Back to index of justice, government, and education pages by Donald Sauter.
Back to Kumon - a look at the pluses and minuses.
These are emails I have received in response to my main Kumon page. I've responded as honestly as possible. There's no useful order; you have to skim to see which exchanges may be of interest to you.
*** THEE: Hello, I just happened to read your "critique" of the Kumon program. If I can recall you only had one positive and the rest was a tangent about the bad side of Kumon. I am surprised that you took on the arduous task of completing actual packets. I am curious to know how far you went. I have just recently completed the Kumon program in its entirety. I was a student for 10 years. I am African American and seventeen years old. I am currently in the process of writing College Apps. and as I look back onto my life, the Kumon program has had the most significance. If you look beyond the countless packets, you would realize that Kumon instills self motivation, confidence and the skills needed to succeed. Kumon has helped me in my mathematics classes especially, I skipped Algebra 2 and pre-calc and I have successfully completed the Calc AB and BC courses. I will luckily be able to go straight into Calc 3 in college. Kumon also helped me realize my love for math. Without Kumon I would have only liked math and maybe not pursue a career in the field. You also described the reading program as being helpful or something like that. In my own experience, the Kumon reading program is pointless. It basically is copying the phrases from the passage, and nothing more. Sure it has selections from American and British classics, but it doesn't give you the tools tp becoming a great writer which is necessary to succeed in High School and the rest of your life. In my opinion, I feel as if you should add more of the positives of the Kumon program, instead of bashing it. The Kumon program is not mean, it is beneficial to every student involved. (You probably won't care what I have to say, but I am a strong advocate of the Kumon program, and I have had 1st hand experience through all of it.) ME: Thanks for writing. By all means, I do care what you have to say. As much as anybody, and I'll bet a lot more than most, I recognize that different people are different and what works for one won't necessarily work for another, and vice versa. If Kumon worked for you, I tip my hat to both you and Kumon. I don't believe my page "bashes" Kumon. I believe I have been fair and honest about Kumon. You have to know what an exception you are. I can't imagine how far past the decimal point you'd have to go to describe the fraction of Kumon students who complete the math program. My page has been up for several years now, and your message feels like the first pro-Kumon one I have received, although there may have been one or two others. Just today I got an email from a mother who said that, every day for 5 years, her son never once did his Kumon without her making him. About devoting 10 years of your life to Kumon, I'm willing to bet that if you had taken a year on, a year off, you could have still completed the math program in the same time, but only have spent 5 years at it. Just think, if you had started at 3, instead of 7, you would have had 14 glorious Kumon years! The old brain can only be pushed so fast . . . About the reading program, I think I was complimentary towards the beginning- and early-reader levels, but called it worthless once it gets to the point where someone needs to take a close look at the students' written answers. I believe Kumon's excerpts, whether or not from American and British classics, are totally worthless, and more likely to turn a student off from reading. As far as I remember, Kumon does not make any claims about its reading program also being a writing program. Good for them, as there certainly is no known program to make anyone a great writer. Never has been, and I'll stick my neck out and say never will be. That's something a person either has or doesn't, although the pc police are liable to kick down my door for saying so. Are you amazed that I did Kumon worksheets because you know your Kumon instructor never did? THEE: The answer to your question is yes/no. No because I am amazed that you voluntarily completed the worksheets, I have never heard of someone who started Kumon because they wanted to. I am no exception. I started Kumon because of my Dad, but as you can see I started to like it after a while. Yes because I realized that if my instructor would have just attempted the packets she wouldn't seem so stupid to me. I know it's kind of harsh, but I knew that my instructor had no idea what type of math I was doing once I reached Level G. For that main reason, she was forced to find tutors/employees that could help me. I think after adding up all of the people I went through it was about 11 employees. Only one of them stuck with Kumon long enough to help me through Level O, and that person eventually quit, leaving me to figure out the math by myself. *** THEE: I found your Kumon page to be very interesting. We have a daughter who has been enrolled in Kumon for the past two years. At her request (she knew classmates who were in the program), we enrolled her during the summer between Grades 5 & 6. She is just completing Grade Seven. They started her at Level 2A and she is now in Level G. Things went very well at first, but have definitely declined in the past year. Kumon initially boosted her confidence and sense of pride and she could see a correlation between what she was doing in Kumon and what she was doing at school. In the past year, she is less and less motivated and more and more frustrated by Kumon. She has written the Level G test twice now and is facing more review unless she quits. We had thought that the experience was less positive because of a change in the centre's administrator. (It's a corporate center.) The new administrator is someone who runs things 'by the book'. When my daughter told her that I was doing some exercises with her, the administrator said that it was not the 'Kumon way'. The previous administrator was more easygoing. She allowed tricks and shortcuts and tended to move kids forward even when they didn't have things 100% right. But now, after reading your page, I think that maybe it's a combination of the new approach at the centre and the difficulty of the higher levels. Do you consider the 'G' level to be in the 'mean' category? My daughter said that she finds the G test to be very confusing, as the review sheets have examples but the test does not. She's had tears in her eyes after failing both times. My daughter has made it clear that she wants to quit. I was encouraging her to successfully finish the level she is in before doing so, but now I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I didn't want her to walk away from something unfinished. But, now after reading your perspective, I wonder if not only should we be allowing her to walk away but to run!! ME: To be honest, I think Kumon's Level G is of value and is not particularly hard or "mean". The Achievement Test backs off somewhat from the hardest material in the worksheets, which is generally true of Kumon's Achievement Tests. I don't have a good answer for your daughter's troubles at this level. I wish I had a chance to work with her to see exactly what the problem is. Everything in the Achievement Test falls into two categories: either "evaluate an expression"; or "solve an equation." And the two sorts of problems aren't even mixed up. My best guess is that no one has ever hammered home the difference between evaluating and expression and solving an equation; first of all, because Kumon is a "self study" program, and secondly, because I doubt a single teacher in the country has ever thought to emphasize this with his students - if, indeed, any of them have ever noticed the difference, themselves. (It's one of my "things".) After all, expressions and equations look so much like each other - strings of numbers and letters and operations with an equal sign - but they are two different beasts. If that's not the problem, I have to wonder if it's a weakness with basic arithmetic that's at the root of her troubles. Theoretically, that can't happen in Kumon, but . . . The accuracy and time requirements on the Achievement Test become harder and harder to satisfy as the levels increase. I don't seem to have kept a record of my performance on the Achievement Tests. In a folder of "souvenirs" I have a Level G AT completed by my most brilliant student - and he didn't quite make a "Group 1". (Want some fun? Pull out a Level G Achievement Test and a timer and ask the instructor to sit down and do it.) I can't tell you not to throw in the towel on Level G; after all, one's mental health is a lot more important than math. But I do believe that Level G is very basic and should be within the grasp of a good 7th-grade student. Maybe a session or two with an insightful tutor would remove the stumbling block. *** THEE: I read your thoughts on Kumon, thanks. I am thinking of enrolling my son. He loves math games. I want to facilitate his interest and skills - not burden him or kill it for him. I agree with you - parents should do the kids homework with them. This is helpful on many levels and sends a message to them that "I am interested in your work. I want you to be interested and engaged in this too." So, are there products out there that let parents run their own Kumon-type experience with their child without having to engage the help of a third party? ME: That's a good question - maybe the "million dollar" question. Wouldn't it be great if parents could just buy workbooks from the grocery store or dollar store and help make it enjoyable enough so that children would actually work through them, from beginning to end, with enthusiasm? There must be some reason you rarely see such a thing. I suppose it has to do with familiarity; we reserve our worst and least deferential behavior for the people closest to us. To answer your question, yes, almost any sort of learning material out there could be administered in a Kumon-like way. The qualifier is that it would have to be something that hammers away at one skill at a time, as opposed to mixing up questions on a bunch of different topics on each page. My feeling is that almost any math curriculum, besides modern "fuzzy math", would have to be far superior to Kumon's. Having said that, I believe it would be nearly impossible for a parent to actually implement a Kumon-like regimen. The amount of repetition employed in the Kumon system is unthinkable to an ordinary human (no offense). It's not part of our mindset; it's never even occurred to any of our educators; nothing like it is used in a single school in our country. When a student gets a question right one time, yippee! - time to move on! Who cares about burning the material in and giving a student a chance to see it in the bigger picture? I'd be glad to be proved wrong on this, but, supposing you and your child have a good working relation, and supposing you trust yourself to recognize when he's ready to advance, I'm guessing you will both have bitten each other's head off long before he's done that workbook page assigned for just the third time. I'm afraid it takes a depersonalized third party to crack that whip. (Of course, even with that, many kids rebel intensely against Kumon.) Sound bleak? Sorry about that! Again, prove me wrong and then communicate your success to the world. I just wish that some educator with a drop of perception would take Kumon's basic idea and marry it to a good math curriculum. *** THEE: I think I might understand what you are saying about Kumon. I am thinking about enrolling my daughter in Kumon. She is finishing 2nd grade at a public Montessori school. She just can't seem to get her math down and since Montessori does not drill nor offer homework but offers the bigger picture, I think Kumon might be right for her. One thing that I really liked was that Kumon will send worksheets home that she & I and her father could work on together. We can actually help her here at home. Is this a correct assumption? Do many parents expect the children to just come home and complete the worksheets by themselves? ME: Sure, give Kumon math a try. If it's not nearly as good as it could be, it's better than nothing (at the lower levels), and it sounds like nothing is exactly what your daughter's school teaches. Theoretically, Kumon is graduated so imperceptibly that a student never needs help. Of course, that's in theory only; nobody's ever taught himself everything. We all meet obstacles and hurdles we need help with. Also remember that Kumon starts at a very, very low level, so it will be a while before things get difficult for your daughter. But, by all means, involve yourself as much as possible with her Kumon work. I try to give a variety of reasons for that in my web page. To be honest, I think very few parents do anything more than mark the worksheets. I'm begging to hear from parents who have put themselves through the same Kumon regimen they put their children through. *** THEE: I have young children (2yrs, 10mos) boy/girl twins. They are doing really well. My daughter can read many, many words and simple sentences. My son is doing well too. I have wanted to enroll them a Kumon when they turn three but I am concerned about your critique. I read much of what you posted and was thoroughly impressed by your commitment as a teacher. I'm hesitant to become involved with Kumon now because it seems like a factory and a business franchise as opposed to a place where the staff is committed to the child. What do you think? ME: Thanks for writing. Little, if anything, I say on my Kumon page applies to the very lowest levels of Kumon's reading or math program. At those levels the parent works together with the child on every assignment. The point is, the commitment of the staff is not really a factor. (I