Headlines touting the Next Big Idea in education have become so common in recent years that it’s tempting to dismiss every new K-12 initiative as a fad or fantasy doomed to either flatline or fail. A skeptical observer might be inclined to sweep LeBron James’s I Promise School into that pile. But teachers and executives who’ve worked closely with James on this endeavor insist that he won’t let that happen. The professional basketball player and Akron, Ohio, native, they say, really wants to rethink how public education should be delivered—not only in Akron, but across the country.
And his vision is already having a tangible impact: Last week, the Democratic U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen, of Ohio and Maryland respectively, introduced a bill that would set aside $45 million for federal competitive grants to fund partnerships between schools and their communities. The idea, Senator Brown indicated in a tweet, is to replicate the I Promise model in places that don’t have “a LeBron James.”
What makes I Promise unique, its creators and outside experts say, is that it combines various features that are seldom seen in a single school—and that it is poised to potentially spur similar education-reform efforts across the country. The Atlantic has obtained I Promise's “master plan” document—its blueprint for the next five years, which was approved last fall by Akron’s school board. The document can be found in full at the end of this article. While the plan leaves some questions unanswered—about the details of the curriculum, for example—it reveals much about the school's philosophy and unorthodox approach. Here are some of the things that make I Promise unique: