Posted by: Doug Henwood | June 9, 2011

Compare & contrast: KIPP vs. Sidwell Friends

Education “reformers”—who love testing, discipline, and charter schools—wouldn’t send their own kids to the institutions they prescribe for other people.

Cases in point. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has praised the KIPP schools (Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at the KIPP Annual Dinner) as “extraordinary” models. Here’s KIPP’s “Commitment to Excellence”:

Teachers’ Commitment

We fully commit to KIPP in the following ways:

• We will arrive at KIPP every day by 7:15 am (Monday-Friday).

• We will remain at KIPP until 5:00 pm (Monday -Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.

• We will come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:15 am and remain until 1:05 pm.

• We will teach at KIPP during the summer.

• We will always teach in the best way we know how and we will do whatever it takes for our students to learn.

• We will always make ourselves available to students and parents, and address any concerns they might have

• We will always protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom.

• Failure to adhere to these commitments can lead to our removal from KIPP.

Parents’/Guardians’ Commitment

We fully commit to KIPP in the following ways:

• We will make sure our child arrives at KIPP by 7:25 am (Monday-Friday) or boards a KIPP bus at the scheduled time.

• We will make arrangements so our child can remain at KIPP until 5:00 pm (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.

• We will make arrangements for our child to come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:15 am and remain until 1:05 pm.

• We will ensure that our child attends KIPP summer school.

• We will always help our child in the best way we know how and we will do whatever it takes for him/her to learn. This also means that we will check our child’s homework every night, let him/her call the teacher if there is a problem with the homework, and try to read with him/her every night.

• We will always make ourselves available to our children and the school, and address any concerns they might have. This also means that if our child is going to miss school, we will notify the teacher as soon as possible, and we will carefully read any and all papers that the school sends home to us.

• We will allow our child to go on KIPP field trips.

• We will make sure our child follows the KIPP dress code.

• We understand that our child must follow the KIPP rules so as to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom. We, not the school, are responsible for the behavior and actions of our child.

• Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause my child to lose various KIPP privileges and can lead to my child returning to his/her home school.

Student’s Commitment

I fully commit to KIPP in the following ways:

• I will arrive at KIPP every day by 7:25 am (Monday-Friday) or board a KIPP bus at the correct time.

• I will remain at KIPP until 5:00 pm (Monday – Thursday) and 4:00 pm on Friday.

• I will come to KIPP on appropriate Saturdays at 9:15 am and remain until 1:05 pm

• I will attend KIPP during summer school.

• I will always work, think, and behave in the best way I know how, and I will do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn. This also means that I will complete all my homework every night, I will call my teachers if I have a problem with the homework or a problem with coming to school, and I will raise my hand and ask questions in class if I do not understand something.

• I will always make myself available to parents and teachers, and address any concerns they might have. If I make a mistake, this means I will tell the truth to my teachers and accept responsibility for my actions.

• I will always behave so as to protect the safety, interests, and rights of all individuals in the classroom. This also means that I will always listen to all my KIPP teammates and give everyone my respect.

• I will follow the KIPP dress code.

• I am responsible for my own behavior, and I will follow the teachers’ directions.

• Failure to adhere to these commitments can cause me to lose various KIPP privileges and can lead to returning to my home school.

And here’s the School Philosophy for Sidwell Friends, where Barack Obama sends his kids:

Sidwell Friends School is an educational community inspired by the values of the Religious Society of Friends and guided by the Quaker belief in “That of God” in each person.  We seek academically talented students of diverse cultural, racial, religious and economic backgrounds. We offer these students a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.  We encourage these students to test themselves in athletic competition and to give expression to their artistic abilities.  We draw strength from silence—and from the power of individual and collective reflection. We cultivate in all members of our community high personal expectations and integrity, respect for consensus, and an understanding of how diversity enriches us, why stewardship of the natural world matters and why service to others enhances life. Above all, we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students “to let their lives speak.”

No uniforms, no threats—but instead a counselor who is “available to provide emotional support to students and families.”



  1. And the same could be said of Arne Duncan who went to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, an institution founded by John Dewey. My oldest daughter went there, too. The education there has nothing at all to do with this KIPP crap.

  2. In your interview with Diane Ravitch, she said that reform efforts throughout American history have reflected the prevailing views of their time. And these reforms are the apotheosis of market liberalism. Ravitch recently wrote:

    “So much of the current corporate reform agenda is built on principles borrowed from the business world. Competition is supposed to drive higher test scores. Test scores are the profits. Schools that can’t get higher test scores are failing and should be closed. Teachers whose students get higher scores should get bonuses. Teachers whose students don’t get higher scores should be fired. Public money should be handed over to private entrepreneurs, freed of onerous regulations imposed on regular public schools, so they can compete to get higher scores.”

