Today I was lucky enough to catch a fascinating conversation with the CEOs of both KIPP and Mastery Charter Schools here in Philadelphia. As someone who was directly impacted by the Philadelphia School District’s Renaissance School Initiative, I have some deep seated mistrust of Mastery Charter. They campaigned to take over my former school in a not-so-honest way and they’re merit/demerit system has always irked me.

However, listening to Marc Mannella (KIPP) and Scott Gordon (Mastery) I found that there was nothing they said that didn’t sound acceptable, well-meaning and respectable. Granted, the whole picture was not really painted during the interview, but the guys honestly care about kids and families.

So, I kept pondering, “what’s my beef?”  Obviously, these schools work for some kids. Some families love them and they have definitely turned kids’ lives around. In fact, Mannella specifically states that KIPP is not a “silver bullet” or that it works in every school in every community.

So, what’s my beef?

Both men kept agreeing and referring to the commonalities between the two school models. In fact, at one point one of the men basically said the other had taken his answer.

This is my beef.

OK, I get it. KIPP works, Mastery works. But are they really offering the choices they claim they offer to students and families in Philadelphia?  If they’re so similar, what’s the choice there?  I have already made reference to this false school choice in a previous post, but I finally had my Eureka moment when I sent out this tweet:


That’s it.

We need to offer students and families more than college-prep, reward/punishment models. Granted, there are a number of diverse charter schools here in Philly that offer distinct models, but these two models run 15 schools in Philadelphia alone. Yes, it works for many, but it shouldn’t be all that’s out there.

You can check out the interview here on the Radio Times website.


  1. Reply

    I absolutely agree. I heard the same interview, then did a bit more research on KIPP (which is highly touted by my College’s new president as producing very orderly inner city kids). Then I had an interesting discussion with my partner (who is just beginning to take Asian Martial Arts) about how the model that KIPP puts forth of obedience and deference to authority and seriousness in learning is a lot like the MA model and privileges upholding of external structures of discipline (and their internalization) over creative thought. From there we went on to talk about how it’s the exact opposite of the Friends’ school model, which emphasizes individuality, creativity, and difference. This raised an interesting question for me, because, after all, the KIPP schools are highly segregated by race and economy and seem to be purposefully so. The Friends’ schools, while less racially homogenous, tend to attract a very different social/economic demographic. While I am not sure that this is their agenda, is KIPP then producing a population that defers and is obedient to the creative class? And does this not uphold the power structures that be (and perhaps make them work in a more streamlined, well-oiled fashion) rather than challenge anything? What are the implications of all of this?

    • mbteach


      Great points, Abby. For some reason, when people ask me what I don’t like about KIPP, I always mumble something about ‘military style’ schooling. I think your description of not challenging authority is a good one. I don’t see much creativity in the KIPP model, and I don’t see many chances to express yourself as an individual, though I know those who work there would argue against that.

      I really don’t think KIPP has ulterior motives, and I think they care passionately about kids. But I do wonder if the parents who send their kids to a Friends school would ever think of sending their kids to a KIPP school.

      • Reply

        My guess is that, no, a parent who is interested in a Friends’ School model would not be comfortable with the KIPP model. Though my own personal perspective on this as both a parent and an educator (I am a college professor) is that it should not be about what the parents need/want so much as about what each individual kid needs. The problem with almost all educational models (though applications may vary) when you come down to it is that they are designed for the whole, not the individual. (That’s probably true to of kids with IEPs who are supposed to be getting individualized education, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

        So, I do think that the KIPP model really can work for the kids who need this model/style in order to learn. But the problem is that we need more choice for our kids. Why is there no charter or public school run more or less on a Friends School model? (Maybe there is: I have heard good things about Wissahickon Charter but it’s way too far from where we live for us in South Philly to consider it for our soon to be school aged kid). Would a Friends’ School model just not work with all of the NCLB baggage that they’d have to sign on to? Or with a non selective enrollment model? Or with the inevitably large class sizes that would be needed in a publicly-funded school environment? Or because the Friends don’t quite promote uniformity (and do this symbolically by rejecting uniforms, which are now required at all public schools it seems)?

        Anyway, it really leaves a lot of parents in a bit of a quandary. We really do need more choice. For lots of us in the middle class who are committed to remaining in the city and making it a better place for everyone, tuition charges of upwards of 20K a year are just not tenable, especially when we no longer have retirement savings, equity in our homes, or even jobs, and we have little expectation of those things improving.

  2. Beth


    Having worked at a KIPP school (I don’t anymore), I do think it gets a bad rap concerning creativity. I have always thought that KIPP has old school style discipline with new school teaching methods. I can’t speak for Mastery since I have never been in one. Having observed at almost every elite private school in the Philadelphia region, I know that the teachers at my KIPP school were usually more innovative and less rigid intellectually. The beef that most people should have with KIPP is how they burn out the teachers.

  3. Monet


    Hi i currently attend Kipp West Philadelphia Prep Charter School . I am a 8th grader i attended Kipp in 5th , 7th and now 8th . I left in 6th because i just could not stand the new things and ways Kipp had to bring . I came from a private school Spruce Hill Christian School , and it was my first time going to a district school . We were the first class and Kipp was still changing and adjusting things . Like the hours in 2009-2010 was 7:25 to 5:20 and that was too much for me cause i was like 10 or 11 and also i had dance school at 5:30 so it was to much going on , so i decided to go to Andrew Hamilton Public School not to far from Kipp and i think many kids almost all need to be part of a charter school. But my former class mate also went there , we were both in there academic program . I was younger so i guess in 6th grade i just liked the freedom and wasnt really thinking of my education . Kipp have there dislikes but i think they are really going to prepare me for high school next year . Sometimes i feel like giving up cause they challenge us and they just encourage you . One problem at Kipp in the community is Bullying i see they bully people to affect that they have death thoughts and all and i think Kipp should work on it somehow , but i enjoy the clubs and sports Kipp put up to offer also rallies too , but this is just from a Kippster point of view .
    Class Of 2013 ,

  4. marybeth


    Hi Monet, thanks for sharing your story! I’m sorry to hear about the bullying at KIPP. I hope you let an adult know what is going on!

    It sounds like, at first, it was hard to go to school and also attend dance classes. Are you still taking dance classes or are you just attending the clubs and sports at KIPP?

    Can you explain your comment: “I think many kids almost all need to be part of a charter school?” I would love to hear more about why you think that is true.

    I would also love to hear about what you think your ‘dream school’ would be like since it seems you have had experience in a few different schools.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting and have a great back-to-school!

  5. Pingback: EdReform Impossible » Philly Teacher

  6. Monet


    Your welcome and i say that statment because many of my friends and also the previous schools i went to before Kipp. I think they need the enviroment Kipp gives because most of them don’t know what college is nor is looking forward to it. Also they are not trying to get into any good high schools and i feel bad for them. I wish that Kipp could make more schools in Philly or maybe even Mastery turn over some of the other few public schools , but no i no longer dance i dropped out because this year was very important to me since high school is right around the corner ; thanks for asking . Also my dream school now would be a diverse highly challenged school with many different oppurtunties . Thanks again .

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