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LeBron James school that was considered an experiment is showing promise (nytimes.com)
528 points by throwaway5752 on Apr 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 195 comments

This story resonates with me deeply. I grew up in a lower income, single parent household to a family environment plagued with drug addiction and feelings of economic hopelessness. I was on track to drop out by my senior year of high school. My father (who was always in and out of prison) committed suicide my freshman year of high school. I was distraught but blessed. My English teacher at the time noticed what I was going through and got me involved in a program for at-risk kids called AVID [1]. It is because of this organization that I was able to not only graduate from high school but also university and go on to have a successful career in software development.

Our society pays a lot of lip service to youth being the future but we don't actually do much to help them succeed. The person you might call a loser or criminal was once a child who had the opportunity to become a shining example of what our society can produce. These children are being lost at some point along the way. Once they become adults we shame them for their life decisions but what are we actually doing to solve the problem?

When you say, "hey, 90% of these students are outpacing peers in their district based on academic indicators", I say maybe LeBron is onto something. Let's adopt this approach, scale it and study the results.

[1] https://www.avid.org/

I grew up similarly. I've seen program after program come into my home town just for the administrators to pack up and leave town 1-2 years in, blaming everyone but themselves. It's very refreshing to see someone who "wants to make the world better" actually doing it rather than paying lip service with the real goal of boosting their ego.

Hope this is legit. Tip my hat to LeBron for being a real hero to the underserved.

Thanks for sharing your stories.

It would be nice if such administrators and bureaucrats somehow had some skin in the game. Unfortunately, like you say "paying lip service" looks like it often wins out in America's public schools, and our children and future is what suffers.

The people promoting these schools are only out to line their pockets with sweet voucher money by selling ineffective books and teaching materials. The schools are set up to fail from the start because they're just a means to extract profits.

It is a lot more complicated than that. There are some people in the system trying to extract money, but they are mostly associated with Pearson and the like. Most of the administrators, coaches, and other non-teacher employees started off in the education field wanting to improve the lives of children, but found themselves trapped in a system that is built of perverse incentives from top to bottom.

It is impossible to change the trajectory of a community in one or two years, but the political powers demand measurable results before the next election. The administrators are trapped: they have risen high enough through the system that they are making more money than they ever could as a teacher, and their personal spending expanded enough so they can't go back without significant personal sacrifice (on top of the sacrifices they already made when choosing to work in education). They realize that goosing test scores isn't good for the students, but they rationalize it by telling themselves that if they can manipulate the test scores enough to get central administration off their back, then they can implement the real changes they want. But nothing short of a meteoric improvement will placate the people high enough in the system to be exposed politically, and everyone in middle management is trapped in a cycle of telling themselves, "We just need to do this distasteful stuff this year, so we can really fix things next year."

I was a high school teacher for 9 years, and literally every single year I had an administrator tell me about the plans they had for how they would fix things in the next school year once the test scores improved.

This is so great! I hope you went back and thanked that English teacher. They don’t get the thanks they deserve most of the time and they sure as hell don’t get the pay they deserve. Teaching is a noble calling and I’m glad someone saw you and took the time to care.

AVID has information on their website but in your own words could you describe how it helped you? Very curious.

Great question. I can't speak to AVID's practices today (it's been over 10 years... damn I'm old) but for me it created a much-needed structure. Students within the program could take AVID variants of core classes similar to how they might enroll in Honors or AP. The curriculum favored collaborative exercises like group projects and peer review. The idea was to encourage many of the social and professional tools we often take for granted (collective problem solving, resource management, etc.) to at-risk students. We also had regular one-on-ones with instructors within the program who would track our academic performance and help guide us along the way. Finally, higher education was a major focus of the program and took the form of anything from SAT prep sessions to projects where we would have to research colleges and universities we planned to apply to as part of the assignment.

So it’s trying to create for at-risk students some part of the support networks that other students get from their peers or family?

Makes sense.

I think it's exactly this. We have something similar in RVA called "Open High School" https://www.rvaschools.net/OHS

And apparently it's doing very well and is sought after.

What a time to be alive! We have quite a few impressive elementary schools in the city but that often means that affluent people leave for the suburbs for middle/high school.

It takes a village.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

This looks pretty cool!

It seems this small success is indicative of a much larger failure - a failure for the greater educational system to do good to all equally who enter in. The system is rigged.

The system is wired to goad students to fall into debt to sustain a decent living standard. I am transferring school from a fairly low-cost city (Albuquerque, NM) to Atlanta. My own issues are not comparable to these kids, but about 60% of my stipend is potentially going into rent, and more than 20% into fees, so I have started to doubt my decision to continue grad school.

If you want to chat about Atlanta academic housing, happy to offer any perspective I can. I had a "wide" spectrum of experience during my time there (for better or worse). Mail {username}.co at gmail.

They're pretty public about their "secret sauce", which is to offer a pretty neat ladder up Maslow's pyramid, especially for the parents.

Any family worried about food / clothes can come into the pantry and take whatever they need. Physiological needs, check. Barbershop available. That's really interesting.

Safety needs: see above, with heavy emphasis on dealing with conflict situations. Celebrate coming to school, make sure it's always a safe place, extra hours and days to keep them off the streets.

Belonging and love: everyone in the school are the "chosen ones", they have a tribe, the teachers are on their side, the parents are involved and accountable.

If you handle the first three levels for a person, hitting self esteem, accomplishment (at a personal level, need not be state's best or world's best) can come much easier, even with average quality of teaching. They're also making the parents baseline role models (they clean, clothed, putting food on the table and looking into their own self improvement) and plastering the environment with a topline role model LeBron James (if he can do it you could at least try as hard as he did).

My mother taught at Title 1 schools for years. She said the biggest gap was always family support.

Teachers don't have enough time to make up for a missing home environment, and (said in seriousness) it's a misuse of their time to play social worker (because there's no one else / no funding for anyone else).

We do a lot of dumb things in American public education, but one of the worst is misdeploying resources we do have and focusing on symptoms instead of root causes.

There was a school district (Kansas? Nebraska? Maybe?) that got stellar results just from co-locating county social services for parents at the school (unemployment offices, food stamp distribution, clinics, etc).

If a community needs help, don't send only teachers to fix it.

The inclusion of a barbershop is very much an African-American cultural thing - these are traditional male social gathering places in that society. So this is probably not just providing a haircut, but also some things a bit higher up the Maslow hierarchy like that belonging you mentioned.

As a white male, the barber shop is one thing I always envied African-Americans. Seems nice to have a place where you can always drop by for some loose banter with the local guys.

Last year I walked into a McDonald's at 8am and a bunch of old white guys seemed to be using the place as just such a venue.

I live in a small, predominantly white town in northwest Iowa and this is true here as well. Every morning, all of the tables and seating areas at every gas station in town are full of older men sitting around chatting about the town, school, sports, politics, etc.

I live in a chinese neighborhood, and bakeries serve the exact same function for older locals.

The barber shop is a "third place" after work and home.


What a strange stereotype...is this something people get from TV? How many black people do you know that use their barbershop as a place other than to get a haircut?

Black people go to their friend's house or a bar, just like white people do.

I would guess that's fiction imitating reality. I'll only generalize about my own race's behavior here, by saying that most people reading this are probably white and therefore less likely to have useful input into your question.

On what basis do you say it's imitating reality?