    These reform are also the perfect example of why it is dead wrong to describe market liberalism as a movement for laissez-faire. As Philip Mirowski explained in _The Road From Mont Pélerin_, market liberalism requires a policy of market construction. The purpose of the movement has been less to wither than to reengineer the state. The state is both a means to their ends and a threat to their project. Members of the Mont Pélerin Society were reportedly fond of Benjamin Constant’s adage: “The government, beyond its proper sphere ought not to have any power; within its sphere, it cannot have enough of it.” The proper sphere is society, and it is the market architects who cannot have enough power. Hence the obsession with “mayoral control” and federal dictates.

    As John Gray said, “An increase in state power has always been the inner logic of neoliberalism, because, in order to inject markets into every corner of social life, a government needs to be highly invasive.”

  3. Don’t be misled by the Quacker sanctimony. Sidwell Friends, like its New York equivalents of the Whiskypalian and various Dissenter sects, is a relentless meatgrinder. Kids who aren’t going to make the school look good get quietly “counseled out” in all these places. It’s remarkable how even the upper reaches of the managerial caste have internalized, for themselves and their children, pretty much the same values articulated in the KIPP Regula Masochistica. Of course the classrooms and teachers are generally a bit nicer-looking in the elite schools. The students, too. They clearly select for that.

  4. Holy shit. A 50+ hour workweek for the teachers, and a 9 hour + homework school day for the inmates. What kind of nut sends their kid to these workhouses?

  5. “what kind of nut sends their kids to KIPP”? The KIPP schools are reserved for the children of the poor, for those aspiring to an assembly line some day. Clearly, work discipline has to start early. The KIPP schools have nothing to do with education; they simply provide a conduit for public money to land into private pockets. The teachers will get nothing; the children will get nothing.

    When you think about it, education is the only second chance anybody every gets; in this sense, a KIPP-type education is worse than murder.

  6. KIPP has problems finding teachers, but their basic philosophy is to get reasonably smart but unemployed recent college grads and drive them into the ground.

    Check out this craigslist teacher wanted ad for an insight on a similar admin’s mindset :

    The KIPP philosophy can’t work but in an 10 % unemployment environment, otherwise they just couldn’t get anyone to work for them.

  7. Doug —

    I am a co-founder of and a teacher at a small public high school in New York City that has, in alliance with several other schools, fought for and won a waiver from the high stakes testing graduation requirements that dominate and pervert New York’s public school system. For over twenty five years we have developed alternative assessments and cultivated progressive teaching methods that effectively challenge both the KIPP model and similar regressive initiatives emanating from the Department of Education. My own experience suggests that publicly contrasting the rules and guidelines of KIPP and Sidwell Friends is a useful but insufficient method of fighting the assault on progressive public education. What one must do as well is respond to the following defense of the difference: that working class kids, particularly those living in relatively poor Black and Latino areas, need the seemingly restrictive structure and “discipline” that the KIPP rules provide and that these students must master basic academic skills before proceeding to the intellectually creative environment presumably found in Sidwell-style classrooms. The best response to this claptrap, of course, are schools that demonstrate that the opposite is true, that rigorous, progressive teaching, a nurturing environment, and a diverse student population can work for even the most so-called difficult or miseducated kids.

    I assume that your primary audience at this point are mostly people on the left. What you must realize, however, is that the facts which your contrast presents are not necessarily persuasive to people who think that their own children lack the discipline and tools needed to function in school. There is, in Black and Latino working class communities, no less than there was in the home of my white immigrant radical grandparents, a sometimes strong element of cultural conservatism which finds the KIPP approach appealing.

    A few years ago, accompanied by a group of my students, I visited a KIPP middle school in the South Bronx. The school shared space with several other programs. In the lunchroom, KIPP students were not permitted to associate with or speak to the students from the other schools. They sat at traditional long, laminated school lunch room tables and whenever their voices became, in the dean’s opinion, too loud, he would clap his hands and a minute of silence was observed. At the table closest to building’s north wall, ten or twelve students sat silently for the entire period eating their lunches and facing the wall. They were being punished for not having handed in their homework that morning. At some point the dean delivered a speech to us in which he stressed the need to for KIPP students to become “leaders” of their community by shedding the poisonous influences of the environment in which they live and embracing the kind of morality and behaviors that insure success. This required maximum contact with KIPP and minimal contact with the community.

    The entire scene brought to mind the “uplift” philosophy of Booker T. Washington and, to a lesser extent, the Nation of Islam, though certain important differences were obvious. In any case, there are more than a few people who share the dean’s views, at least in part of their thinking. Please consider this as you wage war against the privatization of education.

  8. […] schools that don’t have standardized testing. Both President Obama sends his children to such a school. Could this be because he knows better than to believe his own […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: