Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New methods in the Old Line State

How Japan's Kumon Is Filling U.S. Public School Gaps

Something magical is happening at the Largo Kumon Center located in Largo, Maryland: students are studying beyond school grade level and actually enjoying it. Not surprisingly, their parents have great things to say about Kumon. One mom, Sandy Frazier, said: "Kumon gave my son the challenge that he needed. He wasn't challenged in school. I started him in Kumon in the fourth grade and he reached algebra before middle school."

Another mom, Kim McCarley, said: "We initially got our children into Kumon to help with giving them a foundation for math and reading. The thing we really like about Kumon is that our children don't just learn math and reading, but it's set up in a way that allows them to master math and reading. They don't progress until they master something. Whereas in school, it's once you have knowledge of, an awareness of, you move on. At Kumon, it's once you master it. And I think that's a big difference in that foundation for them."

Adoline Shodiya, owner of the Largo Kumon Center, credits Kumon for the success of her two daughters. Tayo recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in biomedical engineering, and Titi is in her final year at Penn State University studying material science engineering with a minor in math.

What is Kumon? It's an after-school math and reading program that employs a unique learning method designed to help each child develop the skills needed to perform to his or her full potential. The curriculum ranges from preschool to high school. Founded by Toru Kumon in 1958 in Japan, Kumon has 26,100 centers in 46 countries and regions serving over 4.1 million students worldwide, making it the largest and most established program of its kind in the world. Kumon broke into the U.S. market in 1983. Now boasting 1,300 centers and 194,000 students in the U.S., Kumon has surpassed competitors Huntington Learning Center and Sylvan Learning. The shortcomings of U.S. public schools have fueled Kumon's robust growth. In less than a decade, the number of Kumon students in the U.S. has doubled.

As U.S. public schools have progressively embraced reform math over traditional math and whole language over phonics, the U.S. has fallen farther behind other nations in scholastic performance. Many U.S. public schools are not doing a good job of teaching students basic skills in math and reading, which is why many parents are sending their children to Kumon.

Kumon has found what works and has not tinkered with that successful formula for over fifty years. During those same fifty years, the U.S. public education system has gone through several waves of reform, none of which have led to a successful formula.

In "Learning for Life: The Kumon Way", author Reiko Kinoshita writes that the foundation of the unique learning method used by Kumon—called the "Kumon Method"—can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan. During that period, private educational institutions known as "terakoya" taught basic skills in the three R's while emphasizing individualized learning and self-acquisition of knowledge. The terakoya were abolished in 1872 when the Japanese government established a compulsory public education system. However, the tenets and practices of the terakoya would resurface 86 years later through the work of Toru Kumon.

During my recent visits to Japan and Taiwan to research why students in those nations outperform U.S. students in areas like math and science, I first learned about Kumon. To better understand the Kumon Method, I visited Kumon's Tokyo head office to interview public relations executives Mayu Katata and Shinichiro Iwasaki. When I returned to the U.S., I visited the Largo Kumon Center. I learned that the Kumon Method consists of seven principles:

1. Students experience success from the start. After taking a placement test, students begin learning at a level below their current proficiency level. This reduces frustration and builds confidence.

2. Students advance in small, manageable steps. Each new assignment is only slightly more challenging than the last. Advancing is gradual and easy.

3. Students learn primarily by teaching themselves. Kumon instructors assign worksheets that provide examples of concepts to be learned.Students solve the worksheets on their own. If they have problems, instructors are there to help. Self-learning fosters independence and a sense of accomplishment.

4. Students master concepts before advancing. Mastery means earning a perfect score on a worksheet within a prescribed period of time. There are 200 worksheets for each level of learning. Some students may develop mastery after one worksheet while others may require several. Mastering basic concepts establishes a strong foundation for more advanced concepts.

5. Students practice daily. As the saying goes, "Repetition is the mother of all learning."

6. Students learn at the "just right" level. Each student studies according to his or her own pace and level regardless of age or grade level. In a Kumon classroom, each student is studying different concepts.Learning at the "just right" level prevents students from becoming bored with a pace that's too slow or frustrated with a pace that's too fast.

7. Students realize their potential. Unlimited by age, grade level, prescribed teaching agendas, or the needs of a group, each student can advance according to his or her ability and initiative.

The Kumon Method works. It works for the students I met at the Largo Kumon Center. And it works for 194,000 students throughout the U.S. As long as U.S. public schools fail to provide students with a strong foundation in basic math and reading skills, Kumon will be there to fill in the gaps.


