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Harlem charter school draws inspiration from Korean schools

Seth Andrew, the founder of Democracy Prepatory Charter School in Harlem, has been in the news a lot recently. It’s easy to see why:

Andrews, 31, founded Democracy Prep which now operates six campuses in Harlem that has used the Korean model of education to boost the achievements of students in one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. Democracy Prep, which uses a lottery-based admission system and offers free tuition, gets over 5,000 applications each year.

“The belief that you can do better” is the philosophy that drives Andrews’ school. But the inspiration to follow the Korean model came from the respect he felt after spending a half year teaching English a decade ago at Dong-sung Middle School in rural Cheonan in South Chungcheong province. The attitude he observed in the principal and faculty of that school left a deep impression on Andrews.

Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about the potential of the Korean educational system to change American schools.

Not because I lack faith in the Korean educational system, mind you.

I just lack faith in American students.

Still, Mr. Andrew’s school seems to be doing well, and I wish him the best of luck.

Check out the videos here and here.

(HT to reader)

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • numberoneoppa

    Two critical things he’s missing: Korean parents and Korean society. No chance this will work.

  • Lliane

    At least they’ll have an excuse if their students are terribad at English Language

  • brier

    I can see it working as long as you had the students from primary school onwards, no problem. Dropping this program on to a secondary student, no way.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    Will they be teaching konglish instead of ebonics?

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    They’re missing the hagwons . . . and the white envelopes.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • Yu Bum Suk

    “spending a half year teaching English a decade ago at Dong-sung Middle School in rural Cheonan in South Chungcheong province”

    Things must have been quite different a decade ago. He should come and see the vocational wing of my school. It shouldn’t take him half a year to figure out that for lower-level students not a hell of a lot of learning is going on.

  • madar

    Great! Finally schools with Harlem love sticks.

  • Creo69

    Sticks? Are we talking about a good beating? I wasn’t going to bother watching the video…but now:-) Korea pretty much fucked itself when it tossed out the stick.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    #6,

    Yup, I doubt he was teaching English to remedial classes at a technical high school.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    numberoneoppa,

    Looks like Andrews has been doing this for three years and the test scores keep rising. So, for now it appears to be working.

    However, I have to ask… does Democracy Prep hand select their students? If so, is it really the curriculum (and it’s “Korean” values) or the fact that they picked the brightest of the lot, that contributes most to its success?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Btw…. my mind was blown seeing black and latino kids perform [what appears to be] a nongak.

  • http://blog.oranckay.net oranckay

    The reason the Democracy Prep model “works” is (1) Korean is the only foreign language offered in at least the mother school and, more seriously (2) it’s not trying to transform all of American edu and students. Those who get in really have to want to be there, so slacking is not tolerated. If you skip class to flow down the Mississippi chewing buckwheat while playing the banjo, some other kid who wants to go all out on his academics will be admitted instead. It’s a charter school, and as such gets to have its way in a lot of things.

  • DLBarch

    “If you skip class to flow down the Mississippi chewing buckwheat while playing the banjo, some other kid who wants to go all out on his academics will be admitted instead.”

    Awesome observation, Oranckay. Funny how when the subject of American education comes up, it’s always the failures of inner-city minorities that grab all the attention, and not the failures of rural Southern whites.

    Strange, too, that attempts like DemPrep to improve the system are so quickly tut-tutted…especially by many of the same folks who insist that charter schools are the solution to every perceived American educational failing.

    But this is MH, so race has nothing to do with it.

    DLB

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    DLB,

    I said pretty much the same thing but you didn’t mention me at all…

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Rereading… actually, no I didn’t say the same thing. Nevermind… :P

  • Sonagi

    Funny how when the subject of American education comes up, it’s always the failures of inner-city minorities that grab all the attention, and not the failures of rural Southern whites.

    That’s because NCLB’s reporting focuses on the racial achievement gap with particular attention to poor minorities. George Bush wasn’t talking about poor Southern whites when he sold his educational reform law with the line about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.