> is this something people get from TV?

Well my wife is Nigerian, and she claims they have similar type barbers in her country. But mainly through TV, yes. I recently watched the latest Barbershop movie (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3628584/) which really made me think about it.

Ask your wife how often Nigerians men hang out at their friends or a bar, versus how often they hang out at a barbershop.

And rich WASPy men also do those things. Doesn't remove the special significance of the country club as a social space in that society.

Two major and quite distinctive improvements of the school I noticed from the article:

* Improving parental involvement and the parents’ attention to their own education

* Utilizing the hidden power of role models: LeBron James and each kid’s parents

Students spend significantly more time at home than at school. Parents interact with each kid one-on-one or in a small group. Thus, they can have much more influence than teachers on the kid’s attitude, motivation, and habits regarding education.

If we look at a broader picture, most countries that do well in PISA, an international assessment of academic skills for school students, strongly value education at every level of society starting from parents and family. This includes Vietnam, a relatively poor country which, at rank 22, does better than quite a few Western European ones.

The US, at rank 31, should study this school and expand on good lessons learned from the experiment.

[1] PISA results map http://factsmaps.com/pisa-worldwide-ranking-average-score-of...

Vietnam’s GDP PPP per capita in 2017 is about $6500; the US’ is about $60000.

This implies that the US as a nation should have resources to support better education if they are deployed well, despite some discount from Baumol’s cost disease.

This a good thing! I am 100% in support of James' endeavor here. However, students doing better when put in a better environment should not be surprising. I was a lower income student who was shipped across town to a majority white school as a anti-segregation program that was brokered with a federal oversight committee. The African Americans in that school were treated quite bad. My first day at school I was labeled "<my first name> Brown" by the kindergarten because there was a student who already had my first name in the class. My last name isn't "Brown" that's my skin color. That was my first minute in school and I'm only 36 years old not 66 years old.

If I can ask, how do you feel about the program that bussed you across town, overall? Do you feel you benefited on net despite the exposure to the racism, or would you prefer to have stayed in your neighborhood school if you could do it all again?

istjohn, I deeply appreciate your question. I've been sitting here for over an hour trying to answer so I'll just answer simply. Yes, I would rather have gone to a school in my neighborhood. I would have rather been around other African American and LatinX students than to have learned what it is to be neglected and to feel inferior @ 4.5 years old. No question.

Please don't use my response as an argument in support of segregation. That would be purely evil and disgusting.

Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm sorry you had to go through that.

I believe the racial segregation in our country is an enormous injustice that gets short shrift in public conversation. It's so pervasive in our society that we don't even see it anymore. It's role in education is particularly pernicious. I live in Columbus, Ohio, which like many northern cities has an underfunded, poorly performing, mostly black and brown school district in its core flanked all around by well-funded, high-performing, mostly white school districts. My son's elementary school last year had 82% students of color and two miles away in another school district was a public elementary with 9% students of color.

I did some research to understand how things came to be like this in my city, and of course, it’s the typical story of white flight after Brown v. Board of Education. But what surprised me, a white person, was the historical and continuing ambivalence in the local black community with bussing as a solution to racial inequality in education. And I’ve seen that ambivalence expressed elsewhere, too. I was told that prior to Brown v. Board there were excellent all-black public schools. Then Brown v. Board triggered white flight, which drained all the resources from the city core, and eventually even middle class black families who could afford to, got out. The answer is not bussing, not integration, I was told by one thought-leader in the local black community, but quality, well-funded community schools.

I struggle to accept that answer because I know the data shows that minority students benefit hugely when their schools are not segregated. Yet I understand why sending kids to schools that aren’t in their community and where they may not be welcome is problematic. I wonder if the ideal solution isn’t a bussing program that is just as likely to bus a white kid to a black school as a black kid to a white school. But the program would need to be robust enough to prevent or adapt to white flight. Or maybe we should focus our energy on residential economic and racial segregation which, if solved, would also solve the educational segregation issue. I don’t know.

In any case, I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have.

I agree with you, but I don't have too much more to add. From birth non-blacks (and blacks alike) are classically conditioned by numerous socio-environmental stimuli to believe that blacks are inferior. I believe that all other issues discussed in this thread are based that unfortunate foundation. And that foundation is, of course, based on the tragic history of our country with respect to race relations.

Do you believe that forced integration is more often worse for individual nonwhite children, but a net improvement for both the minority community & society as a whole?

I didn’t see anything about this in the article, so I ask here in the hopes that someone more knowledgeable can comment: how are they controlling for selection bias? Is there any way to select into or out of this school, or is it purely the standard districting system? Even if it’s the latter in many other places it’s still possible to move into the area. Do we know to what extent that has been happening?

Edit: Oops, I was tricked by an advert. The article continued to say that the students were admitted by lottery. The only question I’m immediately left with then is whether they had to enter the lottery, or whether it was automatic? And was their admission contingent on their parents’ willingness to participate in these extra classes?


There is selection bias for sure; except it works in the opposite way regarding successful outcomes. IPS takes low-performing individuals and puts them in a lottery system.

This differs from a charter school or other alternative schools that skirt responsibility of special needs kids... but it should bear mention that IPS is not without controversy. The lottery system causes a lot of strife in eligible-but-unpicked individuals and also costs the taxpayers a substantial sum; LeBron does not cover 100% of the costs, or even a majority of them.


At least in my state charter schools must accept any student that can attend a regular public school, and there's a lottery for everyone.

Conversely, there's some charter schools specifically for kids with special needs. There's one in my city specifically for autistic kids.

It's nominally the law in my state too, but apparently it's fine to weed out the "non-performers" i.e. whoever you want. Public schools then have to take on the extra burden of the "undesirables".


In my county my understanding is that public school teachers are de facto not allowed to give failing grades if the student turned in literally anything. Like just put your name at the top and you will get passed. Charter schools have no such rule, so that is at least one way 'undesirables' are weeded out. I'm not sure the public school policy of passing out passing grades for free is providing a better education though.

I went to a HS that strongly encouraged under-performers to go to the "alternative" vocational high school. (#1 in the nation my ass).

If there were actually vocational trade schools I would support this kind of thing. I know that in this context it just means the shittier school.

How do you know that? I toured the local vocational high school when I was in seventh grade and, at least from my naive point if view it seemed legit, with students spending something like a third of their time studying HVAC or whatever.

Notably this is _not_ a charter school, per the article

Are the costs of these schools similar to that of a normal school, per student?

This is in the article, but the budget is $2m from the state, which is standard, plus $600k from LeBron, which is not

That $600k is where a well-funded PTA steps in for many schools in well-off areas and is a big difference between seemingly similar schools.

Wealthier parents can afford to donate, which turns into a bunch of benefits.

Just want to jump in here and mention that it doesn't even have to be a PTA, it could be any community organization focused on local student welfare and community building. The extracurricular programs at my school were/are heavily supported by the community and focus on student welfare.

> Wealthier parents can afford to donate, which turns into a bunch of benefits.

I live in (what has turned into) one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in my city. The elementary school has long been the envy of many. Not long ago I asked a long-time teacher from a nearby city, with whom I serve on a nonprofit board, what it was about that school that made young teachers want to work there — was it the additional funds from parents? Her response was no: it wasn't the extra funding, it was the parents themselves — educated, cooperative, involved.

