The decade's most triggering comedy
There was a time, way back in another era, when the goal of the education system was to educate students. Back in those days, this goal was pursued through a merit-based approach. Kids were graded and ranked based on their performance. High performing students were advanced, low performing students were held back. Well behaved students were rewarded, poorly behaved students were punished. This was the general idea.
But this strategy has fallen out of favor in recent years. It was too mean, we were told and racist, too, somehow. Piece by piece, the system of merit-based education in public schools was dismantled, until finally there was nothing left. And into that gap came “equity” to replace it.
What does “equity” mean, exactly? That’s a question you’ll never get a real answer to. But in this case, we know what “equity” means from a practical perspective. It means spending more money for worse schools. It also means creating new schools, from the ground-up — because the only way to guarantee that you’re not perpetuating White Supremacy is to start from scratch.
One of these new, non-racist schools was founded five years ago in Akron, Ohio, with help from NBA All-Star LeBron James. This was a big deal, we were assured at the time. NBC Nightly News was on the scene when the school launched:
NBC News touts this school as a “new approach to fix an old problem.” The “most important thing,” LeBron James says, isn’t test scores, or grades, or any objective sense of achievement whatsoever. Instead, the key is giving students, “the sense that someone cares about them.” But that’s not really an educational approach at all. It’s simply a cliche — and not a new one either. But it’s one that taxpayers in Ohio have been compelled to fund. As one local news report put it, “the district will pay more than half the costs [for the school] – perhaps around 75 percent.” That total amounts to nearly $10 million a year, charged to taxpayers.
Yet the experiment was well worth the cost, the media reassured us, over and over. You can go back over the past several years and find many, many media reports gushing over LeBron’s school and calling for more schools just like it. Maybe we should even make LeBron James the Secretary of Education, while we’re at it. Why not? NBC News would certainly be on board with that. Just a month ago, they were on the scene again to do this glowing follow-up story on the I Promise School. Watch:
To recap: 1,600 students have attended the school; they promised to make healthy choices; and LeBron James cares about them. Et cetera. It all sounds pretty good.
But wait a minute, NBC News. How are the students actually performing in the classroom? That bit of information was left out of the report, which seems a little odd. Wasn’t the whole point of the school to help these children? Just a month later, now we know exactly why NBC News overlooked that little detail. A new piece in the Akron Beacon Journal reports that, “This fall’s class of eighth graders at the I Promise School hasn’t had a single student pass the state’s math test since the group was in the third grade.”
To restate: They haven’t had a single student in the eighth grade class pass the state math test since they started at the school in the third grade, five years ago. Well, that’s not encouraging. And to be honest, it’s a little surprising, because not all that long ago, the school claimed in a documentary that its students do extremely well on mandatory proficiency tests, including the so-called “MAP” standardized test.
The documentary is titled Every Child Deserves A Chance and it’s from YouTube Originals. It’s quite long, so watch it when you can and see what impression you come away with. We can tell you LeBron James says the students “destroyed” the standardized tests. Later in the film, a thrilled administrator says that the students were at the 25th percentile and below — but that now, “91 percent of students” are “meeting their goals.” They’re all very happy about this.
But if you parse what they’re saying carefully, it sounds like an apples-to-oranges comparison. The administrator makes it sound like the students went from 25th percentile in the district to the 91st percentile. But in fact, the 91% number just refers to students who are meeting their “goals,” whatever that means and however that’s defined.
They’re presenting the data like this in order to suggest — falsely — that their new method of education was working and specifically, enhancing standardized test scores. But in fact it was doing the exact opposite. And in a brief moment at the very end of the documentary, we get some confirmation of that as an official with the school admits that the district isn’t happy with students’ performance.
Following this? There’s all this celebration from LeBron James and all the taxpayer-funded administrators about how good the school’s test results are. And then they admit that, despite this success, the school has somehow received an “F” from the district for student achievement. They don’t elaborate. They don’t tell you that, in fact, zero of the students in one class had ever “met their grade-level markers” for math.
That seems like a significant discrepancy — one that the media, and taxpayers in Akron, would be very interested in, and yet none of the media outlets that have fluffed this school in the past few years have bothered to cover it. That documentary has been out for almost two years. NBC News must have missed it.
The truth is that corporate media didn’t want to look too deep into the data, because it’s not just bad — it’s terrible. It keeps getting worse the more you read it. As the Akron Beacon Journal reported, the English scores for the 8th graders weren’t much better than the math numbers: “When the school’s first class of eighth graders graduated from I Promise, just 11% of them tested proficient on the state English language arts test.”
The article goes on: “Two of I Promise’s biggest subgroups of students, Black students and those with disabilities, are now testing in the bottom 5% in the state, landing the school on the Ohio Department of Education’s list of those requiring targeted intervention.”