hope I haven't said anywhere that Kumon center staff is not generally committed.) You're the one who will be working with your children on a daily basis. So the only question is whether Kumon's learning material is satisfactory. I'm no expert in early childhood education, but I believe the beginning levels of Kumon to be very good - perhaps the best thing going. Based on what you wrote, I think you should give it a try. You might want to start with one child first to see what you think. If you sign up, take notice of how beneficial the work at the "Junior Kumon" table at the center is. If you find yourself thinking, "I could do better than that one- on-one at home," you might opt for one center visit per week rather than two. *** THEE: My daughter will take SAT MATH test in June and general test in Oct. Does Kumon have any tutorial course for the tests? ME: In a word, no. That's not what Kumon does. Kumon starts everyone over again in math. If your daughter joined Kumon she *might* get up to long division by October. It's interesting to note that Kumon had an instructor here in Delaware who was shut down in part for providing help with SAT preparation. (He's a chemist who had played an important role in some Nobel prize winning work. Imagine your child having an instructor like that!) To be fair, Kumon is about solidifying the basics which students have gotten rusty on, or, more than likely, were never taught in the schools the first place. Also, to be fair, SAT preparation is a fiction. They design the test so that it can't be prepared for. The key is the word "Aptitude". It has nothing to do with knowing anything. They would never include a question like "Which is greater, the number of sides on a triangle or the number of legs on a horse?" because that wouldn't be fair to someone who doesn't know what a horse is or what a triangle is. In the math section, there is nothing above a 7th-grade level. They don't even presume you know the area of square or circle - that's given to you. Students are separated out according to their ability to see through tricky and confusing questions, not perform advanced math. *** THEE: I just read your whole review of Kumon Math. I am the "math specialist" at a very small private school. We currently use Saxon Math for grades 3 through 8. For Kindergarten through 2nd grade we principally use RightStart Math by Alabacus. While I recognize there are problems with every curriculum, I am VERY confident about our current programs. However, we have a couple of families that send their children to Kumon as a supplement and are convinced that the Kumon program is the best. My Principal approached me this morning with the proposal that we strive to make our school a school that allows students to move at their own pace in math. This sounds great in many respects. In fact, several students this year had to move down in math levels as they couldn't handle the material. We also have several students with such low math skills that we honestly have no place for them. As soon as Kumon was mentioned, however, as the curriculum they (the Principal and School Board) are thinking of bringing in, I rebelled inside of myself. I know it would REALLY be useful for those struggling students but I have no intention of replacing Saxon for Kumon. So, here are some questions/comments I hope you can comment on. ME: I'm behind you all the way. The basic idea of the Kumon method has much merit, but the material itself is nearly barren. I find myself telling people that *any* curriculum is better than Kumon's; for you to replace a curriculum of which you are very confident with Kumon would be a horrendous mistake. What's good about the Kumon method is the daily practice, and that a student advances only when he is ready. If you can more or less work that into your current curriculum there would be no reason to even think about Kumon. About students moving along at their own pace: It sounds wonderful, but is really only suited to a self-study program, such as Kumon, for example. I don't see how it can give rise to anything but chaos in a teaching environment. Fifty third graders each working on something different? Good luck. Am I saying that the strongest students shouldn't move ahead? This is a soapbox issue of mine. My radical answer is yes, that's my belief; they should NOT move ahead. As you've substantiated with the one example you give, it's bound to cause problems, besides being a pain in the neck for everyone concerned, like having to bus elementary school kids to a middle school for their math class. Sorry, but an A+ means the student "got it". That's a starting point; not a basis for wrapping up. I've never met a student, no matter how outstanding, who didn't have more gaps that could use filling. If a student can do 5/6 + 3/8 blindfolded, then put him on 23 438/5670 - 18 4333/5640. (Those are mixed numbers.) If he really knows what's going on in the textbook problems, he should be able to dive in and evaluate that without his pencil stopping for a moment. In the fantastic case of a student who really does have perfect and complete understanding of the subject matter being taught, I say there's plenty of room to expand laterally. Textbooks are so big and fat that they have about five or ten times as much material as a class can get to in a year. Let the standout students explore those other areas. Suppose a "talented and gifted" 6th-grader has charged ahead and gotten a taste of introductory calculus. So what? I really doubt there are too many engineering firms or science laboratories hiring 6th-graders. Instead of skittering ahead, the best students should be *absorbing*. There's plenty of time. Sorry about that; like I said, it's a soapbox issue of mine. Getting back to Kumon, is your principal and school board aware that Kumon is not a worksheet vendor? The customer doesn't buy worksheets; he's paying for a program. Either a certified Kumon instructor would have to come into your school; or someone in your school would have to take training to become a Kumon instructor. >I know it would REALLY be useful for those struggling students but I have no intention of replacing Saxon for Kumon. I'm not so sure about that even. I would think struggling students, more than anyone, need "number sense" ways of doing basic arithmetic. Kumon has no notion of number sense. It has no idea that something completely different is at work in the brain when you do 9+6 vs. 5+3 vs. 7+7 vs. 6+4 vs. 8+5 etc., etc. Kumon only knows brute force memorization. >Is the Kumon curriculum meant to be supplemental or can students really use is as the main curriculum in a school? I don't view Kumon as supplemental. I see it as stepping in when a school has failed to teach basic arithmetic. If schools taught arithmetic, Kumon would die. (Yes, Kumon has levels which go beyond arithmetic, but, as I say in my Kumon page, very few students survive very long in Kumon once they get beyond arithmetic. It's pure death.) I can't imagine Kumon serving as the main curriculum in a school. I can't put my fingers on it, but I'm sure I read somewhere that Kumon provides something like 40% of the math taught in the elementary grades, and a higher percentage, like 80%, of the math taught in the upper grades. >I am all for understanding WHY numbers work the way they do, not just doing it because that's the way it is so memorize it. Am I off base here? If you are, so am I! >I would like your opinion on this - what if, along with our main curriculum, we used the Kumon Worksheets (this also troubles me that this is ALL WORKSHEETS) for the lower grades to focus on the basics on Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, all including fractions, decimals, and percents? I think you could find, or generate, much better worksheets on the web - for free. Remember, you can't just use Kumon worksheets as you see fit; the Kumon program must be followed. Be aware that scores and times for each and every worksheet must be entered into a computer program and sent off to Kumon monthly. Best of luck with your principal and school board! *** THEE: I am looking for some tutoring for my daughter not because she is bad in any particular subject but because she is playful and I want something to help her concentrate and help her organize her thoughts while she writes. I was looking at Oxford learning centre and Kumon. Do you know anything about Oxford method by any chance? They say that their teacher to student ratio is 1 to 3 and they have personalized program for each child based on his/her needs. I am not sure how true that is. They get $150.00 for the assessment test (which take about 2 hours) and $170.00 per month for 4 hours. Comparing the prices Kumon is way more economical but they say that there is no teacher. Kumon says that students get homework for 7 days on each visit which is 15 minutes and they have to do it on their own. I am not sure if this is going to be helpful for my child. ME: Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about the Oxford learning centre. If it sounds a little bit "to good to be true", I wouldn't necessarily hold that against them; doesn't that apply to almost everything that's marketed? My position on student/teacher ratio is very radical - so reader beware! While we are supposed to believe that the smaller the student/teacher ratio the better, I believe that there is no significant difference between 3 students or 40 per teacher. I am convinced the magic number is 2, which has many advantages over one-on- one, even. Three becomes a class; and a teacher can't latch onto three student brains at once. At that point, dialog becomes lecture - with the attendant uncertainty of everything being "taught" being grasped by all of those good, little, attentive(?) students. You didn't say the age of your daughter. If her writing is your main concern, I presume she's already a developed reader. If that's the case, I don't think the Kumon reading program would have much to offer. And more extensive writing doesn't come about until much later in the Kumon program. And when the student does write more than a few words, there's no one at Kumon who has the time or experience necessary to give it more than a dry comparison with the workbook answer. Having said all of that, if your local Kumon doesn't lock you into a long term plan right from the start, it wouldn't hurt to give it a chance. Maybe the regimen of doing Kumon worksheets 15 minutes a day is just the thing for your daughter's "playfulness". (I hope they don't kill it completely!) You'll have to be open-minded about the low starting point, though. *** THEE: I just read most of your comments in preparation for hosting an exchange student who listed Kumon as an after school activity--I was expecting a martial art, and it appears I was not that far wrong. As you emphasize, the needs/capacities of the student and a tutor who fits them are the ingredients for success. I hope parents follow your suggestion of doing the worksheets--they will soon know if Kumon is a good fit for their child. Thanks offering your even-handed, revealing perspective.. ME: Thanks very much for the supportive words. I get occasional feedback on my Kumon page, but very rarely any comment on the main point - my entreaty to parents to do what the student has to do. If a program is ineffectual, it will be found out. If a program is good, that's when the magic starts. *** THEE: i read your article on kumon. most parents think kumon is great, but little do they know what the system is really like, much less the curriculum. i have a relative who runs a kumon in california. i can't believe so many people pay so much money for worksheets! if only parents just took time to teach at home. kumon is a business. it comes from an asian culture that prioritizes excellence in education at all costs. that philosophy turns me off. excellence in character and values and actions is what we need to strive for. kumon is not for everyone. its methods are mind numbing. it does not inspire. i had once thought of opening up a kumon myself. thought i might open one with that aforementioned relative. in retrospect, i would have died buried under the worksheets, bored and numbed by the mechanics. math is wonderful. reading is wonderful. there is such a thing as the spirit of the as well as the letter of the law. the spirit of math and reading is lost with kumon. knowledge without spirit is no knowledge at all. ME: Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, I am in almost complete agreement. What little Kumon has going for it stems from how hopeless our schools are (generally speaking). Kumon math may be murderous, but at least *some* students may pick up *some* arithmetic skills from it. The schools couldn't care less - just railroad a kid on to the next level whether or not he's learned anything. I think Kumon's reading program for the very beginning readers may be quite good; thereafter, you could do a lot better with a stack of comic books or anything else you can get a kid to read. And Kumon may be the only thing in a child's life that requires a sort of work routine before getting out into the work world. Too bad the material has no "spirit", as you put it. *** THEE: I stumbled upon your website and am quite interested in your time with kumon. I, too, am a kumon instructor having difficulties with kumon management. So much so that I am patiently waiting for someone to buy the franchise so I can get as far away from it as possible. My question to you is if you have had any other replies/responses/comments from other kumon Instructors with the same kind of problems with kumon mgmt.? They have made me feel like I've been doing a terrible job and I'm the only one out there that they are harassing. Its nice to hear I'm not the only one having problems with them. That's all really. I understood everything you said in your 'good, bad and the ugly' link. Its a real shame that they are so closed minded - they lose really devoted