Who will be the LeBron James of Oklahoma’s education innovations?


In 1992, I began teaching alternative-school students at Willow View Mental Health System, and our model was as comprehensive as LeBron James’ new school, I Promise. Significantly, I Promise depends on Ohio’s normative $8 million in state, local and federal funding as well as the $2 million in startup costs the LeBron James Family Foundation is donating. The plan is to to continue to contribute about $2 million per year. Moreover, universities will pick up the cost of scholarships for students participating in the program as well as evaluating and improving the interventions that the school provides.

Such investments would not be possible were it not for another innovation that has become pretty unique: partnerships.

OKCPS right to encourage partnerships

Test-driven, competition-driven reform began as an effort to provide cheaper, simpler education solutions. Now, there is an oversupply of charter schools locally and nationally, but if Oklahoma City wants to build partnerships, we should not demonize local choice supporters. It was the combination of bubble-in accountability with the over-expansion of charters subsidized by national reformers that undermined instruction for our poorest students.

Still, the Oklahoma City Public School System deserves praise for acknowledging the need for wraparound student supports. The new superintendent, Sean McDaniel, genuinely welcomes community partnerships. Reducing the ratio of elementary students to counselors from 1,200-to-one to 600-to-one, however, will barely make a dent in the problems the system faces, but that’s a discussion for another post.

End the reform wars

Although we should mourn a lost generation of school improvement, when the whole-child approach most recently funded by James was largely abandoned, we also need to put the education reform wars behind us. For instance, Viola Davis starred in the anti-union film Won’t Back Down, which was promoted by the right-wing ALEC organization and the California-based Parent Revolution, which tried to quietly promote mass charterization in Oklahoma City. But does that mean we should reject Davis’ help in documenting the unfair trial received by Oklahoma City’s Julius Jones?

Let’s not forget that teachers’ unions supported charters in the 1990s when their purpose was to spur innovations similar to I Promise. Back then, OKCPS charter Hupfeld Academy did what almost no charter would now attempt and created a forerunner of I Promise. Positive Tomorrows was universally praised; its local founders didn’t become villains by turning it into a private school.

Local philanthropists should invest in traditional public schools

I agree with Nation magazine’s Dave Zirin that, “LeBron’s Education Promise Needs to Become This Country’s Promise.” Zirin writes we should reject privatization and fund a Marshall Plan for education. To get there in Oklahoma City, we need to bring back the collaboration that drove the MAPS for Kids partnership. We should use persuasion, not disdain, to persuade locals to follow King James’ example and invest in traditional public schools.