    Strange, too, that attempts like DemPrep to improve the system are so quickly tut-tutted…especially by many of the same folks who insist that charter schools are the solution to every perceived American educational failing.

    Not sure who you are referring to here. Proponents of charter schools are quick to seize on any success story they can find. Oranckay is right that even charter schools with lotteries are inherently self-selective because parents who can’t get out of bed in the morning to see their kids off to school aren’t going to bother to apply and kids who don’t want to work hard will drop out of the school when they figure out that they, too, are responsible for their own successes and failures. Overall, charter schools do not perform better than public schools; highly respected KIPP, which requires its mostly urban minority students and their parents to sign contracts, has been criticized for its high attrition rates and refusal to enroll new students after 6th grade.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Sonagi,

    Given that you are actually an educator to what appears to be roughly the same demographic (although maybe not the same selective slice of the demographic), what do you think about Demprep?

  • http://pawikoreapics.blogspot.com/ pawikirogii 石鵝

    who says it aint working? the school seems to be producing results.

  • Sonagi

    I don’t teach the same demographic since I work exclusively with ESL students from Spanish-speaking homes, and my school’s student body is a good mix of mostly working-class whites, blacks, and Hispanics. I don’t think about Demprep because schools with special rules cannot change “the system” in a country where federal law mandates that public schools provide a “free, appropriate education” to all. In our school, there are children who cannot get through a 6-hour school day without having at least one violent meltdown. Every single classroom has got 2-3 kids on hourly behavior plans. Most of these emotionally disturbed kids come from homes with past or present substance abuse. Some of them do get better; for others, behavioral therapy in school is palliative care to get the kids through each day. In the words of a longtime kindergarten teacher at my school, “some of these parents can’t even take care of themselves, let alone their kids.” If we really want to make changes that improve student achievement, then we must reach parents before their children are old enough for preschool, and help them acquire successful parenting and life skills.

  • JG29A

    Same. Old. Story.

    Select kids with better individual aptitudes, Quickly remove kids with individual traits that tend to disrupt. Claim to have changed the kids, when really you’ve just changed the kids.

    Let’s see them demonstrate this with a randomized group against a control group.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    JG29A,

    I don’t know man… kinda reminds me of the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the older, more experienced medic tells the younger medic to move on to those you can save. Sometimes I think with that demographic maybe you have to select the ones that “can be saved,” separate them from the rest of the sinking ship we call inner city public schools… and give them the best chances for a better education and a better life.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Wow… looks like this school model is becoming a success…

    http://rangel.house.gov/statements/2012/10/rangel-kicks-off-harlem-democracy-prep-school-students-trip-to-korea.shtml

    Democracy Prep has just been awarded a $9.1 million grant from the Department of Education.

    I don’t think you can take the whole K-12 Korean education system lock, stock and barrel to the U.S. and make it work, but there are probably some elements you can transfer over and if implemented properly, some parts of U.S. K-12 can be better off for it.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    What a weird world that I’ve stumbled upon, but weird in a good way:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoQMTMpFSO0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j855aT_gAdk

  • Sonagi

    Looks like cherry-picking already successful kids has made this model look like a success:

    http://mrdsneighborhood.com/2011/03/25/numbers-don’t-lie-high-stakes-“recruiting”-at-democracy-prep-charter-school/

    Listen to this Title I (70%+ free and reduced lunch) public school teacher who works exclusively with students below grade level in reading and math. The key to success is not the vague monolith known as “the system.”. It’s parenting + community environment. Most classroom teachers hand out lists of words and suggested activities, I actually print off the activities on cardstock, cut them up, and include bilingual word lists and instructions. I do not give the same activities to all kids. Rather, I differentiate according to instructional needs. The kid who can read 50 high frequency words and digraphs gets a different packet than the kid who is just learning to read words with short a. I invest two hours weekly preparing these packets, and for my trouble, I see a daily return rate of 50-70%. Only 25% reliably return the signed packet almost every day. I ask that packet come back signed to verify that the child is actually doing the tasks with the parent. If my school were located in Annandale, the daily return rates would be 90%+. It’s not a matter of the parents’ English language proficiency. Some of my most reliable parents speak very little English. This week a fourth grader proudly showed me how her mom, who washes laundry at a motel, had taught her to solve multiplication problems. The excited girl asked for multiplication homework to do over the Thanksgiving break. The kids with IQs above average can get by without home instructional support, but the kids with IQs below average cannot, and when they’re left behind, we teachers get the blame in spite of all the extras we do.