and committed Instructors. i've definitely been discouraged on the whole 'franchising' thing. ME: Thanks for writing, and sorry to hear about your problems with Kumon. No, I haven't heard from other Kumon instructors having problems with Kumon management. In fact, I haven't gotten any messages (that I can remember offhand) from any Kumon instructors. I know only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who visit a web site take the time to shoot off a message, but that baffles me a little. Guess I've been holding my breath for an irate instructor to tear me limb from limb for my web page. I mostly hear from Kumon parents, and people considering opening a center. *** THEE: I stumbled across your website while doing a search about Kumon Learning Centers. I won't take up a lot of your time, I am sure you get a lot of emails. My question is this; I am going to be applying for a Manager Trainee position at a local Kumon center here in Texas. What is a good math review website or other source to prepare myself for the Math test that Kumon requires? I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this. I completed up to trigonometry in college but have not used it for years....I have been a jazz pianist for the last 20. Thanks in advance... ME: "Stumbled"??? I'm Number 3, man! I'm always glad to be of assistance, but I'm not sure I understand your situation. I don't know what a "Manager Trainee" is; I only know of the Instructor and the Assistants at a Kumon center. Does this mean a Kumon franchisee can nowadays just sit back and hire a manager to run the center??? Kumon is mostly a self-study program. Sometimes an instructor or assistant might find a moment to help a struggling student, but it's not a formal part of the program; not something the customer is paying for. Kumon management would not even want a center to get heavily into that because the center would then deviate from other centers. Since Kumon is a franchise, that is not considered acceptable. As far as math requirements are concerned, be assured that only a small fraction of Kumon students ever gets beyond basic arithmetic, and a tinier fraction yet gets beyond introductory algebra. The students that get beyond that are whiz kids who won't need assistance, anyway. *** THEE: Thanks for your insights on Kumon. I have a 5 year daughter who is somewhat easily distractible with a short attention span. Do you think that these worksheets and constant repetition would help her with math and reading better? I am looking to give her more structure and repetition. ME: There are no guarantees in life, but it sounds like the Kumon regimen very well might help your daughter. At her age, the worksheets should be as much fun as work. *** THEE: I have read your article on Kumon, and I want to thank you for your time and sense of humour, my daughter has been doing it for three months, I must admit that your article had opened my eyes and I am prepared to be killed by her any minute, it is certainly a pain in the neck, but her self steem has improved as well as her marks at school. Following your advice I do the same exercises, and God it is boring!, the good point is that we seem to be spending a lot of time together and I'm reviewing (two students for the price of one), fortunately the instructor is very flexible and has let us jump from addition to subtraction, and from addition to two levels higher and backwards. ME: Thanks for writing; I'm glad my suggestions have helped somebody! *** THEE: What is the cost to have a child tested at your facility? What is the cost per hour for tutoring? ME: For information on Kumon, go to their main site by typing "kumon" in Google. They will say there is no cost to have your child tested, but there is a registration fee of about $50 if you enroll. I see figures given in news articles of about $35 - $70 dollars per hour as the average for a private tutor. Of course, the sky's the limit. That may sound expensive, but a half-hour session per week compares very favorably with Kumon. *** THEE: Thank you for your honest opinion of Kumon. I have been considering sending my daughter to Kumon for a while. My daughter is in 2nd grade. Her school gives an addition and subtraction math test every month of 45 problems each. Each test has a time limit of 1 min. Although, she tests at a 4th grade level, she only gets about 15-17 of the problems done in 1 min. They are supposed to be able to do the entire sheet of 45 problems before entering 3rd grade. It seems like she slows down every time there is a time limit involved. Do you think Kumon could help with this? She has a grasp of numbers and can solve many word problems, so I know that she has the skills. I also sit with her while she does her homework and often do the problems in my head while looking over her shoulder. Sometimes I time her without her knowing and she will do her math homework (often word problems) in 5 to 10 mins depending on the number of problems on the sheet. I am starting to wonder if she has some psychological block with being timed. ME: There are no garantees in life, but I think Kumon might help your daughter get over the timing anxiety. After all, she'll be doing timed assignments every day, so if that doesn't get her used to it, I can't imagine what will. Of course, the thing isn't to terrorize a student with a timer, and it isn't even the exact completion time or whether it beats some arbitrarily set limit that matters. What you would be looking for, and nudging her towards, is a state of always keeping the pencil moving comfortably along. That's proof of a student knowing what she's doing. She doesn't have to be a speed demon about it; if that's what her school wants, they should be closed down. I also need to ask, are you really sure she has the single digit additions down pat? Does she have number sense ways of doing "hard" additions like 7+9? Is she completely beyond counting, externally or internally, in her additions? Does she have a crystal clear understanding of subtraction being nothing new or separate, just addition going the other way? *** THEE: I was wondering if you could share your opinion with regards to which private math programs in your opinion stand above the rest? ME: I wish I could answer your question. It took a few years to get to know Kumon, so you can see it's not feasible for me get familiar with the other hundreds or thousands of programs people have come up with. I still have no idea what goes on in a Sylvan or Huntington. I look at things from the perspective of a competent private tutor. It absolutely does not matter to me what math program a customer chooses. If it has weaknesses I will see them and turn them into positives working with the student. "See, you know better than the people who wrote this book!" *** THEE: What IS a good math program then? I came across your website at my attempts to figure out the best way to teach math to my 1st and 3rd grade boys. I've never had a good feeling about Kumon, but I've been curious about what makes it work. I wanted to see what I could pick up from them and tweak things around for my kids. I see from your article that you've already tried to do that to their chagrin. Is there a math (reading too, for that matter) program that you have seen that you would use (or would have used) for your own kids? I was disappointed to read that Kumon doesn't encourage using mental steps: >A student is never told, and there are no exercises that burn in, "an >even plus an even gives an even". In this example, a student armed with >that basic understanding might see 8+6 as the next even number beyond >6+6, which he knows like the back of his hand, or simply as an even >number "not too far up" in the teens. There's never a suggestion of >breaking a harder problem into quick and simple steps. Again, a Kumon >student learns 7+5 by brute force. A lightning quick series of mental >steps, such as breaking the 5 into two chunks, one of which gets you to >10 and the other to the final answer, is completely stonewalled by >Kumon. I'm trying to find a program that's been laid out in a logical, incremental way help them progress through the basic operations for now--using the mental steps that you've described above. What the boys get from their public school just isn't enough for them to feel interested or competent. I don't want to turn them off to math by throwing too many worksheets at them but I am finding out that a short 5 to 10 minute session of rote skills is not so frowned upon by them and absolutely necessary. Any ideas on what I can use? Any suggestions would really be appreciated. I enjoyed your very insightful articles. Thanks. ME: Thanks for visiting and thanks for the positive comments. I don't have a ready-to-go answer to your question. It would take a thousand lifetimes to compare the math programs out there, the wheel has been reinvented so many times. I've never seen any that include the insights I've gotten simply by taking a close look at what goes on in my brain step by step. (Do you know, my brain *never* performs a subtraction? Or a division? That 9+9 is a multiplication problem?) The other funny thing is that, from my point of view as a tutor, I don't necessarily need or want a "perfect" method. I can turn the errors and gaps and confusions in a textbook or math workbook into an exciting learning experience for a student. Not too helpful, am I? :) I don't know if I can make a blanket generalization, but I've seen dollar store workbooks that are a hundred times better than school curricula. Without any recent experience, I have to believe that there must be very good math and reading courses on cd-roms (if they still make those things.) How could they mess that up? The program will know whether the student is doing well enough to move on. And finally, have you looked into Indian Math Online (IMO)? It's only $5 a month. I spent a few days with it at the higher levels, and seemed to quite good (with a few oddities and mistakes here and there.) With the time I spent with it, I didn't see any sample problems worked out, so I'm not sure what IMO does about getting a new idea across. Good luck, and let *me* know if you come across a killer program. *** THEE: I went to a Kumon Center in Houston. My son was interviewed but when he knew that he has to start from the very beginning he stormed out. He wanted a tutorial on Algebra 2. I respected his judgment but I'm still looking for a better tutorial services. Any company you know? ME: I wish I could help, but I don't know of any nationwide one-on-one tutoring services, and would be leery of making a recommendation if I did since the quality of the service depends completely on the individual tutor. I think your son made a good decision, but not necessarily for the right reason. Review is always beneficial, and if it's truly easy the student will fly right through it. The problem with Kumon is that after the arithmetic levels, it really never aligns itself with any standard school curriculum, such as "Algebra 2". Good luck finding the right tutor. Check the classifieds in the paper, the yellow pages, and put up a "tutor wanted" ad at the local university. *** THEE: I am a current 8th grader who finished Kumon reading and is in Level L in math. I cannot stand it anymore and my parents cannot help. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you Sincerely, A Kumon disliker ME: When you say your parents can't help, do you mean they won't listen to your request to stop? There should be a law that a child can demand that his parents do everything they make him do, but I guess that's a way off yet. Have they read my thoughts on the lack of value of Kumon above the arithmetic levels? I hope that will soften them. Best of luck. You've certainly paid your dues. By the way, did you get one thing out of Kumon's reading program that you wouldn't get out of reading the things you ordinarily read and like to read? THEE: When I say my parents can't help, I mean that the stuff in Level L is too complex for them. I don't have the time to stay in Kumon for an hour or so either. My mom says that I have forgotten the basics for this level (which is true) but every page is different. I don't get a chance to actually learn the material and use it. Kumon reading for me was useless. The only reason I passed was because the first time that I did a worksheet, I would get everything wrong. But then I would memorize the answer (It took some tries to get it 100% correct but I managed). How do you feel about Kumon reading. I will definetely show my mom your page. Thank you. ME: In my Kumon web page I try to come across as a reasonable, thoughtful, even-tempered sort of guy. So it's kind of hard to come out and say, "Kumon's reading program, above the elementary levels, is a miserable joke and a criminal waste of a child's life." $50 worth of comic books would be more beneficial than $5000 worth of Kumon reading. Good luck in getting out of Kumon and on with your life. *** THEE: No words can describe how true the things you wrote about kumon are. I am currently a high school freshman in level N of Kumon, and I would have to agree that most of the practices that are fundamental to the program are fundamentally WRONG. My Kumon center is stricter then most, and I can't begin to describe the long hours that the program has taken from my life. True, the idea is a good one, but improvements must be made. As they say, the best is the enemy of the good, and there is no reason to strive for perfection at the cost of lagging years behind grade level. So, simply put, I would like to thank you for getting these facts out there, and I hope that some people will take notice! ME: Thanks for sharing something of your Kumon experience. At least it sounds like you're holding up pretty well in spite of the drain on your life. About my Kumon page, so far no one has ever written to say, "You don't know what you're talking about!" *** THEE: I found what you had to say about Kumon interesting. My