You say that like two of the three aren't privileges afforded more consistently to the wealthy. In either case, the operative function is the wealth-hoarding behavior of the parents.

> You say that like two of the three aren't privileges afforded more consistently to the wealthy.

Agreed; this is well-nigh indisputable.

> In either case, the operative function is the wealth-hoarding behavior of the parents.

This paints with too-broad a brush (and is needlessly confrontational). At what income level does earning money — in accordance with the rules that have evolved in society — become "wealth-hoarding behavior"?

Seems like the benefits being provided wouldn’t show up so often in a well-off area: free food and clothing bank for the parents, for example.

> This differs from a charter school or other alternative schools that skirt responsibility of special needs kids

This is illegal in a lot of places, and I doubt it is common.

That’s one of the issues with Phoenix area charter schools. They may say they offer the services, but other criteria to enter or stay in the school have resulted in them services far fewer special needs kids than public schools.

Add on top of that that that one of the larger charter chains has moved to a model where effectively all money is laundered through a private company which the school then outsourced _all_ of its expenses to, and you get a situation where it appears the owners are intentionally fleecing the taxpayer and their buddies in the state government are making sure it’s legal for them to do it. It seems like corruption, which would be bad enough in itself, but they’re doing it at the expense of an already underfunded public education system.


It was very common in my charter high school. For whatever reason they weren't concerned with the drop out rate, so they openly encouraged special needs kids to drop out.

They had previously encouraged them to go to the alternative school, but budget cuts shut that school down.

> For whatever reason they weren't concerned with the drop out rate

Maybe this is related to the incentive system (at that time) in your region.

It may be illegal ina lot of places, but not everywhere. In many states charter schools are not obligated to fullfill the same legal requirements for special education, standardized testing, or English as a second language placement.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. If the state or council can figure out how to set the incentives correctly it could work out better.

It really is a matter of opinion as to how to solve this issue, and the best answer may differ from place to place.

It is a bad thing if you want to have strong universal public education.

Public schools in the US are already strongly segregated by income and race since schools are typically a municipal government concern.

Charter schools add an additional layer of segregation. Now you have schools that can divert public funds, but don't have to meet the same standards, services and accessibility standards as public schools. They can play games with expulsions, special ed classifications and lottery admissions to get the student population they want.

Charters filter out students and and funds from the public school system to create another tier of schools, leaving the worst performers and students with the most special needs in public schools.

Meanwhile charter schools teaching positions are frequently non-union with lower pay and worse benefits than public schools, eliminating what traditionally was a stable rung on the middle class ladder.

Throw in the businesses that smell profit in schools with less public accountability - including real estate, outsourced operations and services - and you have serious regression in public education if you ask me.

> It is a bad thing if you want to have strong universal public education.

> Public schools in the US are already strongly segregated by income and race since schools are typically a municipal government concern.

Well, you are complaining at once about students studying outside their catchment (quality of school depends on willingness to travel), and students studying inside their catchment (quality of school depends on local tax revenues).

The truth is that every system has tradeoffs, not every flaw in each system is fatal, and there is real room to explore.

> Meanwhile charter schools teaching positions are frequently non-union with lower pay and worse benefits than public schools

From some perspectives that could be a good thing, because some places would rather be able to afford to have kids in school every weekday, than index the pension fund for a vote buy. Teachers should work in a market like other professionals. Very productive teachers can scale up, as is clear from success stories regularly seen, for example, in Korea.

This is extremely common. It is just not done explicitly to do that. Much like many other things that are common but not designed to exclude protected classes like ageism, sexism, and so forth in hiring funnels.

Do you know of any research on that? I haven't seen much good research on this topic in my searches.

Charter schools dont skirt special needs kids they take them in.

Whats really absurd is that a lot of people are against the lottery but totally fine with public schools zipcode method.

Edit: why the downvotes? My two sons are at a charter school they take special needs children. They have to by law.

There are plenty of reports of charter schools pushing out low-performing students to get the student population they want. Labeling students with disabilities and claiming they don't have enough services to support them is very common. Unequal punishment leading to expulsion is another.


Another common tactic is to play games with the lottery/application process to get the student population they want.


Anecdotally the teachers I know working in a local charter tell me the administration definitely makes it known they want low performers out transferred out before testing is performed.

> Labeling students with disabilities and claiming they don't have enough services to support them is very common. Unequal punishment leading to expulsion is another.

This happens at public schools, too. My family recently had a huge tussle with the public school our kids attend because one of our children there was being punished for behavior stemming from his condition (autism). They kept pushing back on our requests for resources because of how strapped they are for cash and staff and all that. The length we had to go to get a public school in a well-funded Bay Area district to just obey the law was astounding. I have the deepest sympathy for parents in districts without the means ours has.

> They kept pushing back on our requests for resources because of how strapped they are for cash and staff and all that.

May I ask: Are they IEP or 504? Because if they're IEP the school should receive funding to cover his additional needs. If he is 504, have you looked into if he'd be eligible for an IEP?

There are plenty of reports about all sorts of things. That doesn't mean they are true. In the case of Success Academy I have two boys who go there, the school have all sorts of children including special needs children.

There is so much hate around charter schools that you should be careful with what you read into these reports. Much of what is written is either blatantly false or completely out of context.

Like every other thing in this world there are good and bad charter schools just like there are good and bad public and private schools. Everything has tradeoffs. Personally I think the lottery is more fair than whether you live in a specific zone for your kids. Each to their own.

There are huge variations in what each state requires of “charter schools”. Where I am they’re nonprofit, take all kids, and seem to work well to let invested parents get their kids out of broken districts—with little interest from functional districts.

In other states, they’re private for-profit schools, like U Phoenix for kindergarteners.

I don't like the lottery because it inhibits life planning. I'm not going to move near a charter school based on a 1/2 chance that my kid will get into the school. But I can shop around different zip codes, move to a house near the school in the one I choose, and know just what I'm getting.

Obviously, this might price me out of the very best zip codes, but at least in my case it still leaves many good options on the table.

The story may be quite different for someone in the bottom 50% of income. Maybe they should prefer a lottery. Maybe they do?

That's not really how it works. People don't move to the zip code many of my sons' classmates comes from Harlem, Bronx and other places (we are in Williamsburg). You don't have to move, whereas if you want to get into a specific public school you have to be zoned for it which is much harder if you want to get into the good schools. Tribecca has great public schools because it's a rich zip code.

And that's why it's puzzling to me that so many people oppose the lottery.

Success Academy was started in Harlem exactly to try and provide better schools for children even though they were born in a poor zipcode. It's a success is mostly stems from a very hardcore curriculum and the focus on work ethics and by keeping children away from their parents (often bad influence).

You are actually arguing exactly for why the lottery is a better (but not perfect) solution than zip code, it's fairer.

From the article:

"I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery."

There will be some amount of regression to the mean then. It would be best to compare these kids to the students who "lost" the lottery rather to all students.

Because I wasn't sure which end of the bell curve this was referring to, "10th to 25th percentile" in this article means students significantly below the median, not above it.

Charter schools use the lottery method, at least the one my two sons are on (success academy) its a great school with great success but a lot of it is obviously engaged parents (such as even entering the lottery)

I devote a lot of my time thinking about how to improve education. I love so much of what this school is doing, much of it being things I hadn't considered, since my education had far far different problems than these kids have.