You’ll often hear the counterargument that this is a school for troubled children, so of course their scores will be low. But that doesn’t explain why the scores are going backwards. According to the data, “last year’s sixth graders lost ground. When they were in fifth grade, 7% were proficient on the reading test. In sixth grade, just 2% were.”
Now, the point isn’t to gloat over the failure of this experiment. In some ways it was a noble effort. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of LeBron James personally. He’s a woke virtue signaler to such a degree that he pretends to read books about Malcom X. You’ve probably seen this clip before, but honestly it’s too good not to share again. Here it is:
That’s the guy who’s going to re-invent our nation’s educational system with his bold new approach. The guy who is still failing his book reports at the age of 38. In any event, even if it’s kind of funny to have a school run by a guy who pretends to read books, and even if, aside from that, LeBron James is a reckless liar who regularly promotes BLM propaganda and slanders police officers, I can still respect a rich celebrity athlete at least attempting to do something productive.
But the reason for the school’s failure is what’s instructive here. According to the accepted narrative, kids from “marginalized groups” struggle in school, especially inner city schools, because of systemic racism and a lack of funding — two issues, we’re told, which are related. So here is a school founded by a wealthy black man, with an extraordinary amount of funding both from tax payers and LeBron’s foundation — a school where everyone gets free lunch, and they have access to all of the state of the art educational tools, and everyone graduates with a scholarship, and so on — yet still the kids are failing. When it comes to math, literally all of them are failing.
In fact, they seem to be doing worse than they would in one of those allegedly “under funded” schools where the vestiges of systemic racism are still allegedly present. We have data on that. The way I Promise selects students is via a lottery, in which students who place in the bottom 25% of test scores in the district are eligible. But if you compare the I Promise students with kids in the bottom 25% in the district who *did not* attend I Promise, the kids who didn’t attend are doing better by some metrics.
This tells us a few things — all of them are forbidden truths. The most important is that all of the funding and inspirational platitudes in the world can’t make up for broken families and bad culture. Poor black kids come from both (and the two are obviously related). You will not be able to measurably improve any aspect of life for these kids — especially their educational performance — without addressing the fact that the culture they come from is deeply sick and their families are in absolute disarray. Talk to any teacher who has experience trying to teach these so-called “marginalized groups.” Very often their behavior and attitude in class isn’t just bad, it’s appalling. These are kids who have not received any kind of intellectual or moral formation at home or in their communities. In many cases their parents do not care about their education, or about anything else. The culture they are brought up in encourages them to act in outrageous ways and reject and disrespect all authority. That’s the fact of the matter. LeBron James can’t solve this on his own, of course, but he could start by at least acknowledging it and talking about it. But he won’t even do that.
As always, the Left seeks to solve problems without addressing the underlying fundamental issues. It’s like their genius plans to solve homelessness by putting the homeless in hotels or giving them free housing. You can give a homeless guy a room at the Ritz-Carlton and the place will look like a garbage dump within the span of three hours. Soon he’ll be right back out on the street. That’s because the homeless guy’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t have a home. Any halfway competent and sober person can manage to find some kind of housing. His problem isn’t a lack of housing, but that he’s a drug addict, or psychotic, or both.
It would be one thing if some coherent principle was at play here. But there’s nothing coherent about it. Consider that the Left’s solution to education and homelessness is to throw money at the problem, but their solution to law enforcement is to do exactly the opposite. Somehow the education system will improve if you give it more money, but the justice system will improve if you give it less money. How does that make sense?
You’ll never see any contemplation from the Left on this. Instead, they’ll continue to push the most destructive policies imaginable, only to backtrack when the consequences of their destruction are too obvious to deny. That’s happening now in Oakland. The president of the NAACP’s Oakland chapter just announced that: “Failed leadership, including the movement to defund the police, our District Attorney’s unwillingness to charge and prosecute people who murder and commit life-threatening serious crimes, and the proliferation of anti-police rhetoric have created a heyday for Oakland criminals.”
Oh, you think? Congratulations, NAACP, you’ve finally realized that crime is bad. A stunning revelation. But of course, they are also incapable of tracing the problem down to its roots. The NAACP supported BLM’s insanity when it gave them power; now they’re against it when it embarrasses them. That’s all there is to it.
What happens next? It’s possible that, once these people are sufficiently embarrassed by what they’ve done to public schools in this country, they’ll stop experiments like the one that’s going on in Akron. But by that point, as if by design, it’ll be far too late. LeBron James will have moved on. The children won’t have that luxury. They’ll be uneducated, poor, and totally dependent on the government that pretended to care about them.
Most people would call that a disaster. But our leaders have another name for it. They call it equity.