son (6th grade) is desperate to get out of Kumon jail. Can you suggest some alternatives? He's on level E and does need the practice but really dislikes Kumon and has since he started in 4th grade. ME: I guess the main question is, why does your son hate doing the work? Does he naturally hate doing any sort of academic work? That might sound horrible, but it probably describes the majority of kids since the beginning of time. I don't have any suggestions regarding kids who won't work; I'll leave that problem to others. Or is it that the work is frustratingly difficult? Students will say they "hate" an assignment, or it's "boring", but the problem is really that they don't have a complete understanding, and that makes the work very painful. What I mean is, if a student has the multiplication table down pat, doing a page of long divisions should be as satisfying (fun?) as doing a word search, or crossword puzzle, or sudoku, etc. If that's the problem, maybe irregular sessions with a private tutor would get your son over Kumon's hurdles. No system is truly and completely "self- study". Of course, if you went with a private tutor, you might as well drop Kumon and find workbooks that aren't so dry and barren. My last idea relates to my suggestion to all parents to do everything the child does. Might it be more fun, and therefore more productive, if he had a "teammate"?; if he didn't feel dumped into something on his own? You might make a game of it, he does a problem that you check, then you do a problem that he checks, etc. Kumon never has to know. THEE: Thank you for responding; I truly appreciate it. I like your idea of doing the homework along with my child and will give it a shot in math and science to see if he becomes more engaged. Do you know of any good/fun workbooks or CD's for 6th grade math? ME: If working with your son on his homework as a friendly team - as opposed to a master-pupil relationship - works, let the world know, or let me know so I can pass it on to the world. I don't see how it can't, except in the case of insurmountable personality clash problems. I met an Indian a few weeks ago and he told me that when he was a child and starting to take a "new math" course in India, a parent or relative close to him had to practically sign a contract that he (the adult) would learn the material along with the student. Sure makes sense to me. This practice of just "dumping" kids into this, that, and the other - something not a parent in a million even realizes he's doing - has to stop. Sorry for the rant. About workbooks, I would just take the child to a bookstore and let him pick out something that looks the most fun or interesting. I would start with a 3rd-grade book. If he really is solid at that level, you (plural) should have a blast spinning through it. *** THEE: I have 2 sons ages 5 and 7 who have been enrolled in Kumon for 2 years. Though they are excelling in math and reading at school, I have always had the sinking feeling that I was being duped by this organization. I get the feeling they have things set up in such a way that keeps dragging things on and on. I understand that repetition is important, especially in math. I wonder if you have come up with any alternatives in the Math department for kids? The only alternative I can find on the Web for Math is called Indian Math Online. They have a comparison model to Kumon on their site. Currently spending $600 per month on Kumon..... ME: $150 per subject per student per month??? We were told $80 to $100. *** THEE: read your site on Kumon - very insightful. I just wanted to send you an email & maybe pick your brain & learn from your experience w/ the Kumon franchise. I was completely planing on joining until I read your webpage. I'm hoping you can shed more light on this for me. Am I making a big mistake here or is this a good business to try? Also, I still have not gotten any good answers as to why the center cannot be opened more than twice a week.... ME: Kumon is probably a "good business" for most of the 1280 franchise owners in the U.S. I suppose it was a "mistake" for most of the owners who shut down or sold their center to another instructor. I have no idea what the figures are for the failures. If you pursue Kumon you will get a book called a "UFOC" (Uniform Franchise Offering Circular). Part of what hooked me in was a list of over a 1000 thriving centers, and a list of just a few dozen that shut down. What a fantastic success rate! If they can do it, why can't I??? However, much later I realized the comparison was misleading; the list of operating centers was complete, but the list of shutdowns was for just the previous year. Cheat! It's safe to say that if you want to work with students, Kumon is a mistake. It's a self-study program. To have enough students to pay the rent, you would hardly have time to work with students, anyway. If you want the feeling of being in charge of your own business, Kumon is probably a mistake. You will be very much under Kumon's control. If you want to feel like you're making big improvements in the students' academic abilities, I'm not sure what to say. I don't think there are any studies that show Kumon to be beneficial, although I'll be the first to admit such studies are very difficult to carry out. It's not so much "why" the center can't be opened more than twice a week, it's just that the Kumon routine is designed around two center visits per week. Understand that the students don't do anything differently at the center than they do at home. Kumon would work just about as well with one visit per week, or as a total correspondence course, even. I've always wondered if those two center visits per week aren't mostly to make it look like Kumon gives you a lot of service for your money! *** I'm glad to find your site regarding G-B-U-Kumon. My son is ADHD and has always struggled with math. He was always in small group math in school until the "No Child Left Behind Laws" came into being. School math has been a nightmare. My son's eighth grade teacher was worthless - I begged for help through the school and it was impossible. I found a tutor at $40 an hour that he could relate to and learn from but it didn't help with his class. (My tutor has since moved.) We had to attend summer school to retake the test to move up to 9th grade. At my wits end, a home school mom told me about Kumon. So I talked to Kumon and they assured me ADHD was not a problem and he could learn long division. He was evaluated and found to be way behind and it would take a year to catch him up to grade level. I decided to try it since he had always struggled. He started out very very very basic (1+2=3, etc.) finally 2 1/2 months ago we reached division. He mastered the basic 1 and 2 digit division problems rather quickly and finally moved up to long division. For 2 months we have been doing the same work. The instructor would give him a long division sheet and then say "oh, you're struggling and I don't want you to be frustrated so go back and practice 8 divided by 2." Finally my son's frustration level exploded on me. He was never allowed to show his work on the worksheet. He had to do everything in his head and write the answer down. He also said they didn't work with him and expected him to be able to look at the problem and do it with no explanation. He said mom it's pure torture. I just stopped taking him. I can't work long division problems out without showing my work and I don't struggle with math. The one good thing about Kumon, he did learn his times tables with ALL the repetitive work with basic multiplication problems. Now I'm looking for another way to help him. It's hard to find someone that really has a knack for being able to help struggling kids learn. Your website just confirmed I did the right thing to stop taking him to Kumon. ME: Thanks for sharing your experience. It points up the basic fallacy with Kumon's, or anybody's, "self-study" method of instruction. If self-study truly worked, we could take any 5-year-old who has started to read and stick a mountain of books and worksheets in front of him and say, "Ok, we'll be back in 15 years, at which time you'll be an accomplished engineer, or accountant, or musician, etc." Everybody, even the very best students, need help to get past a stumbling block. It might be just a word or two to clear up a simple confusion, but nothing substitutes for some words of experience from someone who's already been down that road. (Not that everybody with experience has good skills for passing it on.) Most infuriating for me is that your son's instructor wouldn't let him show the steps to the long division problems. If it makes something doable that otherwise is very painful, then why not? It's an artificial constraint; I can imagine many students who write the intermediate steps beating, in both time and accuracy, the kids who struggle mightily to hold everything in their heads. I know some Kumon instructors are flexible enough to let students write the intermediate steps in long division. I suspect most Kumon instructors are "by the book", though. If I were working with your son, I would double check that he's rock solid on the single-digit multiplications, and then try to make it clear that division is nothing new, just multiplication turned around. After all, if you're dividing 592 by 8, the first step is really asking yourself, "Hmmm, now what's that number in the 8's table that's up in the 50s? Oh, yeah, I remember; it's 56, which is . . . oh yeah, 8x7." Whether you're a 5th-grader or a master mathematician, that's what's going on in the brain. After getting the 56, some people might be able to hang onto it, others might let it slip while they're writing down the 7. Then they have to bring it back by redoing the 7x8 multiplication. I can't think of a reason on earth why he shouldn't be allowed to write the 56 down so he can then see the upcoming subtraction easily. If your son really has reached that stage, even with writing the steps down, I'd say he's ready for division by multiple-digit divisors - where *everybody* writes the intermediate steps down. (So what was the big deal about *not* writing them down with single-digit divisors?) If you find another tutor, I suggest that you retain that aspect of Kumon whereby your son does 15 minutes or so of work every day. Learning takes a combination of the two - direction from a "master", and "doing". *** THEE: I read your experience with the Kumon system. In your Q&A section, a parent asked about Kumon workbooks. I found Kumon reading and math workbooks in a school book store called ClassWorks in Hammond, Louisiana. I purchased books for ages 5-7. Although I have not enrolled my child in the Kumon program, I found the books to be beneficial and "fun" to work on and my child completed the books quickly and with interest. Just thought you might like to know. ME: Thanks for writing, and the report on Kumon workbooks. I still have never seen one. The people who run the educational book store in Dover, Delaware, have never heard of Kumon. Glad to hear that the workbooks are beneficial and fun - hard to imagine much higher praise than that! *** THEE: I've been a high school English teacher for 24 years and my 13 year old finds himself needing help with his basic math confidence and skills. Kumon came from the school coundelor as a suggestion. I googled it and read you before anything else and bless you for your sensitive and candid insights. I don't need to know anything else. ME: Thanks for visiting my Kumon page. I do worry that some parents may reject Kumon based solely on my page. If your child still can't do arithmetic, Kumon might help. Even though Kumon could be much, much better for basic arithmetic, it's better than nothing - a claim schools would be hard-pressed to make with a straight face. If you went into Kumon with your eyes open, and took my advice of doing everything the student does, there's nothing to fear. You'll know how bearable or not it is, and whether your child is benefiting. You can stop any time. I'd love to hear back from parents who have "done" Kumon. *** THEE: I am an instructor in H~~, since 1999, and have shared your frustration with the mind boggling insistance on following ineffective and outdated operating procedures from the HO and other shortcoming of the Kumon Program. However, I am of the opinion that Kumon is one of the best answers for the middle income families struggling with the ineffective schools in America. So I am trying to work within the system to deliver a higher quality program to my students by delivering a personalized lessons (bend but don't break). This approach has worked well and have now grown to over 200 students. However, I have reached a point where my personal time does not enable me to continue to deliver the same level of service as the center continues to grow. Kumon in their wisdom, has opened 4 new center around me, one within 3 miles recently. My point of differentiation is the level of service and I would like to develop my assistants, mostly high school students, to continue this strategy: happy students + good grades = happy parents. ME: Thanks a million for looking at my Kumon page and the kind words. I had thought that H~~ was in the Washington, D.C. branch. If that's correct, I'm a little surprised you haven't already brought down their wrath for >delivering personalized lessons (bend but don't break). I will argue to the end that nothing I did could even count as "bending"; I was just pulling students through the Kumon curriculum as fast as they could handle it. Regarding "helping students learn the objectives of the Kumon worksheets", I didn't make much effort in my web page to hide the fact that I think there are serious problems with what Kumon thinks is important above the arithmetic levels. I think Kumon needs to tear it all down and start from scratch. I think Kumon's goal should be to give students a very solid, but very basic, foundation in each subject - geometry, trigonometry, probability, calculus, etc. - so that if and when they take it up in school or college, they can hit the ground running and be in a good position to keep up when the material gets more advanced. *** THEE: I read attentively your comments on Kumon and they are ALL accurate. There is NO place in the Kumon method for any meaningful instruction (and certainly your intellect, writing skills and obviously top notch teaching skills are of no interest to them and it is a true loss to Kumon). It is a business and their sole interest is that each center operate at 200 students. In order to make it viable they hire "very qualified" assistants (high-school kids). This will make you laugh: One of these qualified tutors corrected a D level page marking all answers correct that indicated continuing division and not remainder (example 5/2= 2.1 instead of 2R1). Another point that you correctly state is that the mathematical concept is NEVER approached. Students memorize and never learn a mathematical strategy. The reading program is an atrocity. I have observed kids that are perfectly capable of "figuring" out a reading exercise (AI and AII) proceeding by elimination (fill out the blanks) and NEVER actually reading the content. The "topping" is the Jr Kumon program. No 4-5 year old can concentrate for 30 minutes on a particular task (physiologically the brain does not acquire that capacity until 7-8 years old). *** THEE: I was about to consider Kumon for my six-year old smart daughter, but after reading your article online---I reconsidered. I did observe my cousin's son when he was younger, doing Kumon under time pressure and it was more of a torture than learning! I went on to attend Columbia University without Kumon, so my daughter should do well as well! Thanks again. You saved me lots of money and headaches on this one. ME: You're more than welcome. Of course, I try not to come out and say, "Don't do Kumon!", because there are so many factors and everyone is different. Coincidentally there was a very entertaining article written recently by a woman who put herself through half a year of Kumon. http://www.slate.com/id/2152480 She didn't write the article from the angle, "Wow, if it's this miserable for an *adult*, just think what it's like for a kid", which is too bad. It would have been a real eye-opener. *** THEE: May be you should have learned more math before buying a franchise....if a student did not know a problem...I would show him the steps! Such as how to solve a binomial or quadratic. Kumon does help....the practice builds confidence, the memory of basics help the student focus on the parts they need to as they are half way thru the equation or problem. It is better if a Kumon instructor is a math teacher or a math major, they understand how to help the student. People such as you should get a Curvers franchise or a food franchise and leave the education to educators. ME: But it was helping students that got me in trouble with Kumon. THEE: Well you need to get it off GOOGLE. Most parent are ignorant and it hurts my business. For some reason as soon as they search for KUmon the article appears...and like everything there is more to the story. The average American parents of the generation I want to sell KUMON to, is not very up on education and does not get it...math or reading....so doing KUMON is good especially if I can get them to stay 6-months and read or get a kid to level J alg. *** THEE: Thank you so much for your honest input regarding Kumon Math. I have been suspicious of their methods for quite some time. I had considered enrolling my son, but had kept hearing that it required doing a series of worksheets for each level that would have to be mastered before going on to the next. I do not consider this method of teaching very inspiring, in fact, I think it is down right mind numbing and only makes kids hate math. However, it does sound very typical of Japanese methods and methods in the United States around the 1950's. I think we will reconsider Everyday Math through the University of Chicago. Thanks again for your honesty. ME: Thanks for spending time with my Kumon page. I do worry a little that someone might reject Kumon solely on what I say, when it might be very effective for that particular child. Good luck with Everyday Math. I'm not familiar with it and will look into it. *** THEE: I stumbled upon your web page about Kumon. May I ask what is the expected earning potential with owning your own center? I have just recently started inquiring about Kumon. ME: Figure the average center has 100 students. I think a typical tuition now is about $115 per month. Kumon gets about $35 of that. So you get to keep 100 x $80 = $8000 per month. Out of that comes the rental of the center space and utilities. That varies widely, of course, but I think very few Kumon instructors get away with less than $2000 per month. You will also need to pay about 4 assistants about $9 per hour for about 6 hours per week, each. Call that another $1000 per month (very roughly), and you net about $5000 per month. Fair enough for maybe 10 or 12 hours of work per week? *** THEE: I just read your paper on Kumon (Kumon - the good, the bad, & the ugly) after I found it on a google search. I am job searching and came across a position with Kumon as an Education Consultant. I'm very glad I read your take on the company, being I am a math teacher and I cringed at the thought of rote learning - isn't that what we strive to avoid in education these days? Anyway, it almost immediately turned me away from applying for the position because I could picture myself getting the same emails about accusation of "changing the Kumon method." But then it got me thinking... maybe this position is brand new. Did your words turn the light switch on for Kumon? Are they looking to improve their strategies in an effort to finally keep up with the trends of American education? ME: Interesting question - no one's ever asked me that! My gut feeling is that my page has made Kumon powers think about their program. I have no idea whether they might actually consider making improvements, or just go with the status quo. I know they never accepted my offer of cheap input! There have been complaints in the Kumon instructors' forum about certain math "sets" (a booklet of 10 worksheets) that are wildly inappropriate where they're found in the curriculum. I heard that Kumon management said they would look into it. I have no idea if such discussions were prodded by my page to any extent. I don't believe my page has a negative effect on Kumon's business anymore than their own web site has a positive effect. Such a business depends almost completely on word of mouth referrals. People might visit Kumon's site after having heard about it from another source, and they might even not reject it based on the typically annoying hype they find there, but no one has ever stumbled on Kumon's site cold and gone on to sign up. That's my belief, anyway. *** THEE: I very much enjoyed reading your thoughtful analysis of Kumon. We have an 8 year old who has been in Kumon for over 2 years. I have had some of the same concerns you expressed even though I also noted some benefits he gained from his experience. My son will be away for one year and I am looking for a book from which I could select some math problem for him on a regular basis. His mother will be working with him on his reading. He is going to the 4th grade. Any recommendation you may have will be most appreciated. ME: Unfortunately, it's a virtual impossibility comparing all the hundreds or thousands of math programs out there and choosing a favorite. I now tutor privately, and the funny thing is, I don't care how good or bad a program is. If there are flaws, I can turn that into something interesting and valuable working with a student. "See, you know better than the people who wrote this!" I tell the parents it doesn't matter to me - dollar store workbooks, cd-rom programs, web-based programs, worksheets from the internet... Having said that, it sounds like your son is very advanced. You might consider the Math League Contest books, which start at 4th grade. They are the exact opposite of Kumon - fun; rich; words in every problem. Just search on "math league". Hope that helps. [Actually, I see the Math League material as being really only beneficial when done under the wing of an enthusiastic, competent tutor. Otherwise, it's just "either you know it or you don't" review material, not learning material. With a good tutor, it can be a fantastic tool getting a young mind to "think math".] *** THEE: I feel you did an ok job of explaining the basis of kumon (i.e. the worksheets and breakdown). However, I have worked for kumon for 4 years and feel that there is not "bad" parts to kumon. It all depends on the center and the child. Kumon is great for students who are capable of learning on their own but not all students can do this. Some students do need step by step instructions. Also, at the center i work at I find that i work with kids seperatly if they are really struggling. There is the number chart, number board, number tracing, and as a teacher you can explain doubles, and little tricks to do different math problems. The method is the basis for the program but is the instructors that make the biggest difference. ME: Thanks for your thoughts. I suspect from what you write that you haven't gotten involved in Kumon's math levels above basic arithmetic. They're killers. I think when you refer to "students who are capable of learning on their own", you really mean those students who are fairly strong and who are still in a review mode in Kumon's lower levels. I agree that "the instructors make the biggest difference", but working with students is what got me in trouble with Kumon. *** THEE: Its sad to hear that you got in trouble for working with the kids. The owner of the kumon I work at does have us use guided questioning first but when that does not work she does let us explain each step the the student even on the upper levels such as H, I and J. I guess a lot has to do with the person that runs the center. ME: I ran my center. *** THEE: Your website was invaluable in giving me an overall understanding of the Kumon program. I have a 4 1/2 year old starting to learn her letters and phonics and was considering supplementing her reading development with the program. I've decided against Kumon, primarily because of the emphasis on timing. She loves worksheets, though, and thrives on the few little pre-K books I've picked up at Barnes and Noble and through our school supply stores. Would you recommend using Kumon workbooks outside of the program? Thank you so much for your time and the candor of your site. ME: Thanks for visiting, and thanks for writing. It might sound funny, but I've never seen the Kumon workbooks sold in stores. To be honest, you might want to reconsider the Kumon reading program for your child. I didn't get into Kumon's beginning reading levels on my page because it's not what people mainly associate Kumon with; and my page was already too long. I had a few very young students in the reading program, and the results were pretty remarkable. One was not quite 4 years old. Don't worry about the time limits at that stage. If there are completion times on those worksheets (I forget) they would be very "soft". No need to think about them at all. Kumon's reading program for beginners may be the very best thing Kumon has to offer. My own very personal reservation is the age- old, is it good and is it necessary to start that young? And such children are the ones sentenced to a lifetime of corrected vision. But people always tell me I'm wrong about that. *** THEE: Thanks for the heads-up on Kumon. They recently opened 2 centers near my home in AZ. With the poor educational system here in the Phoenix area I was so close to enrolling my kids in ANYTHING I thought might help pick up where the school is dropping the ball. I guess I am going to stick with doing it myself. ME: To be honest, my main purpose in writing the page was not to scare parents away from Kumon on my say-so. More than anything, I would like parents to take me up on my suggestion that they do everything the student must do in Kumon, and make a decision based on that. I would love to hear back from parents who have "done" Kumon. *** THEE: I happen to come across your article just before I was to make a decision to see a Kumon center being offered for resale. In fact, I saw your article the day after I agreed to go and see the site. I haven't seen it as yet because of your article. I was wondering though weren't you aware of Kumon's method before you undertook to investing in the franchise? I am a retired teaher and, of course, my first impulse is to employ all methods of instruction to facilitate a student's learning so in that respect we both agree and I want to congratulate you. I understand also that a prospective franchisee must complete all worksheets to be familiar with the work that the student will encounter. Did you do this? If so, didn't you see that the work was repetitive and especially at the beginning covering many, many worksheets? In other words, didn't you detect that the system was flawed as you intimated in that respect? I must confess that I am a Junior Kumon Instructor dealing with the younger students in math and reading. I agree that the sheets are repetitive and most of the students hate it. As you know, my level must know the short sounds of the alphabet and with no coaxing from my employers I initiated combining the sounds as they learn them to formulate a word thus giving them a sense of mastery and accomplishment. I suppose this is unKumon. I don't know because I haven't been told otherwise. In fact, the students do not even know why they are studying the alphabet sounds unless I tell them which I always do. I work for a highly successful Kumon franchise and thought that I, too, could be successful with my educational