Out of everything in the article, what impressed me the most was the roleplaying with the intervention counselor. What an incredible way to help kids learn how to behave and assimilate into society. I think that role playing everyday situations should be a part of every students education.

I also think a bit about improving education.

What are the best things from your thoughts/research someone or society as a whole could do to improve education?

Can we publish open source examples of school architectures?

What about some 'near term science fiction', publishing examples of people-powered schooling that could emerge in places. I want to see how we can use cheap computing resources, peripherals and models of human interaction to help schools create themselves.

Nucleos is a company working on bringing education resources to developing world areas: https://nucleos.com/blog/2017/02/portablecloud-supports-e-le...

I hope to do something with educational software abroad, including it with the 3D printing computer labs I hope to set up. They can make about $50-$100 of surfboard fins a day, using about $10 of filament. I'm linking to my site below, it works now but I've not done much to help with formatting issues. I'm just getting the content out and cleaning it up along the way: https://stormfins.com

PS In case you're wondering, this post motivated me to set up a new account. My last one was sacrosurf, and prior to that it was toddio. This moniker matches the other .com I have, which I plan to use as a "School of Surfing" concept: thirdsurf.com I want to get surf instruction to happen in an easier and more empowering P2P manner, but I'm focusing on completing enough of the stormfins website first. Any support or assistance it welcome. I've got a B.S. in Computer Engineering from '97-'02 at UCSC, and a fun list of prior gigs and projects including helping get https://www.beelinereader.com/ started, and getting T9Space.com's app setup generalized into a browser, helping 100,000s of flip phone internet users have access to the internet like they had a desktop computer to use.

On a personal level, just call down to your local school or your old school and ask how you can help, given your skillset. A tech person in particular has a lot of valuable skills, from evaluating educational platforms to assisting with the builds of organisational tools and processes. Not to mention the ability to tutor or present a class on a specific topic, or organise a visit to your office.

On a society level, encourage continued investment in education. I, like most people, had very strong views on how we should radically improve education, until I started working with schools on a daily basis. Then I realised that it's incredibly complex field where practicalities dominate. I realised that educators actually know far more about their field than I did (as a student/parent) and the best use of the rest of society time was not to get involved in the "How to educate" debate but support the people who understand the topic in whatever ways we can.

On the startup side of things, there are a huge number of ways technology can assist educators. Eg we run a financial platform for 100+ Indonesian schools, basically cleaning up and managing their payments & books. There are lots of "infrastructure" opportunities like this. Digitising internal processes eliminates bureaucracy, saves time and cost that can be then dedicated to education.

Of course it was going to be a success. Most other approaches that approached intergenerational poverty via the three pronged approach of better child care, housing, and economic opportunity has work to great success.

The school doesn't try to solve all 3 at once, but the approach to child care makes the other much easier to manage for parents.

Also includes some direct economic benefits for parents - e.g. the food/clothes pantry mentioned, where parents can have basic needs taken care of without payment.

Wonder if such a 3 pronged approach can be applied to integration of immigrants.

Worked pretty well in early Israel. Generally it's an interesting study model, in that it saw and continues to see absorption of (Jewish) immigrants as a national mission, not just an unwelcome burden.

It includes what's essentially a full-time salary to study Hebrew for 6 months, subsidized housing for a year, subsidized daycare, job counseling, and assorted miscellaneous benefits. Not always sufficiently funded, but the basic model is endorsed.

Depends on what you're trying to achieve, I suppose. Most Western European countries don't know any intergenerational poverty similar to US-levels (housing and basic needs are always taken care of by the state, education + health care is free), but still ended up with parallel societies for some immigrant groups.

> Nataylia Henry, a fourth grader, missed more than 50 days of school last year because she said she would rather sleep than face bullies at school. This year, her overall attendance rate is 80 percent.

Really? You had to switch to percentages instead of saying she missed 36 days a year instead of 50?

As a minority, I hope this isn't another "minority schools do well turned scam". Seems like we have these "amazing successes" turned to "scams" every couple of years.


If it is a success, why turn it into a national story? Doesn't that put more unnecessary pressure on these schools and kids to "succeed"? Wouldn't that put more pressure on these schools to cheat if expectations aren't met?

I don't understand why this is a national news story. Do the kids benefit from the extra national pressure? No. Do the schools benefit? No. Am I wrong in thinking only lebron and the nytimes benefits from this story? Why not let these kids and schools succeed quietly? These underprivileged kids have enough hurdles as is, do they really the added burden of national coverage?

> As a minority, I hope this isn't another "minority schools do well turned scam". Seems like we have these "amazing successes" turned to "scams" every couple of years.

It is a normal public school that is getting additional funding, and funding for specific additional programs (e.g. parental outreach, after school program).

Worst case scenario the funding dries up and it returns to being a completely normal public school with normal levels of public funding.

These results at least aren't wildly successful. The kids came in really below average, and now are still below average but by less after a single year, which is promising but not like unreasonable.

Because if this truly is a success then we want to spread the concept as far as we can as fast as we can. It can receive national attention and not harm those inside if done right.

Agreed. Lets wait to see whether it is truly a success before hyping it. Especially since lebron's school opened in fall of 2018. I say it takes a generation to see if an education system is a sucess, not half a school year. Can we really say a school is a success after a few months?

Besides, I think celebrity and schools aren't what's truly important. Parental employment/financial stability, parental involvement in kids' lives and parental stability ( aka no divorces or single parent family ) are a better solution to kids success in school than a basketball player ( who went straight to the NBA from high school ) and his idea of an ideal school. But maybe I'm just old fashioned in that way.

I like the concept. I’m not sure their stats check out. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can chime in. The article suggests a lot of the kids here were bottom percentile performers on standardized tests (literal 1th percentile).

I do wonder if the test is valid at scores that poor. Could it be that the bottom percentile is just the kids who guessed randomly and had bad luck, as opposed to, say, the ninth percentile who guessed randomly and had good luck? How likely would it be for a bottom percent student to stay bottom percent with no special schooling? I really just don’t have a good sense for what it means to strive for 10th percentile performance on tests like these.

I think there is a major flaw which you are getting at.

If you take the students who performed at the 10th-25th percentile in any school in one year, on average they would do better the next year because of reversion to the mean.

The way to understand it is that the population they chose did so poorly on their test last year, it is likely that they did worse than they usually do. They are more likely to have had an off year.

For example, the NYT article mentions the girl who missed 50 days of school the previous year. It's more likely she won't miss so many days this year. That's reversion to the mean.

IMO, that throws all the results into question, as you would expect them to do better already.

In general, there are no panaceas in education. Any school which is claiming really great results pretty much never holds up. We've had decades of these articles with experts trying to figure out how to achieve better educational outcomes, and very few can be isolated. Even Bill Gates tried for a while.

Anyone who studies this stuff seriously will tell you educational outcomes are mostly based on innate talent.

> If you take the students who performed at the 10th-25th percentile in any school in one year, on average they would do better the next year because of reversion to the mean.

This is shoddy reasoning that assumes that each school year is an independent trial. In reality, school years build on each other and usually success in the next year requires familiarity with and competence in the previous year's material, so a more reasonable assumption IMO would be that those kids' next year would if fact be closer to a normal distribution with a mean at the 17.5th percentile.

It's certainly arguable that some of the reason for the school's success is that they're selecting students into classrooms in which they're all 10th-25th percentile which lets the teachers zero out the effect of them having fallen behind without the stigma of being "the dumb class" if they were tracked that way inside another school. But if that's the case, isn't that a rather valuable effect?

