Sunday, December 30, 2007

Educational Reform - Higher Education Thoughts

While my eldest is just in 8th grade, I have alot of friends whose children (and families) are going thru the ordeal of applying to and selecting a college.

I'm struck by the fact that while elementary and primary school education are in a period of wild-change, I'm unaware of any dramatic re-engineering that is going on at the college level.

For primary and secondary education, the great waves are:
  • A major new vote with their feet by 4% of the population to homeschooling
  • An attempt from above to control and impose rigor by No Child Left Behind
  • An attempt to privatize with school vouchers and school choice
  • A massive investment by parents in supplementary education materials and services
  • Much attempts to move to magnet schools, centers of excellence, and other choices within the system and away from the large high schools which supposedly provided resources for everyone (but turned into a scary environment for everyone)
At the college level however, it seems to be business as usual. Anyone who lives near a large state university campus can tell you that education appears to be the last thing on most students' minds. The professors all know that undergraduate education is the last thing on their mind as they compete to publish and for perks. But the budgets of so many families and states are built around providing four year access to these institutions of "higher learning". In the case of most schools, this expression is a joke.

Shouldn't this be on the agenda? Any politicians want to step up to the plate?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I just read an old article about Brian's experience working at a Kumon center: "Educating Ali". Basically, while inside the Kumon machine, he found a child who needed a little focused one-on-one attention and gave it to him.

I think it makes the basic point that with a little special help, many children's education can be greatly improved.

It struck a different cord with me. It was while sitting in a Kumon Center that I decided to launch myself as an entrepreneur. I was there with my 6 year old son and was very impressed by how crowded the waiting room was. Parents were lining up in droves for Kumon. I looked Kumon up in the almanac and found it was the single largest franchise in the US (in terms of number of centers).

A Kumon Jr. session for my son consisted of him sitting at a low table with 3-4 other kids and filling out simple worksheets while a para-professional watched and encouraged them. Then, the kids were given a large number of worksheets to fill out at home with the parents during the week along with a reading book.

For this, we were paying $250/month. There was nothing magic about the worksheets. They looked identical to the free ones on the net or the ones that you can get in a 200 page book for $4.99 at a discount store.

I asked myself why were all these parents paying so much for so simple a product. After considering a few possibilities (we were all dumb...?), I concluded that the answer was that it's not the worksheets per se, it's the fact that the kids get the right worksheet at the right time along with a motivational system that makes it valuable and effective. It was when I realized that and I looked at all these parents lining up for help. And I thought about all that driving and parking and followup by us parents at home that I decided to make the plunge and start

For a little more info on the Kumon philosophy, here's a quote from Brian's blog...

Regular school maths usually seems to involve the children working through only a few rather hard problems. Kumon makes them do many more much easier ones. Instead of hoping that they get, say, about half to two thirds of their stuff right, Kumon says they must get nearly everything right. At the heart of the Kumon method is the difference between a child painfully working out that seven plus six equals, er, thirteen? (anxious glance at face of teacher), and knowing with real certainty that seven plus six equals thirteen, with no doubts or hesitations. The usual educational emphasis is on "understanding". The Kumon literature talks of "mastery".
Each child does a clutch of sums selected for him or her personally (there is no everyone-in-the-class-does-the-same-stuff rule) each day, which are supposed to take about twenty minutes to complete.

Or, as puts in (quoting from a page comparing Time4Learning & Kumon)

It provides a service for children and parents alike, based on the philosophy of repetition and self-motivated learning. This after-school program works primarily toward enrichment and a mastery of the basics through a standardized approach of workbook completion. The Kumon workbooks consist of several pages of sequential math or reading content. Students complete one workbook while at the Kumon Center. In addition, students are required to complete a workbook at home each day they are not in attendance (including weekends). Workbooks range from two pages a day to twenty pages a day, requiring a degree of parental supervision.