background. However, your article demonstrates that Kumon is a business first with education a secondary goal for those (parents) with the temperament, perseverance and stictuitiveness to succeed. This method probably appeals to a certain segment of the population with education as a major emphasis. ME: >I was wondering though weren't you aware of Kumon's method before you undertook to investing in the franchise? I learned about Kumon's method during training. Note that it's not the Kumon method that I have a problem with. I think my page makes it clear that it is the learning material itself. When they first showed us some Kumon worksheets a couple of days into training, I'll admit my heart sank at the barrenness of it. I proceeded anyway because I was into it too far; I knew of no other options at that time; and since I'd be there, it wouldn't matter how bad the study material is. Which is what I tell the parents of the students I tutor. I can actually turn weaknesses and errors in the study material into a great learning experience for the student. >I understand also that a prospective franchisee must complete all worksheets to be familiar with the work that the student will encounter. Did you do this? I think I more or less said in my web page that in the almost 3 years I was involved with Kumon, I did more Kumon worksheets than anyone on the face of the earth, bar none. >If so, didn't you see that the work was repetitive and especially at the beginning covering many, many worksheets? Repetitiveness, per se, is not a problem. I think in my web page my only slight objection to repetition was in the long division section. And a problem only arises there if the instructor is hard-nosed about meeting the SCT. >In other words, didn't you detect that the system was flawed as you intimated in that respect? The basic system is not flawed; it's great. Public schools should adopt it. >I must confess that I am a Junior Kumon Instructor dealing with the younger students in math and reading. I agree that the sheets are repetitive and most of the students hate it. That's interesting. I had several very young students; one was 3. In my experience, they enjoyed Kumon the most. Hope that helps in your decision-making process. *** THEE: I read the kumon article/experiences on your geocities website. I am very interested in working/teaching kids (interest developed as I spent time with my kids understanding what they are taught, how etc) and was thinking about starting a afterschool learning center - looked at Kumon and also was looking to start my own. I was wondering if you had any tips/advice based on your own experience. Would appreciate any help/tips from you. ME: I'd be glad to share some thoughts. I'd rather you didn't view them as tips or advice, though, just "for what they're worth". One rude awakening was that even though there is a kind of pretense that a franchisee is an independent business owner, the reality is that he is under the thumb of the franchiser to a much greater extent than with any conventional employer. Put more directly, Kumon treats you like a baby. Working with or teaching kids is not part of the Kumon method. How much you may be able to get away with that is unknown. It's certainly not possible with a center large enough to generate an average sort of income. I had in mind to "pull" students through Kumon, but I knew from the beginning that would mean a small center and poverty-level income. I now have a private tutoring business. I live in Dover, the capital of Delaware. It is the seat of state, county and city government. I thought there would be parents willing to pay for tutoring their kids. It looks as though there is not a resident of Dover willing to pay $20 per half hour. If I had as much business as I could handle at that rate, I would barely make a 5- figure income. Even with Kumon, there was not a single parent who ever expressed what a bargain $80 per month is. And that at a time when the *average* tuition in the Southeast was $115. I've heard of a center charging $150. [Dec 2007 note: The figure $125 per month has been showing up in articles, such as in Time magazine, as the average Kumon tuition.] Schools here have always viewed me as the enemy, whether with Kumon or in my private business. If my web page was too large to digest, the most condensed summary is: Kumon math is barren at all levels, and of doubtful merit and maliciously hard at the higher levels. Hope none of that scares you off. Everybody can't have the luck I have! *** THEE: AMEN! I'm a 19 year old college student at Texas A&M. I just found your site about Kumon and really wanted to thank you for what you said. I was an instructor at a Kumon in my hometown over the summer and COMPLETELY disagreed with much of what they were doing there. I loved that they were trying to give kids that "sky is the limit" goal, but I hated that there was only one way to do something...and it was the "Kumon way". I'm a science major and I know a thing or two about math. I know about twenty different ways to do just about everything in math and I've been told I'm a good teacher because of it. But when I went to Kumon, I was ripped apart because of it. The head Kumon instructor would CONSTANTLY talk to me about not teaching kids the "right" way to do something. For instance, I happened to be grading a girl's homework while she was there doing her daily work. I was marking EVERY one wrong. I asked her if she maybe wanted me to help explain to her what was going on so she wouldn't have to keep doing sheets over and over again until perfection was reached. She gratefully accepted the help. I taught her the way I'd always added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided fractions. I even showed just a few little tricks that always helped me. By the end, she seemed SO much happier. I graded her daily work and it had only one wrong on it. She told me she felt so much better. Then when she took the work up to the instructor to check it, he promptly told her not to come to me for help anymore because I was showing her the "wrong way"... AKA the "slow way". I never quite understood how she was wrong for doing it that way when she understood where the answers came from and got all the right answers to boot. I really hated being a part of something that had no interest in understanding; just in time, time, time and perfection. I would NEVER put a child through the Hell of Kumon. Thanks for making me not feel so alone! ME: Thanks for taking the time to write. It's also therapeutic from my end to hear that I'm not totally crazy. Sounds like that particular Kumon instructor should be banished from any kind of work in education. Keep up the great work! *** THEE: We were considering Kumon for my daughter and I found your comments when I googled "Kumon" and now I'm not so sure. Do you have any suggestions, based on your experience, regarding materials that I might use at home to help my 3rd grade daughter with math? I found a website that sells Otter Creek materials (a suggestion from Aunt Patty's website) -just wondering if you knew of any others. ME: Is your daughter already behind in math? She's at the right age where Kumon may actually be very beneficial in getting her to about grade level. Then you can decide if you want to continue with it. The irony about Kumon is that, as barren as the math curriculum is, at least there's a chance a child will do it. You could buy better math material anywhere, blindfolded, but how many children will sit down and do daily assignments based on parents' orders? On the other hand, "Kumon" is like some big, old, omnipresent genie in the sky that has to be *obeyed*. Of course, a lot of kids don't even fall for that in this day and age and stuff their worksheets up above the ceiling tiles. In summary, if you were considering Kumon, give it a try for a couple of months. And, as I suggested in my web page, do everything your daughter has to do. Then you will *know*. Hope that helps. *** THEE: A quick question. Is it possible to get one set of all Kumon worksheets? Thanks ME: As far as I know, that's not possible until you've become a Kumon instructor. In case I'm wrong about that, you should ask the Franchise Recruitment Manager for your area. *** THEE: Hi, I read your comments about Kumon. I am considering signing up my daughter to go there. Do you think Kumon is beneficial for dislexic children or is it a waste of time?. I am sure you had students with dilexia. what was their experience like? My daughter is in 3rd grade with a reading level of beginning of 2nd grade. She seems to be doing ok in math. Would you recommend that I sign her up for math also or is it "torture". ME: I only had one student who had a dyslexia-like condition where he didn't see words right. Sometimes I felt sure I was seeing improvement, other times I was doubtful. Measuring the "benefits" of any educational program is very difficult, and there may be non-academic benefits which aren't obvious. Sorry to be so noncommittal. As far as putting a student into two Kumon classes, I would really like to hear from parents who have followed my advice to do everything the student has to do, and tell me whether they think it's too much for the child. THEE: Thank you. I am sure there are many types of dyslexia and every child learns in various, individual ways. I may try Kumon for six months and see my daughter's progress and re-evalute everything then. Thanks for your time. *** THEE: Thanks for your candid experience on Kumon. I can't say I've read every single word on the BAD part but I do agree with the gist of your feedback. My 3rd grader started Kumon last November. Through Kumon's assessment, my child was only a year behind in reading and math. I was told that in 8 months, he would be caught up. Unfortunately, 10 months later, my child is still repeating worksheets he has completed a few months ago. I had taken for granted what was taught and had believed that Kumon must be the best thing since sliced bread. It seems that a lot of parents had great experiences with their child's progress. It was just a month or so ago when I had taken the time to review his work to realize that he's repeating the same stuff over and over again. I finally woke up to the reality that my kid will never move on because he will never be PERFECT in that level. That's just my child!!! He just doesn't have the smarts for it. They will not let my child move on by simply understanding how to solve a problem; he will have to excel within the time limit given on the test. Since he did not do well when timed, it's pretty much hopeless on my end to believe that he can advance to the next level. I'm disappointed at my experience. Now that my child has started 4th grade, he's still (according to their evaluation) on 2nd grade reading and 3rd grade math. As far as I'm concerned, it just doesn't work for every single child. I just had him pulled out of Kumon recently. I had spent enough money and didn't feel that it was worth it anymore. ME: Sorry about your unhappy Kumon experience. It sounds like your Kumon instructor operated too much "by the book". My impression is that most instructors recognize the unreasonableness of the mastery requirements and will bend when they see that a student can't meet them - which is almost all students after the first few levels. *** THEE: i just moved here [Newport richey florida] fr the Philippines last February. i just finished reading your article about kumon and it was very interesting for me since I have been wondering whether to put my child who is a 2nd grader, into kumon to help her with school stuff. I was wondering if you have any suggestion as to where I can put my child beside kumon. Thanks so much and have a good day. ME: I really can't make a suggestion because there are so many options out there that it's impossible to know them all. For that matter, it takes years to get familiar with just one! Also, it would depend on your child's particular situation. If you were considering Kumon, I would rather you didn't reject it based on my web page. At your child's age, it may be a very good thing, particularly, for burning in basic arithmetic. If you accept my advice to do what your child has to do, you will know if and when it's time to drop Kumon. *** THEE: I found your comments on Kumon when looking for the nearest center, hoping that they would take my son, who is 23! He needs to be strong in Math in order to enter College (after getting first his GED). He happened to say yes to my suggestion and I was thrilled about it..... Nevertheless, your comments did not surprise me at all. When he was a little boy, back in my country (Colombia), I was about to register him. I guess I didn't make all the effort - distance, price, and so forth, because there was back in my mind all those things you said about the program. I follow my intuition...consciously and some times unconsciously. I mainly thought it could be good for him now, since he complains that I did not teach/gave him discipline habits. I raised him under the Summer Hill's philosophy. And I don't regret it. Any suggestions about his Math obstacle? He is an avid reader, and he writes beautiful poems, and he can talk very smart about most any thing. ME: I have heard of older students who made good progress up through Kumon's middle levels. I think you know already that it's not going to be a "quick fix"; that there's a *lot* of work to be done. If your son is highly motivated, and the instructor will allow him to do much greater workloads than the typical, younger student, Kumon may give him a good jumping off point for tackling the GED. Best of luck. *** THEE: I READ YOUR INFORMATION ON KUMONS, AND I WOULD LIKE TO GET MORE INFO FROM YOU IF POSSIBLE. I HOMESCHOOL MY BOYS AND I ALSO HAVE THEM IN KUMONS FOR BOTH SUBJECTS. ONES A 4TH GRADER AND THE OTHER A 6TH GRADER.. I HAVE BEEN GOING TO THE KUMONS IN CALIFORNIA FOR ALMOST TWO YEARS. I AM JUST WONDERING IF THIS MAY CAUSE MORE DAMAGE THAN