That's a valid point that someone who fell behind their usual performance may also do just as bad the next year since school material is cumulative. I strongly suspect that this effect is smaller than the reversion to the mean, but you are right we would need to look at data to know for sure.

> Any school which is claiming really great results pretty much never holds up.

That actually isn't true.

We know (we have had multiple state programs demonstrate in real programs) what works in the elementary to early middle crowd--roughly $15,000-$16,000 per pupil spent on the worst performers sustained every single year will bring the worst performers closer to mean ever year. Even the Gates foundation documented this.

We simply do not have the political will to put it into broad action.

$15,000 spent how?

Quoting myself from a much earlier comment:

It's been a while since I chewed through the Gates foundation stuff but this one seems up-to-date about early programs:


Page 16-17 talks about known effective programs and their costs. Note that the more expensive programs (almost all exceeding $15K per student--sometimes dramatically) are almost always more effective. Under $10K is almost uniformly not helpful and the further you get from 10K the less helpful they get. You can have effective programs for $10K, but it's really hard. Money really does make things easier.

From Page 21: "At the highest level, this “doing many things well” requirement results in a high degree of difficulty and is a key reason why high-quality early learning that sticks is so infrequently seen."


"3. Teachers delivering high-quality instruction is a key differentiator between early learning that sticks and early learning that, more than likely, will not stick. ...

4. All exemplar programs have two adults in the classroom—one lead teacher and one paraprofessional/aide— at all times. ...

5. All exemplar programs have maximum class size of 22 children or fewer and adult-to-child ratios ranging from 2:15 to 2:22. Adult-to-child ratios at the lower end of the range are particularly advantageous for classrooms where a significant number of English language learners (ELLs) are present and/or where a significant number of children with special needs are present.

6. Lead teachers with a B.A. plus suitable early learning credential, paid at same level as K-3 teachers. ...

7. Dosage. Three of the four exemplars offer pre-K that runs 6-6.5 hours/day, for 180-205 days/year. The other (Maryland) offers full-day (6.5 hours/day, 180 days/year) and part-day (3 hours/day, 180 days/year) options. It is clear from the exemplars and consistent with research findings that within high-quality pre-K programs the dosage required is related to the size of the achievement gap that must be closed for each low-income child. For low-income children who enter pre-K already on a trajectory to be kindergarten-ready, a high-quality part- day option may be sufficient. For most low-income children, at least one year in full-day, high-quality pre-K is needed to be kindergarten-ready. For low-income children for whom English is not spoken at home, children with special needs, and children who are significantly below age-level competency in one or more domains, it is likely that two years of high- quality, full-day pre-K is ideal and, in fact, may be necessary for most of these children to be kindergarten- ready on time. "

It goes on to other things as well.

And these exemplars are at the $10K-$12K per student mark, roughly. And even successful ones still can't get funding--"New Jersey was poised to expand the Abbott Pre-K Program in 2013, but budget pressures have delayed that expansion.".

And the Gates foundation is VERY gently suggesting that all the mediocre, non-useful programs should be shut down in preference to spending ALL that money on the most underperforming students. While this is likely the best use of resource, it is going to be a politically unviable one.

The upshot is that teaching properly is expensive, and money really DOES have an impact. And the effectiveness "breakpoint" is somewhere around $12K with some adjustmemts for cost of living. And your primary expense is the teacher vs class size--see page 17. The cost per student with a teacher at BA I qualification ranges from $10K with a 15 student class size to $8K with a 20 student class size. Of course, teaching effectiveness is inversely related to class size--pick your optimization point.

I don't always like the Gates foundation because I think they sometimes helicopter in, muck things up, leave, and then other people have to clean up the mess. However, they have been quite forthright with publishing their information and do acknowledge when they have NOT succeeded even when it goes against their agenda. That I applaud.

Link is broken

>average they would do better the next year because of reversion to the mean.

I don't think it works like that. Students who do poorly often do WORSE the next year. They tend to get more and more behind and eventually just drop out.

The only way to reverse this trend is to identify them for more academic instruction, like an extra math or reading class.

Even then, it often doesn't work. It's really really hard to turn a low performing student into even an average one.

"Reversion to the mean" has no meaning when you are talking about one student from one year to the next.

It's definitely not the pattern that doing worse once snowballs inevitably into future years, at least not on average, because students' scores still always assemble in a nice bell curve.

I think a better model is that you are not likely to stray too far from your "true" ability, since even if you forgot (or missed) everything from previous years, you could still learn a certain amount in just one year (and probably you remember some things).

I never said it was doing worse once. And it absolutely does snowball. A student who is a poor reader in grade school often falls further and further behind.

And grades are not "bell curved" shape. That's ridiculous. Do you know the average grade at Harvard for every class, it's an A.

That's definitely not Guassian.

Man made things like income, grades, stock market prices and home prices are not "bell shaped".

They are heavily skewed one way or another.

I would recommend you do a little research before making such patently wrong statements.

> The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

It sounds like almost all the students met their individual goals which means they are making progress no matter what percentile they started in. They're not out of the woods, but this is a population that previously had only ever seen bad results from the school system. It's a small experiment, but it's hard to spin the early results as anything but a good thing.

>It's a small experiment, but it's hard to spin the early results as anything but a good thing.

How much are they spending per student? That might put a damper on it if it turns out they’re spending an amount of money that wouldn’t scale.


> The school’s $2 million budget is funded by the district, roughly the same amount per pupil that it spends in other schools. But Mr. James’s foundation has provided about $600,000 in financial support for additional teaching staff to help reduce class sizes, and an additional hour of after-school programming and tutors.

That seems like a pretty good result for 30% in additional funding.

According to wikipedia, the federal gov't only provides 8% (or maybe 10%, I saw some different numbers) of the total budget for primary education at the moment...

Total spending (federal+state+local) is apparently around $620B so an additional ~30% kick from the federal government would add $180B for a total of around $800B. Is that worth it?

The military budget is about $600B just by itself so a 30% cut there would pay for it.

Seeing how much work goes into fund raising vs actual teaching at local schools this really seems like a mis-allocation of teacher priorities that could be fixed with some slightly different spending priorities.

These are all pretty big numbers of course but not out of the realm of possibility.

Funding varies wildy based on location as it comes from local property taxes. Not all schools would need such increases. Thanks to that local funding scheme, the US tends to spend the most on the kids that need it the least.

Right, implicit but unsaid was the thought that the federal gov't could cover that funding gap so that all schools got the same budget regardless of the local conditions. Of course given the political forces that created the current local conditions in the first place, that's probably unlikely too.

If you make the federal government cover all equalization you'll find rich areas lowering their property taxes.

Other nations handle education at state or federal level from the start. If you want a federal equalization you will want it to come with a admin union as well.

Even state governments could solve the funding gap between schools.

I'm just happy to see a positive article.. I see so much political or tech news, I don't get much on the positive side, generally speaking.

I read this regularly to get that :) https://www.nytimes.com/spotlight/the-week-in-good-news

Looks like it stalled back in January.. :-(

That's like something out of The Onion.

