Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Kumon is filling US Public School gaps

Something magical is happening at many Kumon centres in North America, 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, 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 North American 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 public schools have fueled Kumon's robust growth. In less than a decade, the number of Kumon students has doubled.
As public schools have progressively embraced reform math over traditional math and whole language over phonics, the continent 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. 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.

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 concept.
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 4 Million children around the world that do Kumon.

As long as 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.

Bill Costello, M.Ed., is an education columnist and blogger. He can be reached at

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