  • http://www.wm3.org/Updates iheartblueballs

    Have they succeeded in making the kids in Democracy Prep the most misearable in the developed world and raised the suicide rate to the point that it’s the #1 cause of death among youth? Are they slogging home from hagwons at midnight? Sleeping regularly in class? Are their parents spending 25% of their income on private education? Have they given up their social lives, sports, extracurricular activities, boyfriends/girlfriends, and any kind of fun/enjoyment in their lives whatsoever?

    Come on, if the kids in Harlem want the true Korean educational experience, they should be getting the full meal deal, shouldn’t they?

  • http://pawikoreapics.blogspot.com/ pawikirogii 石鵝

    uh oh, looks like two yahoos feel threatened. america got nothing to learn from korea, eh? just a mirage, eh? feeling threatened?

  • cm

    #25,

    I don’t know about you, but that sounds far better than being drop outs, hooked on crack, while the number one cause of the deaths in the developed world, are due to drug overdose, gun shots and gang wars.

    I don’t see what this school is doing that’s so really wrong it tries to take the strengths and ideals of others and incorporating them. They’re not just taking the entire Korean system and transplanting it on America.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    America can learn a lot from Korea. For example, how to induce more suicides from its youth by destroying their childhood in an oppressive and stiffling environment.

  • Jashin Densetsu

    if obama had a son, would he go to democracy prep?

  • gbnhj

    #25,

    Have they given up their social lives, sports, extracurricular activities, boyfriends/girlfriends, and any kind of fun/enjoyment in their lives whatsoever?

    Hey, I was with you on the points used raised, until this one. Clearly, you aren’t speaking from any personal observation. However, I can assure you that, no matter how deep within the maze of their existence they may find themselves, guys and girls still manage somehow to find each other and develop relationships. Friendships bloom, and humor (whether gallows or otherwise) is hardly in short supply.

    Certainly, life isn’t easy for young students, and the system does impose great costs on them and their families, but the light on Korean society hasn’t gone out completely just yet.

  • gbnhj

    …on the points you raised…

  • http://bcarr.com Brendon Carr

    However, I can assure you that, no matter how deep within the maze of their existence they may find themselves, guys and girls still manage somehow to find each other and develop relationships. Friendships bloom, and humor (whether gallows or otherwise) is hardly in short supply.

    That’s a fact. Humans find enjoyment in shared deprivation and misery — I have only fond memories of boot camp those many years ago, and of freezing my toes off in the DMZ in the winter of 1991, and of the Interior Defecator. Once one learns to embrace the suck, there’s a lot of laughs to be had.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    22, or they’ve learned from Korean schools how to put on a great show for visitors and get reporters to be stenographers. Did they take the reporters to the rooms salon afterwards?

    I have always loved the idea for ‘best of both worlds’. In Korea I think it would be a simple matter of banning multiple-choice exams to make a huge step in that direction.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Whoa, hey fellas, I said “some” not “lock, stock & barrel.” There’s no way you can take the whole public K-12 education system in Korea and transplant it to the U.S. I hope no one’s that dumb to think that it’s even possible.

    However, at this point, what Seth Andrews is doing looks to be working. 6 years ago he had 104 students. Now he has 2,000, a four year government grant for $9.1 million and (apparently) a U.S. Congressman in his back pocket ([D] Congressman Charles B. Rangel). If he can maintain those test scores with the larger student population, then maybe there is something to his system than just picking the best and brightest kids? Even the best seeds need the best soil, plenty of sunshine and ample water to thrive, do they not?

    Results speak louder than rhetoric and it appears, at least for the time being, that Andrews has the results, over a larger population sample to boot, to prove it.