"Newspaper's 'good news' section shuts down, cites lack of good news"

Wyatt Cenac's show Problem Areas is talking about school issues this season and the second episode focused on solutions focusing on different areas including continuing education of kids kicked out of regular school for misbehavior, the principal put her desk in the main hallway and changed the school police (New York school system has about the same number of education "cops" than Houston has actual cops) to a more humane, almost UK/Peel approach, and also education of prisoners for rehabilitation, for the title of the show it was pretty upbeat.

Related HN thread from 8 months ago (602 upvotes/463 comments): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17661995

Sure, but it's nice to see the premise borne out by the early data:

The students’ scores reflect their performance on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, a nationally recognized test administered by NWEA, an evaluation association. In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th.

The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

It's a shame that a private citizen has do this. Reflects poorly on our country that the economically disadvantaged really do not have a choice or a voice.

And these are not people who choose to be poor or incapable. They really don't have any other option.

You could also say that it reflects well on our country that a private citizen was able to realize that something needed to be done differently, and then make the change themselves instead of hassling through a decades-long "change the bureaucracy" adventure while competing with seven other equally motivated individuals who also want to change the education system, but in completely different ways...

You have touched on the fundamental divide in American society. Do it yourself because you want it done and since you have the resources or the drive, versus wait for someone else to do it or force everyone else to since you lack the resources or the drive.

Even politicians who spend so much time and effort highlighting inequalities in society are able to do so because they had to drive to make themselves to do it. If their manner of achieving things is for good or ill is up for debate, but there is no arguing that they are where they are because they chose to go for it.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step...

Hard to walk when you're born in concrete shoes, though.

999 out of 1000 private citizens are forced to do exactly that. It's to LeBron's credit that he recognized and properly used his influence and fame to achieve this, but he is in a rare position.

It reflects well on the individual taking the initiative and giving the money, it reflects badly on every country where this is needed to give disadvantaged children equal opportunity.

Every rich person in almost every country in the world can spend money to improve education for disadvantaged children. So I fail to see what makes the country looking good here.

Definitely. This is a glass is quarter full type of situation.

That's true but I have higher hopes for our country's politicians.

Um so what about the endless govt programs out there that were supposed to achieve things like this brat have failed?

It's not like our country doesn't do anything - it's a very complex problem. There are efforts and they tend to have mediocre results at best. I've personally worked in some of these programs and the reality is govt just isn't well suited for the nuance and individual attention/thought different disadvantaged groups require. I'd wager that if you have ideas about how to fix these issues they'd be similarly flawed.

> the reality is govt just isn't well suited for the nuance and individual attention/thought different disadvantaged groups require

This is a solved problem in other countries.

Finland is a good example. Their education system focuses on equality above all: all kids are going to have access to the same educational opportunities, even if equality comes at the cost of quality. As part of this idea, privately funded schools are not allowed. Guess what happens when rich people must send their kids to public schools, in a place where all schools must be equal above all? Suddenly all the schools improve.

The problem isn't inherent to government in principle, but perhaps to our forms of government in America in practice.

> Guess what happens when rich people must send their kids to public schools

This was my greatest concerned, which unfortunately proved true, when we introduced private schools in Sweden: previously if your kid didn't get a good education you had to try to improve the school. So the efforts of the resourceful parents helped the kids with less resourceful parents. Now when people are unhappy with their kids education they just send them to a different school, leaving the disadvantaged kids behind in schools that no one cares about trying to improve.

And I understand from an American perspective that sounds normal. But for me that is no way to build a society.

> all kids are going to have access to the same educational opportunities, even if equality comes at the cost of quality. As part of this idea, privately funded schools are not allowed. Guess what happens when rich people must send their kids to public schools, in a place where all schools must be equal above all? Suddenly all the schools improve.

(US) I sometimes wonder if fundraising by public schools (bake sales, car washes, etc) should be banned unless the raised funds are distributed evenly across all local public schools based on their headcount. I can't give money to a city or state and demand it's spent in one particular place, why should I be able to do so for a school district?

What do Finnish parents do if they disagree fundamentally with the educational approach of the system (like they want to do Montessori or whatever). Is there homeschooling? Does everyone have to just suck it up and use the one public school? Do Fins just never disagree about what education should look like?

It's not really that hard though. It just takes money that we're unwilling to spend. Money for lead abatement, healthcare, early childhood education, summer programs, athletics, healthy school lunches, air conditioned classrooms, high-skilled and highly-paid teachers, intervention programs for at-risk youth, addiction treatment, school counselors, etc., etc. Basically, poor kids need all the stuff middle class kids take for granted. Who knew? And we can provide it to them. We just don't want to.

It's not just a matter of spending money.

As a simple example, per the numbers cited at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/District_Dossier/2014/10/stud... DC public schools spend a good bit more per student that neighboring Montgomery County, MD. The schools in Montgomery County are quite a bit better in terms of most of the things you list, except perhaps addiction treatment and at-risk intervention programs (about which I can't speak usefully; I don't know much about the state of them in Montgomery County).

Now DC is a pretty dysfunctional case in terms of the ineffectiveness of its spending. If I compare all the numbers being cited here to the numbers for Chicago Public Schools that https://www.illinoispolicy.org/cps-to-spend-an-additional-20... mentions (which are easily 3x lower), it seems pretty clear to me that more money would in fact help improve CPS pretty drastically. And there are certainly lots of places in the US that are in the same situation as CPS.

On the other hand, you also have the numbers in https://nypost.com/2017/06/14/ny-spends-more-money-per-stude... which has NYC schools at almost $22k per student, with somewhat mixed results. It's pretty common for suburban school districts to spend a good bit less than that with results that are comparable or better, for a variety of reasons.

All of which is to say that there are some school districts where money would definitely help, some where fixing the systemic mismanagement of the large amounts of money already being spent would help more, and some where it's not clear what would help the most...

I wonder if it's not that districts are mismanaging their resources but that when you try to provide education to students who live in poor communities you must confront all the pervasive effects of that poverty. And the cost of doing so approaches the cost of any functional social safety net. From that standpoint, of course it's much more expensive per pupil to provide a quality education to impoverished students. It may cost 2X or 3X as much to give these kids the same education their privileged counterparts are getting.

It's both. It definitely costs more to educate kids without support from home than it does to educate kids who do have such support, for example. And at the same time, some of the school districts involved are in fact horribly mismanaged.

Throwing money at education _can_ help. It just doesn't _have_ to, unfortunately...

OTOH this is great that a private citizen can see an opportunity to give kids better education, and actually follow through that plan, making an example to replicate and build upon.

In many countries, this is not a given: either directly forbidden or infeasible due to red tape.

If the choice is a private citizen does or does not do this, then them doing it is better. But there is another possibility demonstrated in other countries: quality schools run by the government. In light of that possibility, I agree with the OP that it’s a shame this kind of thing is necessary. The US does pretty poorly on schooling compared to other countries AFAIK.

If one school runs an experiment and it's a success, more schools (most of them state-run) can follow.

If one school runs an experiment and it's a flop, it's a sad but it's limited to one school.

If a government mandates a particular way of schooling, the initial good effect is multiplied faster. But the initial bad effect is multiplied, too.

The fact that the US have a variety of school programs is a boon for the nation at large. They are mostly not great, but that's another problem. (See also e.g. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html for some good pointers at problems.)

+1 exactly this. LeBron did something wonderful, in one district. Government has far more means than an individual to scale that up to the whole country.

