Basketball star LeBron James, in partnership with the Akron public school district, opened an I Promise school for third and fourth graders this week to serve at-risk kids such as he once was.

This is on top of some $40 million he’s pledged to college scholarships.


I Promise is NOT a charter school. It is NOT a private school.

This school will NOT skim students from families motivated to do more for their children and thus likelier to succeed. His students were chosen at random from a pool of students already a year to two years behind in math and reading. He hopes to expand the school to eight grades.


There will be longer school days, a seven-week summer session and intensive tutoring tailored to individual needs. There will be a healthy breakfast, lunch and snack every day.

The program includes a focus on factors outside the classroom.


There will be counseling services to help stressed-out kids and parents in struggling families. There will be extra activities to keep kids out of trouble in idle time.

There will be job placement assistance and a food bank. James remembers the freedom a bicycle gave him as a child to escape dangerous neighborhoods. Every student will receive a bicycle.

“I Promise” embodies James’ pledge not to forget where he came from.

The news came the same week that Walton Family Foundation money opened yet another charter school in a neighborhood of Little Rock already oversupplied with schools seats and impoverished children. They poured more than $8 million into an abandoned school building to be leased at a friendly rate to the private operators of a school operated with public money.


Between the spiffy building and parents seeking change, the school will be well situated to attract children more likely to succeed. If past experience is a guide, the school will take a number of children from the Little Rock School District who already were succeeding, as measured by test scores.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full story. Charters are disingenuous or non-communicative about admission practices and the tricks of discouraging the wrong kinds of students from attending. The follow-up on improvement of test scores and dropouts are other bits of information not always readily available from charter schools.

After the new school takes out several hundred more students, those remaining in the LRSD will likely be an even poorer population of struggling families with little to show by way of past educational attainment, bus fare or lunch money.

Imagine if the Waltons, instead of working to bring an end to the Little Rock School District, would try a LeBron James-style partnership. What if the foundation put its money into a holistic experiment with the kids assigned by zone into one of the schools the Walton cheerleaders love to call failures?

Imagine if we had a LeBron James in Little Rock instead of a $237,000-a-year Walton-financed lobbyist who ceaselessly badmouths the LRSD. He encourages families to flee for a Walton-backed charter school (no matter how bad its scores) or to other public school districts, even those with lower scores than those in Little Rock.

Imagine: Instead of shoehorning kids onto a college campus on which they don’t belong or encouraging lawyers to help abet school segregation or pouring huge sums into charter schools that enjoy the benefits of a preponderance of higher-income kids, what if we had a philanthropist willing to partner with LRSD on the toughest cases. Is the Walton way better? Take Stephens elementary and the kids assigned there and prove it.

Imagine. I cannot. Not with this outfit.