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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Why the math learning curve is a K

Some students were learning more math, before the pandemic, while most were learning less, writes Mike Goldstein. He believes changes in math teaching and the rise of private tutoring centers favor motivated students and those with motivated parents, explaining the K-shaped curve.

Credit: The 74

In the old days, a fourth-grade teacher would teach a lesson to all students, slowing the pace to keep stragglers from getting lost, and boring the advanced students. Over the last 10 years, he writes, it's much more common for elementary students to work independently on computers, while the teacher circulates.

"Evaluations tend to show gains for the more disciplined kids who actually do the math problems — but that, often, the typical student doesn’t do much."

In a 2018 study, California students who used Khan Academy for 30 minutes per week gained. But few students were that diligent. The majority did less than 15 minutes per week and made no gains, or lost ground.

Goldstein speculates that the software works for strong students, but isn't good enough to get struggling students "unstuck."

He also suspects that private tutoring centers, which have expanded in affluent communities, are contributing to gains for top-quartile students, who are more likely to have educated, motivated, well-off parents.

Where I live in Silicon Valley, there are tutoring centers everywhere -- nearly always with signs in Chinese on the windows.

People are trying to offer more tutoring in public schools, but "programs face significant operational obstacles," writes Goldstein. "Even programs that offer to make private tutoring free are under-used, like one in New Hampshire."

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Sep 21, 2022

In the old days, before full inclusion, Elementary school students had small group math and reading instruction at their instructional level. With full inclusion came whole class instruction, where most of the class was ignored as the teachers (a classroom teacher and a special education teacher plus aides) focused on remediation, and then did as music teachers do -- sold the instruction in the omitted content to their own students as private tutoring. Parents soon realized where the actual quality instruction could be found, and voted with their feet. Those remaining in public school often were there to improve academic fluency, while the actual learning occurred during ecs or private tutoring.

You haven't seen it in SV because of the…


Sep 20, 2022

But, why are tutoring centers exploding?

Because parents are tired of seeing the slow pace of the curriculum and the lack of effective teaching. In early grade school, it is easy for a parent to see if a kid is learning math facts or not; or if a kid is learning long division or not. Parents who had a reasonably good education and remember what they learned and when they learned it, will see that their kids are behind. Those who have the resources to do so, will look elsewhere for help. -- Ann in L.A.


Sep 20, 2022

Every time I add something to my course in an effort to help struggling students, the more motivated students who already have As use it and the struggling students don't. I post video lessons that cover the same content as lecture so that students can rewatch anything that confuses them and also recommend other websites. My A students come in asking about small differences in terminology and end up with more advanced content. The struggling students don't take notes in class or watch the extra videos.

When I volunteer to help with homework at a local after-school program, most of the students who come in for 'help' are already doing well. The 2nd grader who can't read is too overwhelme…

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