Hugging banned at Primary School in South Australia

YEAR six and seven students have been banned from mixed-sex consensual hugging at a primary school in South Australia for fear it would set a "bad example" to younger students, AdelaideNow reports. Following complaints from parents at Largs Bay Primary School, the school has banned hugging and other displays of affection for "boyfriends or girlfriends" in the two senior grades.

"Hugging is not banned (between friends) at Largs Bay Primary School but we do discourage displays of affection in the schoolyard among students in years 6 and 7 who have a boyfriend or girlfriend at the school," principal Julie Gail said in a statement. ". . . we want our older students to set a strong example for younger students at the school."

The SA Education Department yesterday refused to endorse the policy and could not say whether it applied at any other school in the state.

Parents from two families not happy with the policy contacted The Advertiser and said the school should act only if the display of affection was inappropriate, rather than a blanket ban for all 11 and 12-year-olds. Neither would be named because of fears their children would suffer at school, saying students had been punished for hugging. They said the school's deputy principal and counsellor had told the students of the ban at a meeting of Year 6 and 7s this week, after an outbreak of hugging when friends were reunited following the recent school holidays.

The school's governing council has not discussed the ban at its meetings but one family which has a girl at the school, and another with two students, are not happy with the policy. They said it was far more strictly applied than the school suggests. "I don't want my child to go to a school in which displays of affection lead to punishment," one mother told The Advertiser. "My daughter has boys who are friends and she is being told she will be punished if she hugs them, I think that is setting a very bad example for younger and older children."

UniSA child protection expert Elspeth McInnes said the benefits or disadvantages of the policy would depend on how it was applied and policed. "Commonsense needs to prevail and if someone has just heard of terrible news and is being hugged you would not expect the school to overreact as opposed to what may be going on at the back of the class," she said.


Gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain widening, says report

Despite 12 years of government by a party loudly committed to narrowing the gap. More evidence that Leftist parties don't know what they are doing. If your theories are wrong, you won't get the results you expect

The gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain is widening, despite investment of millions of pounds each year, according to research published today. A day before Lord Mandelson, the Universities Secretary, outlines the Government’s strategy for increasing social mobility through wider access to further and higher education, a report by the University and College Union (UCU) shows that the gulf between rich and poor areas in the numbers completing a degree has widened over four years.

In some parliamentary constituencies, almost two thirds of the working-age population are graduates while in others fewer than one person in ten has a degree or equivalent qualification. Across Britain 29 per cent now have a degree but more than 12 per cent have no qualifications, according to the report.

Tomorrow Lord Mandelson will give the Confederation of British Industry a preview of his plans to boost social mobility through a new framework for higher education.

A Government taskforce chaired by Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, identified the continuing low participation in higher education by those from poor families as one of the main obstacles to social mobility. There have been marginal increases in the number of students from the lowest socio-economic groups over the past two years but the UCU report shows that many areas have not shared in the trend. In Sheffield, for example, 60 per cent of people living in the Hallam constituency represented by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, are graduates - four times the figure for the nearby Brightside constituency represented by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary.

In the 20 constituencies with the largest numbers going to university, the proportion of the working-age population with a degree-level qualification increased from 48.8 per cent in 2005 to 57.2 per cent in 2008. But the 20 constituencies with the lowest level of participation in higher education saw a decline from 12.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent. The Richmond Park constituency, in southwest London, has the largest proportion of graduates, at more than 63 per cent of the working-age population. In Doncaster North and Birmingham Hodge Hill fewer than 10 per cent have degrees.

The report also shows considerable regional variations. Eight of the 20 constituencies with the lowest proportion of qualifications are in the West Midlands. London attracts the highest number of graduates, with 17 of the 25 constituencies that boast the most graduates found in the capital.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: "The current Government has rightly prioritised investment in education but this report shows that the problem is even more deep-seated than previously thought and is a challenge for all the parties. Education holds the key to improving social mobility, tackling poverty and extending opportunity for all." Ms Hunt said the report showed the current divide between the “haves and have nots” was growing. Where a person lived largely determined their chances of educational success. [Rubbish! Place of residence is incidental. Richer people are smarter overall and have smarter kids]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My kids have had the worst year in school with shifting schools and adjusting with new schoolmates. I saw that, as kids, they wanted to make friends more than study. They needed a quick and simple way to learn and I guess also involve more kids driving it towards their goal of making friends. This method of learning was I think a boon to me and my kids in this difficult year.