GOOD. WHEN I CONSIDER THE PRICE (380) A MONTH, I WONDER IF ITS ALMOST BETTER TO HIRE A TEACHER OR COLLEGE STUDENT TO HELP, WHERE THE HELP IS NEEDED. THIS WAY ITS ONE ON ONE. THE INSTRUCTOR IS REAL NICE AND SMART, BUT SHE CANT GET AROUND TO EVERYONE, AND I FEEL THAT THE BOYS JUST SIT AND WORK IN A TABLE WITH A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT THAT KEEPS SAYING TO THEM, KEEP GUESSING TILL YOU GET IT RIGHT. THIS INSTRUCTOR DOES NOT WANT THE MOMS TO CHECK ANYTHING AT HOME, SHE SAYS ITS BETTER FOR THEM TO CATCH THE MISTAKES. PLEASE ADVISE ME ON SOME MORE INFO. ME: It's a very difficult thing to say what's "best" for students. There are more options out there than anyone can get familiar with. In your case, I would repeat what I say on my web page: do the Kumon assignments before your children so you can gauge how beneficial they are. For example, have your children reached a point where they are just "spinning wheels"? I think you can easily find a better math curriculum than Kumon's, but can you or the tutor get your children to work through it? As far as reading is concerned, I suspect the children's version of Time magazine (Time for Kids) and National Geographic would be a lot more interesting and valuable than the Kumon reading worksheets. *** THEE: subject Looking for a tutoring service With great interest I read your paper and as a parent, I very much appreciated your blunt honesty. We have a 4.5 year old daughter in public school and though the government has mandated smaller class sizes in Kindegarten (1:20), I see that the teacher simply does not have time for one- on-one interaction with her students. That said, I would like to look into a reading (and perhaps math) tutoring program in order to assist my daughter in getting ahead in school. The three main programs that I have been looking into are Sylvan, Oxford and Kumon. Most important to me is that my daughter see this tutoring program as FUN. I don't want her to be at a desk being talked at (she has years of schooling ahead of her in which will be taught in that manner). Can you perhaps suggest a service which you know to be a good one, while it also respects the young age of my daughter and can teach with that in mind? P.S. It may be important to note that we live in Ontario Canada. ME: This may come as a surprise, but if you think your daughter should be in a reading program, I suggest you give Kumon's a chance. I've seen remarkable results with some very young students. I think Kumon's program for beginning readers may be the best thing it has to offer. I didn't discuss it in my web page because I don't think it's what Kumon is mainly associated with. I think your daughter will find the worksheets fun. THEE: Thank you for your surprising answer. I will look into Kumon. Do you feel that the classes for very young children are fun as opposed to more of a classroom-type setting? ME: For the very young children, there are two slightly different possibilities. If your center runs the formalized Junior Kumon program, your daughter will sit at a table with a small number of other students. My own feeling is that, while we're supposed to believe in the miraculousness of a small student to teacher ratio, one teacher can't really accomplish much with a small group of 3, 4, or 5, say, working on different assignments. But just because something's not great doesn't mean it's bad. I think the attention would be more enjoyable than a classroom situation for most students. (I was the exception who would rather "hide" in a big class than be exposed in a small group.) And we're only talking "center" days. A student does Kumon every day, but only goes into the center twice or once a week. You will be the one working with your child on a daily basis. That's not a scam - you're paying for Kumon's program. So the other possibility is a center that has not implemented the formal Junior Kumon program, but accepts young students. In that case, you will work with your child at the center on center days just as you do at home. *** THEE: subject Kumon alternative I just read (most) of your critique on Kumon and am glad that I did. Though I am not gullible enough to make my decisions based on random opinions on the internet, I felt that there was enough passion in your prose to convince me, or at least make me reconsider, my thoughts of sending my child to Kumon. We have not committed to any extra curricular help programs but I feel that the time has come. I have a seventh grader who is a "gamer". He struggles in school but never gives up. His two older brothers seem to him to be able to get along in the school environment with ease. I know this makes him feel inferior and that he wants to work to be like them in this regard, but our study sessions are getting more and more contentious. We are both losing patience with each other. Obviously, I don't want him to give up his fight. I feel that he is getting more reluctant to ask me for help, yet I feel he still needs it. This is a kid who can do mental math much better than I can (very intuitive with numbers), but can't organize the steps to reduce an equation to get an unknown by itself on one side of the equal sign. It seems to me that you have a deeper knowledge of these extra help organizations, and certainly hands on experience with at least one of them. Are you aware of any programs that you feel may help us in any way? I will of course do my own due-diligence and will not take your recommendations at face value. You seem like a person committed to education, and any insights would be appreciated. ME: While I really don't want anyone to reject Kumon based on a reading of my web page, it really sounds like Kumon is not a fit for your son. If you said he was "nowhere" with math, I might've suggested a few months of Kumon to review basic arithmetic. But that's not the problem, and, in any case, it's *very* difficult for any student in the middle grades to get up to grade level in Kumon - not that there's much correspondence between Kumon levels and grades above 5 or 6. I'm fascinated by the specific problem you mention - not being able to whittle away all the chaff to leave the unknown all by itself on one side of the equation. I've probably heard myself say, "Whatever you do to one side of the equation, you do to the other," a million times by now. If a student can't "get" something that simple and straightforward, it would have to indicate a weakness in more basic material. In this case, I would say the direct predecessor is evaluating involved expressions, what Kumon calls "4-operation problems". Those problems make the order of operations second nature. Then, when you get to solving equations, you find yourself naturally peeling everything away from the variable in the inverse order - like pulling thugs off a friend from the outside in. When you say, "organizing the steps", I would say they organize themselves; the equation calls out what to do next. Unfortunately, you can't go to Kumon and say, "I want to start with the 4-operation problems." Besides tracking down a workbook of 4-operation problems, the only other suggestion, or question, that comes to mind is, do you think he would work better with someone outside the family, meaning a tutor? Might that eliminate the contentiousness? *** THEE: Thanks for your insightful opinion regarding the Kumon Franchise program. I have my 11 year old daughter now a year in half involved in the Kumon program presently in E level. She hates doing the monotonous and tediousness of the sheets. I emphatically persist the benefit of repetitive math to improved skill level. I was raised on a method similar to Kumon prior to entering the US educational system. The paper used and problems given by Kumon reminded me of my Latin schools which incorporated very similar rigorous methods long before Kumon arrived on the shores of the USA. My husband himself raised on the exact methods used to fall asleep in the American 9th grade Algebra classes due to low level of education given to American high schoolers in contrast to his classes obtained in a public school from his country of origin which would have taught this math in 7th Grade equal to 9th Algebra I. It disappoints me to think you offer no other options in doing nothing instead of something. The only barrier faced by an immigrant child entering the USA would be language rather than numbers since my earlier experiences have taught me well. My initial deficiencies in education primarily dealt with language writing & communication. Math was my panacea since obviously math is a universal language. It saved me from failing grammar school until I adopted the US level of math which was low in comparison. My 9th grade Algebra I teacher never taught that year since became ill; therefore, half my Algebra I was computer science to my own detriment it effected my future in math until my graduation - since I never recovered from not learning the basics. To my own regret, it prevented me from pursuing a degree in science due to lack of confidence in mathematics. Ironically, I excelled in everything in school with the exception of Math which had been my savior in middle school against the English and reading classes. Would you know, I obtained a degree in English. I entered the military and was unfortunately told my talents were in math and science even more humorous. I told my daughter who wants to become an mechanical engineer to focus on math since it is arduous and incredibly puzzling, but worth all the efforts due to benefits of the challenge in obtaining the solutions to every day problems in science and everything around us. In fact, it is the true language of man no other language will succumb to its ability to supersede boundaries of any language ME: Thanks for your thoughts on math education. I think I am being fair to Kumon in my web page. I feel that it could be much, much better than it is. I think Kumon makes it very difficult for even the best students to progress through its levels. I agree that the material taught in Level E is important. Is it making your daughter miserable because she doesn't have a good grasp of it yet? Or can she keep her pencil moving through those problems and get the right answers, but the instructor repeats her because the time isn't "good enough"? I'm guessing the former, and one of the shames of Kumon's "self- study" approach is that a teacher or tutor may be able to explain things in a few sentences that make everything clear. Before adding and subtracting fractions, a student has to be a whiz at breaking numbers into prime factors, and I don't think Kumon does enough in that regard. Regarding your husband sleeping in Algebra class, I have heard that story a hundred times and I will never be sympathetic to it. That should be an opportunity for a student to shine above all his classmates. What a wasted opportunity. I hope in the work world he doesn't sleep his way through a job just because it's too "easy". As far as offering other options to Kumon, I'm not qualified to do that. It took me a couple of years just to get fully familiar with Kumon, and there are surely hundreds of math programs out there. *** THEE: Hi, I was in the process of checking out Kumon center opportunities near my home in rural west central Florida when I saw your listing on my google search page. Interesting info, particularly for someone (me) who is about ready to go to Chicago for training. I was intially looking to purchase an existing center but have been having 2nd thoughts for a number of reasons - some of which were brought up in your discussion. I would be interested in speaking with you more abour your experience! Thanks! ME: I'd be happy to try to answer any questions that I can. If you meant jumping right in with a phone call, I think I'd be more comfortable with the first round being a list of questions by email. If it's too much to say in email, then we could talk. *** THEE: Is there a supplemental math program that you would recommend over Kumon? ME: I don't know Sylvan or Huntington - they're as secretive as Kumon and I suppose you have to join up to see what you're getting. I'd imagine almost any math curriculum would have to be better than Kumon's. But whereas your child would not likely do 20 minutes of extra math a day on your say-so, he might do Kumon, for a while, at least, since Kumon has the aura of something that is "big" and "official", and costs money. *** THEE: Thanks so much for the candid insider's perspective of Kumon. I wish you lived in the Atlanta area so I could hire you to tutor my kids in Math. I'll probably start them w/ Kumon for extra practice and mainly to keep them off of the computer games, which is a considerable lure to kids these days. