Do Extracurricular Math Programs Add Up?

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The U.S. does not fare well in math when compared with other industrialized nations, as demonstrated by international tests like the PISA. So, for parents who want to help their students get ahead in math and can afford it, after-school programs that focus deeply on the subject have become attractive.

There are plenty of extracurricular math programs around, but one run by the Russian School of Mathematics (RSM) for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, is particularly popular, serving over 30,000 students around the country. (Innovation Hub senior producer, Elizabeth Ross, visited the program’s headquarters in Newton, Massachusetts and found a lot of enthusiastic students and parents, as you’ll hear in our report.)

Masha Gershman, the director of outreach at the Russian School of Mathematics and the daughter of one of its co-founders, says that the former Soviet Union’s method of math instruction has a lot to teach American kids, particularly when it comes to higher-level and conceptual learning.

But Jon Star, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argues that many American parents - especially those in affluent suburbs where such extracurricular programs are popular - should ask themselves why they’re enrolling their kids in after-school math. It probably shouldn’t just be to get ahead in school - or to keep up with the neighbors. It should have to do with an intrinsic love of the subject.

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