It’s not a shame. At a time in this country it was expected that citizens of means stepped into the gaps that government either couldn’t go into or couldn’t do well, and some of our best institutions come from this philanthropy.

I applaud Lebron.

School is not supposed to be funded by philanthropy in America.

I would argue differently.

Government has shown time and again that it’s one size fits all approach towards schooling isn’t working. Combine their poor execution, purposeful lack of civics training, with special interests and rent seeking, for example, school textbooks.

We are leaving way too many kids behind as it is. It’s turned into government day care.

I would argue school is where citizens need to have the greatest choice, the most impact, and get the most involved with their own dollars.

If our future is in education, it needs to be done differently than it is now.

> Government has shown time and again that it’s one size fits all approach towards schooling isn’t working. Combine their poor execution, purposeful lack of civics training, with special interests and rent seeking, for example, school textbooks.

Government has not shown that at all, look around the world an you'll find plenty of examples of government providing quality education to all.

> look around the world an you'll find plenty of examples of government providing quality education to all.

195 countries, less than a dozen countries with non-small size populations are doing a good job at all on education.

The rest - where's the proof? Where are the results? Look at the development situations in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Venezuela and so on.

Where's this overwhelming outcome proof that government education particularly works so well?

China still has half a billion people with the equivalent of a fifth grade education or less. They've had an all-powerful government for over half a century.

The vast majority of the world still struggles with basic economic development, basic government functions, extreme corruption, basic human rights and inconsistently available utilities.

When you strip out the tiny nations like Luxembourg, Iceland, Qatar, Ireland, Finland, Norway, Singapore, Cyprus, Malta, Kuwait, etc. - you have about two dozen nations above the global average GDP per capita level (a mere $10k). That's how piss poor the world's situation actually still is on education results.

Take a look at the development index on the world, then drop out the tiny nations. Where are all the large nation success stories on governments doing such a great job? There are exceptionally few anywhere to be found.

It's all tiny nations, and it's obvious why: it's because the people are closer to their government in those nations. It's dramatically easier to hold your government accountable, and to make government very personal, when your nation has 500k or 5m people, versus 50m+.

You can count the larger nations that do education really well on just two hands.

What is public education like in France, Germany, or the UK? They all have populations greater than 66m. At least Germany (83m) I’ve heard good things about their educational system. Why is it so bad in the US?

> look around the world an you'll find plenty of examples of government providing quality education to all

Frankly, I look around the world and find a mix of authoritarian regimes and countries whose capitals are burning down in riots. A minority balance the need for broadness with the need for experimentation (and repelling political meddling.)

There are merits to preventing government from monopolising social services.

All the current left/right political dogfighting and cultural warfare is a smokescreen for what's really going on, which is a class war. And the rich are winning. Unfortunately it seems increasingly likely that in their limitless greed they are destroying the fabric of the society that made it possible for them to become so wealthy. Sadly, history seems to keep repeating this theme down the centuries.

It's a moment of pride that this country has citizens like him. It reflects well on the values of some of the celebrities like him, and hopefully it is inspiring others, thanks also in part to good journalism. It also didn't happen without the efforts of the kids who had to believe it was possible, put in the hours, and demonstrated proficiency on the tests.

Ah yes, America, the country where we take pride in the fact that a few school children will be bailed out of a broken system by some rich folks who want to see change. Let’s not get caught up in why this is needed or the millions of students who haven’t been so lucky. America is proof that rich people can make the lives of a few people better! /sarcasm

This is an experiment to try something and show that it can work. Then, local governments/school boards can use it as an example and copy some of the successful pieces at larger scale. Your cynicism about rich people helping just a few is unwarranted here.

I agree with you and with the OP. It’s great that LeBron is doing this experiment. Maybe it will better show people that investing in students is worthwhile. But at the same time, I’m frustrated at the way we’ve let this happen. Why do we have some public schools with such poor performance? It’s right there in the results this school is seeing. The school succeeds at serving this community because the people need relief. The article mentions how some of the students parents are taking classes at the school too. The school offers free food and clothing to any parents who need it.

Do you know why the school offers free food and clothes to parents, and why that’s making a difference here? Because the parents can’t afford enough healthy food, and giving them food helps them and their children do better. But seriously, why do we have children and adults who are so unable to feed themselves that they can’t think straight?

Our economy has utterly failed these people, or perhaps was never meant to serve them. And if a philanthropist has to give them groceries, it sounds like the food stamp system hasn’t been enough either.

Don’t mistake my outrage for cynicism.

This illustrates that parents are the key component in childhood education. A worse than average teacher who teaches kids with involved parents will outperform the best teacher with uninvolved parents.

In addition, LeBron James has a huge amount of credibility built up with the students. I would guess that many of the students feel some sort of connection to him, and do not want to disappoint him.

I doubt there was ever much debate that parents are the single most important factor for children.

It’s just that, from a policy perspective, it is extremely hard to actually have any impact on that behavior. It’s basically social work, a concept for which there is essentially no money at scale in the US.

More wealth/economic security, safe environment, conscientious and attentive parents, good community of role models, peer kids with good parents as well = decent students.

In other words - children are reared by their parents, as they always have (!) and their academic achievement is mostly a function of their upbringing. Sure, some kids hate school or are bad at at even with good parents. Some schools are better than others ...

... but if you have 'decent community, decent parents, decent regular public school' then 'the kids will be ok'.

The discussion in some ways should be more about good jobs, stabilizing dangerous neighbourhoods, flushing out gangs, giving troubled kids a place to hang out + role models, making the learning environment safe where kids can focus on learning.

I just don't believe that the solution to education has much to do with 'teacher quality' or 'competitive teaching' or some kind of new-fangled special kind of education, or even exceptional schools.

More controversially I would say that schools aren't even mostly about learning, other than some very basic mathematical, historical and geographic literacy, schools are mostly about socialization, language and communication. Effectively, kids learn how to communicate (in English, but it's more than just spoken written word), how to behave, 'how to learn something' i.e. not the knowledge, but the processing of learning/doing tasks, basic responsibilities and organization. The 'details' of most subjects are simply less important. Nobody cares if someone has memorized every state capital, but we do care that people are ready, engaged, can focus, communicate, accomplish things etc..

> The discussion in some ways should be more about good jobs, stabilizing dangerous neighbourhoods, flushing out gangs, giving troubled kids a place to hang out + role models, making the learning environment safe where kids can focus on learning.

I think these issues are direct symptoms of poor education quality, which is itself a symptom of the issues you mention. It's a vicious cycle that perpetuates as the kids become adults and parents who create the negative environment and can't support their kids themselves. It's a long game, but investing in education is probably the "easy" place to start while kids are malleable. Adults are harder to reeducate; good luck flushing out the gangs, what are you going to do with those folks? Do as IPS and provide resources for parents to get training for things like GEDs so they can hopefully get better jobs. Provide after school programs and a safe sub community. It'll take time, but the new generation can hopefully grow up in a better place.

I see your point, and I do agree there is to some degree a feedback loop, but I don't think 'bad schools' are a primary driver.

And good point about creating a 'bubble' where kids can learn, you're right, tactical solutions might be apt.

But when the factories disappeared in the 1970's-1990's and the jobs disappeared, a lot of places went to pot.

If there were jobs - kids could bring their own meals, families would be more stable, there'd be less crime, there'd be a foundational social fabric.

Social programs pose all sorts of 'commons' problems ... the best kind of social program is 'a decent job'.

