Promise, they are greeted by the faculty’s cheers and high-fives, as music is played and breakfast is served. They are praised. They see that people care.

For far too many children in America — and especially in Alabama — simply knowing that someone is there to catch them, there to care for them would be a life-altering change.

I Promise delivers that, and then it provides students with the proper classroom setting, up-to-date technology, an adequate number of teachers and a support staff that addresses common problems.

And here’s the crazy part: We have the money to do all of it right now in Alabama … if we stop diverting it to private schools and private companies.

Look, I’m not putting down all private schools or charter schools. Some perform quite well, and some charters add meaningful options and opportunity when structured to address certain needs within a specific school district.

But you will never reach more students and more needy students than you will through public schools. And you can never do more good.

James and his school are crushing the myths and falsehoods. I Promise is raising the most at-risk students from the bottom and giving them — and their families — hope for the first time in their lives.

There is literally no reason we can’t do the same all over Alabama.

 

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