Businessman Scott Gordon brought his entrepreneurial skills to education with the establishment of his first charter school in 2001in Center City. In 2005, District CEO Paul Vallas gave Mastery control of three neighborhood middle schools–Shoemaker, Thomas, and Pickett–to operate as citywide admission schools. With no background or degree in education, Gordon imposed the rigid No Excuses model at Mastery, which mandated that students stand straight and in formation in hallways, that students in all grades maintain constant eye contact with teachers, and they not stray from the complete uniform. Other charters including KIPP had adopted the No Excuses program, mostly in Black and Brown communities, as both a barrier to enrollment and a way to weed out students who did not get with the program.
Mastery Charter Schools has been by far the biggest beneficiary of the privatization of public schools under the Renaissance program initiated by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in 2009 and subsequently expanded by the SRC. In addition to its six citywide admission schools, Mastery’s network now includes nine Philadelphia Renaissance charters. Parents at Steel Elementary in Nicetown were successful in fighting off a hostile Mastery takeover in 2014, but parents’ efforts at Wister Elementary in Germantown the following year were undermined by the District’s collusion with Mastery officials. The SRC justified the privatization of neighborhood schools via the Renaissance program with the promise of “dramatic improvement” at the targeted schools. Mastery has not kept that promise at any of the schools it took control of. This year, none of the Mastery schools in the renewal cohort meets Academic standards. Before he resigned from the SRC in 2019, Commissioner Chris McGinley asked that the Board move to retire the Renaissance model, citing its inherent lack of accountability and calling it an “expensive failure”.
Click on the links to the reports on each school.