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. Sylvan Learning Center seems too commercial, and is quite expensive. I'm open to hear any other thoughts you may have. ME: Your plan sounds good to me. Just keep close tabs on the Kumon so you'll have a good idea when it's "done it's job." I was in an educational book store just today and saw lots of math workbooks that would make nice complements to Kumon - not that your kids want even more! But they might be something to try after Kumon is done. Some that looked pretty good to me, at a quick glance, were "Daily Math Practice" (Evan Moore), "Daily Math Warm-ups" (Carson Dellosa), "Real-World Math" (word problems), "Word Problems" (Kelley Wingate), and "Jump Into Math". Good luck! P.S. About keeping kids off of computer games, what about softball or kickball? *** THEE: I've just read your information about Kumon. I now have tears in my eyes. This was my plan to help my child. The Kumon center is the most affordable of the supplemental centers in our area. After reading what you wrote, I don't know where to turn. I just want to help him. He is 8 in the 4th grade and struggling. Do you have any suggestions? A very distraught mom. ME: If Kumon is nowhere near as good as it could be, that doesn't mean it is necessarily bad or valueless. Students in mid-elementary school are probably the best candidates for Kumon. At those levels, Kumon is pure arithmetic. That's only 40% of what's taught in elementary schools nowadays, but it's the most important thing. Obviously, your son needs to be drilled in basic arithmetic, and that's what Kumon will do, even if it could do it much better. Nobody else out there does it at all. Give it a try; keep very close tabs on what your son is going through; and don't give any thought now about the higher levels. Don't worry! P.S. Isn't 8 mighty young for the 4th grade? *** THEE: I have just visted your site concerning Kumon. I am desperately looking for something to help my boys get through school. My oldest is 8 and is the kind of kid who thinks outside the box. Which makes school tricky. I saw an ad about Kumon and started to search it when I ran across your web page and I am wondering if you have found a program you like better. I really would just like something to supplement at home with. Do you have any suggestions? ME: That's a good question, and almost impossible for me to answer. There are probably hundreds, or thousands, of programs, and it took me a year or so to really get to know Kumon. If your son is motivated and will do work on his own or on your say-so, I would just suggest going to the nearest educational resources book store and pick out some work books that look reasonably fun. If you're saying your son thinks *too* far outside the box, *too* much of the time, perhaps Kumon is just what the doctor ordered for getting him to do a little thinking *inside* the box. I would argue we need both skills. At his age, he'd be looking at a couple of years of plus, minus, multiply and divide, buy you could pull him out before it kills him. *** THEE: Here is a question from a Kumon Parent. My son just started Kumon reading and has been completing the 2a1 level within less than 1 minute to 1 minute window for each sheet with a 100 percent accuracy. His teacher assigned him the same work sheets over again to work on for the whole week which I found baffling. And I asked why, her answer was that Kumon suggests repititions. But I thought Kumon encouraged a student to go at his own pace. Should I consider moving him to another center that would allow him to move at his pace? I hope this e-mail finds you. ME: I'm really not in a position to say whether the reading repetitions are necessary or unnecessary. In fairness, repetition is a fundamental component of Kumon, and by signing up, one is showing one's acceptance of that. I would recommend against moving to another center in the blind hope that the pace will be "better" there. That's an unknown, and the instructor certainly can't make any guarantees upfront. I will say that, as a Kumon instructor, the parents who demanded that their children just blast through everything, one time, made things *very* difficult. Kumon is "slow and steady wins the race." My own belief is that *everything* benefits by being read twice. You always see something new the second time around. Knowing how a story, for example, ends makes clearer things that lead up to the ending. All this is to say that I always assigned the reading worksheets twice, even if a student did a so-called "perfect" job the first time. But my technique was to send the student all the way through the level, and then all the way through again. That way he isn't rereading something he just read a few days ago, making it somewhat fresher. If that sounds more agreeable to you, you might ask the instructor if she would go for that plan. *** THEE: I read every word of your Kumon pieces (G/B/&theU), as my wife is hot-to-trot on us purchasing a Kumon franchise. I've been reluctant from the beginning, as it has just "seemed" to me that it's a whole truck-load of work (for an educated ageing boomer like me) for the amount of salary the center- owner/instructor would be able to pay him/herself from the average sized center. Of course, we couldn't get any specifics out of the local center we interviewed (in San Antonio); and you know what the Kumon company "line" is on anticipated profits. I was wondering if you'd be kind enough (and willing) to give me the "low down" on center ownership profitablity. When I, myself, put the numbers to it (at $100/student/month) it seems like one would need a proverbial truck-load of students to pay oneself the kind of money we need to keep our lifestyle afloat (>$120K/yr.). I'd be grateful for whatever light you'd be willing to shed on Kumon profitability (for serious lookers like us). ME: It looks to me like you've crunched the numbers correctly. I've never even *thought* what it would take to net $120K/yr - probably two large centers! It sounds to me like you'd have to have 100 students at $135/mo. - and a rent-free business space. If it's hard to get rich in Kumon, keep in mind it's only about 2 days of work per week after you find your groove. I went into Kumon just looking to net in the mid to high teens. *** THEE: Thank you so much for your comments about Kumon. I am thinking of putting my 4th-grade son in a program that will help him develop focus, and I think Kumon may do that, but so might other programs that are more supportive. I will be investigating Huntington and other options (some locally based). Glad you are encouraging parents to do the worksheets to see what their children are being asked to do. ME: Thanks for the kind words. So far, I've gotten almost no feedback from parents who have taken my suggestion to do the Kumon assignments, which disappoints me somewhat. *** THEE: Your complaints about Kumon seem odd. Did you not read about Kumon before getting involved. As a person in business you know the risks and responsibilities for all persons involved. A franchise is a business. (A COOKIE CUTTER BUSINESS) Perhaps if schools taught children PERFECTLY there would be no need for Kumon. Kumon does not replace the classroom, the teacher and the one on one attention the school provides. Kumon provides a service. Demanding that a child maintains a discipline in a subject. Frankly many parents and teachers sadly lack self discipline and the need for a Kumon environment can be useful. It is not a touchy feely place. It is rather task master. I think it is actually nice for American children to experience this. Our counter parts in Japan, Taiwan and other countries are a lot less interested in the individual. They stress education far more than we do. They have much higher expectations as well. I personally don't agree with their priorities but I do think giving our kids a taste of that can benefit them in many ways. A balance in education. Parents need to provide all the options based on their child. Not on one opinion, but the many needs of the child. A child's temperment, health, previous experience and the parents ability to provide what is needed. Although not for everyone. Kumon can be used very successfully. Hope your future experiences are better. ME: Thanks for your thoughts. My students got the most demanding form of Kumon. For the most part, they got everything on the first shot, without all the floundering about students experience in other Kumon centers. *** THEE: Great Article re: Kumon !! I'm a Kumon parent with a 5th grader in Level I (math) and a first grader who's just starting. I totally agree with your observations regading the Kumon method. My 5th grade daughter who started Kumon in 1st grade hardly stepped inside a Kumon center. The only time we go there is to drop off and pick up the worksheets. The reason being is that we (my daughter and I) find the center hot, crowded, noisy, and extremely unorganized. Anyway, I personally help my kids through their worksheets especially when they get stuck on a particularly tricky question. There have been so many times that I would curse Kumon on their method of approaching math problems. The latest case for instance was last week when my daughter approached me for help on a factorization problem. It goes: 2(x+y)^2 + 7(x+y) + 5 , ( ^2 = squared.) Instead of encouraging the student to step back, observe, and realize that the above polynomial is actually in the form of x^2 + 2xy + y^2, what followed was a fill in the blank polynomial which is simply a template to be memorized. There is no effort at all to show the students a "number sense". If it weren't for my wife's and my extensive background in math (we're both engineers), I don't know who would show our kids a balanced way of learning math. Definitely not Kumon. Though our daughter excels in Kumon math as well as in school, I wonder how she will do if my wife and I do not have the math background to help her. If we follow the Kumon method strictly which means, she does her worksheet, we correct it based on the answer book, and not coach her (probably like some parents who are not as good in math), what would her progress be like? I would even dare say that those Kumon students who really excel in Kumon math do so because their parents or guardian have good math knowledge themselves and are helping their kids with the worksheets and not just checking them. I just don't see any way these kids excel in such short time in a Kumon center where they hardly get a chance to talk to the Kumon teacher. And yet, we must admit that we just started our 1st grader in the program. What we really wanted from it is the discipline; the setting aside the time each day for work; the study habit. We both are busy professionals with 3 kids. The daily system that Kumon provides has been our only solution. We are open to other solutions but as of now we haven't found one that caught our attention. ME: Thank you very much for your comments on Kumon. It has occurred to me since writing the page that I forgot to mention the "side" benefit of Kumon - which may actually be its main benefit - the fostering of discipline and good work habits. Still, there *must* be better, more valuable, and more fun ways of getting that. For what it's worth, do you know that there is no factorization whatsoever on the SAT - never mind the high-wire, acrobatic stuff Kumon puts you through? (I don't mean to imply that Kumon should teach to the SAT, which has nothing on it I didn't learn by 7th grade, and passes over much of what I did.) *** THEE: I have been sending my eight year old daughter to a Kumon Maths centre in Bishop's Stortford, UK since March 2006. She has always been pretty good at maths, but we felt in basic arithmetic she was just a bit 'lazy'. So my husband and I felt that Kumon would be good for her. However, after a good start we have now, 7 months in, reached crisis point. She hates Kumon with a passion. We have tears every single morning. She is taking 25 minutes to do level A '10 minute' worksheets and she is thoroughly bored to a point where I do believe she is starting to hate maths as a subject at school now. I wish I had never started the Kumon programme. However, I am not sure what to do now. Surely to let her (and me) stop, would be like admitting defeat and sending out the message that she can give up anything in life that she finds difficult or boring. Am I being to melodramatic considering she is only eight years old? I suppose the reason I am writing to you is to ask whether you think that Kumon is really beneficial enough to go through all this heartache every morning. I don't know whether to give it up and let her enjoy her maths at her own pace, or to struggle on relentlessly. ME: I'm guessing the situation you describe has played out in millions of Kumon homes to date. My strong suggestion is that, when a child starts Kumon, a very reasonable goal should be set. I don't mean Kumon's on-going and ever-receding goals, but a definite stopping point which earns the child a year off, say, from Kumon. The goal might be a Kumon level about one year above the child's current level. That should take a year or so to reach, and would get the child to about grade level at his stopping point. Of course, if he's enthusiastic about continuing, that's fine, but my point is, there is a world of difference between having to do something slightly distasteful, and having to do something slightly distasteful with NO END IN SIGHT - the latter situation describing Kumon precisely. Parents don't think about this when they sign up because, for one thing, they have no idea how unreasonable Kumon's higher math levels are. Of course, your daughter has gotten nowhere near those higher levels. I'm not clear about whether her long times for the level A work are strictly due to stubbornness, or whether she still needs to improve. Keep in mind that Kumon's "standard completion times" are *very* coarse (which is completely inexcusable.) I see that in Level A, I did some of the sets in 4 minutes, but a couple took 9 minutes, and one took 10 minutes. I'm sure your Kumon instructor is not aware of this variance from set to set within a level. If your 8-year-old is doing an assignment in 20 minutes that takes me 10 minutes, that is very, very good. I might even be skeptical of her recorded time! Here's how you might save face. Rather than surrender, set a goal as mentioned above. It might be the end of Level C, or even Level B. Based on what you've said, it would make sense to let her off from Kumon forever at that point. It just doesn't sound like it's right for her. Another thing: if she's doing Kumon assignments 7 days a week, knock it back to 6, or maybe even 5. Even grown-ups get weekends off from work. Also remember my suggestion that you, the parent, do every Kumon assignment the child has to. Revisit my page for all my reasons for that. If I didn't mention it there, you will know even better than the Kumon instructor how well your daughter is *really* doing.
Contact Donald Sauter: send an email; view guestbook; sign guestbook.
Back to Donald Sauter's main page.
Rather shop than think? Please visit My Little Shop of Rare and Precious Commodities.
Back to the top of this page.