I still can't understand why Google, Facebook and some big banks talk all sorts of 'social progress' crap, but the thing that we need the most: distribution of income - is not on their radar.

I wish Google would open 'service and support' centres in the worst neighbourhoods in America and just give people jobs to do whatever. That would earn my respect.

They can start in East Palo Alto, literally only a few hundred meters from their offices ... I always found the decrepit existence of E. Palo Alto such a stain on the Valley as a whole.

god, I totally agree, don't get me started on all that modern education bullcrap that people with no business being involved in teaching constantly peddle. The worst of them all in my opinion is Vinod Khosla, I rarely heard so much bad information coming out of a single man.

It's interesting, because if we were actually battling a War on Poverty, we wouldn't need to have a war on drugs, or any other kind of crime.

There is always a tendency to make wars against the wrong people like the war on drugs going against drug users or the war on poverty going against poor people.

Money are not needed for parents to be engaged though.

Parents who don't need to work two jobs to support their children are necessary though.

Sure but that applies to any school and a lot more situations bo?

At an individual level, no. At an aggregate, long term, country wide level, yes.

At least good governance and planning and money distribution, possibly not actually more money.

That applies to a lot of things in life not just this so that feels like reaching imo. Sure parents need to be stable not the least financially but they need that to be good parents, good spouses, citizens etc.

But I think the point is that it's really incredibly hard to do any of those things unless you have financial stability; at the very least, it's a hell of a lot easier when you do.

Life is hard. It's still a different discussion unless you don't think it applies to people who don't have any children.

Indeed, schooling includes the influence of the parents, not pushing for helicopter parents, but engaged and supportive.

Great point

Isn’t it obvious that funding public schools with local property taxes is what has created this messed up system where your zip code has a disproportionate impact on the quality of your education?

Just about every single state has state-level funding for schools that acts to even out those disparities.

Worse yet, spending (per pupil) on its own turns out to not be a very good predictor of quality of education. It doesn't even seem to be a great predictor if you control for parents' SES, from what I can see for various school districts in Boston's suburbs.

Put another way, a number of quite distressed school districts spend more than various "good" school districts, with much worse results. DC public schools are a poster child here, but not the only example by any means. So it's not just a matter of funding levels at all.

The stuff that school is doing is really just common sense and the success they are experiencing is both a symptom that what we always known works... still works but also that we do a real shit job at education in this country.

This is not a problem you can fix with technology, the only technology needed is good food every day for the kids and parents (or guardians) that can be involved in their kid's education.

I've often wondered about the effectiveness of donations to supplemental after school/summer time tutoring/coaching in under-performing school districts [1][2] versus donations to full time, private charter schools such as this one.

It seems supplemental after school/summer time solutions would build on the existing public school system and fill in the gap between 3pm-6pm and during summer where they are likely to be less supervised. It'd also be more scale-able to more children. I also imagine it also would produce less angst among public school teacher unions as its more supplemental to them versus replacing them.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Valley_Education_Found...

[2] https://svefoundation.org/get-involved/events/annual-dinner/

This is not a charter school or private school, it is a public school that received additional money on top of its usual funding from Lebron James.

Thanks - missed that - I guess I must have skimmed the article too fast. In that case, this is a great example of a very full featured supplemental program versus the replacement program.

It's great to see this. The only issue I have is how replicable this formula is.

I think you can apply a couple of programs and concepts on a large scale to whole communities, but this is a very expensive school with a lot of resources behind it, not to mention a very powerful celebrity endorser who has a lot to lose if this school fails.

There is a small private school that just opened up in my area (about 4 years old). It has a powerful businessman who is the founder. Class sizes are less than 10 kids with two teachers per class. That's about a 5:1 ratio, most public schools would kill for anything better close to 10:1 with most academic classes are 20-30 students for one teacher.

This small private school also has a lot of amenities, like a ton of tech for the students.

While this is a great school, it's just a place for elites to educate their students.

I applaud everyone in this private school and Lebron's school.

I hope we can use some of their ideas and programs to a larger scale.

Let's list every inner city school across America (is there such a list?), list the "promise picks" that can be funded in them, and then have a place benefactors can sign up.

Good, his ball team isn't. ;-)


On the other hand, Finland is often touted as having a great educational system and they very explicitly do not segregate by ability, rather they try to lift all boats. The problem of "smart kids getting bored or not having opportunities to excel" somehow does not seem to be an issue (I am a bit confused that this is the case).

What happens when you get bad kids that don't care about their grades that distract the good kids and prevent them from learning. Ideally the teacher could bring them all up to the same pace, but at a certain point it's on the parent. In some cases you do need separation. I always enjoyed my GT (gifted and talented, separated classes from 1st grade to 8th) and AP (dual credit college/highschool 9-12th grade) classes more than others because they moved faster and my classmates were well behaved.

The schools weren't fully separated, the GT classes was one designated class (1st-5th was English, 6th-8th Science).

The AP classes were highschool and college credits and you could choose English, Math, and/or Science.

This was in Texas. Though they no longer do GT classes anymore I don't think. Those were my favorite as a kid though.

Yeah, I feel the same way from my personal experience as a kid, but from what I have read, the "bad kids" thesis you suggested is at least partially fallacious. Again, as an example, Finland seems to disprove it.

I don’t know if Finland as an example really proves or disproves anything. Finland is a small, homogeneous, and pretty unusual sort of country, and the fact that they happen to do well in certain standardised tests doesn’t mean that anything in particular they’re doing is optimised.


Asian schools are great at providing high test scores. Their rigid education really drills the information into the kids and works well.

But that incredible strictness simply would not work with most American children. The culture is simply incompatible with the strict discipline involved (and that’s not to say it’s bad, but only different).

America’s trouble is that there are some majorly divided cultures living together, all under the label of “American”. What works for some people just won’t work for others.

Is it perhaps that the Asian parents can use physical discipline against their kids, whereas e.g. White parents wouldn't get away with that so easily?

I don’t think that’s it. At all.

Poorly performing students are often the ones who are “physically disciplined”. My most successful friends are generally the ones who had very supportive families who’d struggle to even raise their voices against someone.

Amazing to see a privately funded school do so well, especially one that targets at risk children. I hope the lessons learned here inspire more private investment in education.

Or that it brings attention to neglected demographics and inspires greater demand and political will for improved public funding and resource allocation.

Privately funded white knighting should not be the answer.

It's more of a hybrid... It's publicly funded, per student similar to other schools in the area, but additional funding from James' foundation. Of course general school funding should probably be split with a bit more towards the lowest 20-25% on performance and the top 10-15% imho.

I wish more communities were more involved. I've often thought it would be great if every parent were able to participate in one day of class a month how much that could improve things overall.

It’s mostly public, plus some private extras

Top comments, shock people cant feel good about something because it didnt happen to them. I was hoping for some uplifting commentary but like all other social media sites HN is going down a bad path.

I think you could lead by example and post your own uplifting commentary, and that would be more effective.

The article was only posted a couple of hours ago. Give it some time; the comments almost always come out really great. Scrolling through them now on my end the top comments currently look uplifting or scientific. I'm not really seeing the negativity you're referring to.

Can you link to the comments you think are so terrible? Most people seem supportive.

The predominant attitude is cynical

I think we are on the same page

Maybe our own emotions aren't the subject of importance here?

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