Study: After-School Programs Can Help Improve Flat or Declining Math Achievement

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on
LinkedIn
+

Philanthropic, other organizations should consider providing financial assistance to allow programs to expand into lower-income communities

BOSTON – At a time of declining state and national math proficiency, after-school math programs offer a viable option for quickly increasing the number of mathematically competent students, according to a new Pioneer Institute study that profiles two such programs: Kumon and the Russian School of Mathematics (RSM).

“Given the disappointing state of math education in American public schools, after-school math programs could play a particularly important role,” said Ze’ev Wurman, co-author with William Donovan, of “Axioms of Excellence: Kumon and the Russian School of Mathematics.”

For the first time since 1990, fourth- and eighth-grade math scores fell on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress. They remained flat in 2017.

After rising for several years, math scores on the ACT college entrance exam have been falling since 2012. In 2018, the average math score dipped below the 1998 level. What improvement has been achieved on various tests has largely been limited to the children of highly educated parents.

Progress has also slowed in Massachusetts, where the percentage of students scoring “Below Basic” on state testing rose from 15 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2017.

These poor outcomes have facilitated the growth of private after-school math programs like Kumon and the Russian School of Mathematics.  Japan-based Kumon celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018.  It currently serves 4.2 million students at nearly 25,000 learning centers in 50 countries and regions.  The company has 45 Massachusetts locations, 19 of which are within route 128.

Kumon students start as early as age three and can continue until they complete the program, which means mastering high school-level math, including differential equations.  Students master a series of sequential worksheets, each one slightly more challenging than its predecessor.

Independent learning and building self-confidence are priorities.  After completing a placement test, each student begins at a level at which she or he would have little difficulty.  They proceed through the worksheets at their own pace, going to the Kumon Center twice a week and completing other work at home.

Like Kumon, Newton-based RSM, which serves 25,000 students in 40 locations across 11 states and Canada, including 15 mostly affluent Massachusetts municipalities, believes in starting students young.  RSM students attend weekly classroom sessions that range between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours, depending on the student’s grade level.

Otherwise the two programs take very different approaches.  While Kumon is focused on routinizing important math abilities like multiplication tables to free up working memory for more complex functions, RSM stresses abstraction and reasoning skills.

Wurman and Donovan recommend that philanthropic and other organizations consider providing financial assistance to allow after-school math programs to expand into low-income communities where they are sorely needed.

The authors also call for more active communication between teachers and after-school programs, so after-school instructors know what students worked on that day and what they will need to know to master the next lesson.

About the Authors

William Donovan is a former staff writer with The Providence Journal in Rhode Island where he wrote about business and government. He has taught business journalism in the graduate programs at Boston University and Northeastern University. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his master’s degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.

Ze’ev Wurman is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. He participated in developing California’s education standards and the state assessments in mathematics between 1995 and 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 he served as a senior policy adviser with the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education. In 2010, Wurman served on the California Academic Content Standards Commission that evaluated the suitability of the Common Core standards for California and was one of its two members who voted against their adoption. He is an executive in a semiconductor start-up company in the Silicon Valley and holds over 35 U.S. patents.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

Get Our Common Core Updates

Related Posts:

Stargazing: Five Astronomy Resources for Parents, Teachers, and Kids During COVID-19

/
Here are some resources for parents, teachers, and students of all ages. Our hope is to cultivate the curiosity within us, in order to better understand the heavens and stars above us.

Pioneer Institute Relaunches “One-Stop Shop” for Education Performance Data

Pioneer Institute is re-launching a new and improved MassReportCards.org, a one-stop shop for information on Massachusetts public schools, including test performance, school finance, and much more. The new version of the site includes additional and updated data, and is more user friendly than the original. MassReportCards adds to Pioneer’s suite of online transparency tools, MassWatch.

Study Finds Historic Drop in National Reading and Math Scores Since Adoption of Common Core Curriculum Standards

New study shows that, breaking with decades of slow improvement, U.S. reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other assessments have seen historic declines since most states implemented national Common Core English and math curriculum standards six years ago.

New Report Offers Case Study for Transition to Online Learning

Virtual Schooling Pioneer Julie Young provides tips on how states should move forward with the transition to online education during COVID-19.

Learning in the Time of COVID-19

/
Parents are deeply frustrated with the loss of learning their children will be provided as a result of COVID-19. Here are some resources to help address this gap.

Students still need to learn during the coronavirus pandemic

/
This op-ed appeared in The Boston Globe on March 31, 2020. State…

New Brief Calls on the USED for School Closure Guidelines During COVID-19

Pioneer calls on the federal government to quickly release a single report identifying which federal laws - and which aspects of those laws - are relevant to the topic of school closure during the COVID pandemic, and providing concrete guidance on how schools can comply in the coming weeks.

7 Tools to Keep Your Child Engaged in Math During COVID-19

/
Proven resources that every parent can and should make use of now and well beyond COVID-19.

5 Book Series Parents Can Explore During COVID-19 School Closings

/
Looking for quality literature and books to share with your children while we’re all at home for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19? Here are some excellent options that will nurture a love for great classic literature and enduring historical figures:

Don’t mess with success of voc-tech high schools

/
For more than 25 years, Massachusetts vocational-technical high schools have done everything state officials have asked of them. Instead of moving the goal posts by compelling them to switch to a lottery system, we should expand the schools. 

Joy Pullmann on the Fallout from Common Core

Joy Pullmann, executive editor of The Federalist, talks with The Learning Curve about the mediocre NAEP and PISA results, after a decade of the Common Core national education standards and the failed experiment with federal involvement in standards, curricula, and tests. They also discuss social emotional learning, parental involvement, and the media’s coverage of K-12 education policy issues.

When The Commonwealth Pays The Education Bill, It Should Get A School Committee Say

/
Local education officials were up in arms earlier this year when Pioneer Institute proposed giving the Commonwealth the power to appoint some school committee seats in urban districts that are mostly state-funded. It would be hard to imagine a better example of why we need to adopt that reform than the current mess in Fall River.

Jason Bedrick on Religious Freedom & Private School Autonomy

/
Bob and Cara talk with Jason Bedrick, EdChoice’s director of policy, about New York’s controversial “substantial equivalency” proposal that would give the state Department of Education oversight of school curricula at yeshivas and other private and parochial academies.

Public Statement on MA DESE Blocking Federal Funding to Religiously Affiliated Special Needs Students

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) legal office has played a key role in denying students at religious schools services funded by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for more than a decade.

NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on State-Driven K-12 Reform

/
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut joins "The Learning Curve" podcast this week, plus Bob & Cara break down the new NAEP results, and share education stories out of Denver and Detroit.

Education business ruled by teachers’ unions truly terrifying

/
This op-ed originally appeared in The Worcester Telegram &…

This Week on "The Learning Curve": Natalie Wexler on her new book, The Knowledge Gap

/
Bob & Cara talk with Natalie Wexler, author of "The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System–And How to Fix It," about the shift in K-12 education, even in the Common Core era, from an emphasis on academic content to empty skills and strategies.

VIDEO: Making a Difference Through METCO

A new video about the METCO program centers around the friendship between two Wayland High School students; one who lives in Wayland and the other from Boston. It also features interviews with METCO CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas and Mabel Reid-Wallace, Director of Wayland's METCO program.