From Russia With Math (My Recent Op-Ed in the Jewish Advocate)

Irina Khavinson, Co-Founder of RSM

As some of you may know, I was deeply affected when watching the recent film Waiting for Superman. The film (by  the director of “An Inconvenient Truth”) looks at the state of America’s public education system through the stories of  families who due to failing urban schools or tracking in suburban schools are looking for options to give their children a great eduction. The film has many dimensions and is particularly sympathetic to the obstacles faced by school officials trying to reform the system. If you haven’t seen the film yet, RSM will host a screening of it early next year with a panel discussion.

I think the reason I was so moved by the film is the contrast I feel, as a Russian immigrant, between the great prosperity offered by America to those with a great education and the lack of availability of that education in the public system. I tried to crystallize this difference in the article:

A colleague of mine, who like me is a Russian immigrant, recently observed: “Most people in the United States have their own place to live and most drive their own cars. In the former Soviet Union, a great majority had to share their living space with other families in so-called communal apartments; for most, a car was an impossible dream. Nevertheless, we had access to excellent public education.”

Math and science were an integral part of our education. There was a well-developed curriculum that made students less dependent on a particular school, region or teacher. Each year, every subject built upon what was taught the previous year. Children learned to think and to understand, not to rely solely on memorization. Last, but probably most important, we had teachers who felt responsible for their students’ knowledge and who inspired them to learn math.

I started RSM exactly to break down this disparity.  When I see the statistics reported in the film (like the fact that the top 5% of american students still only rank 21st world wide), I know that it doesn’t have to be the case. Every year when RSM students compete on international level tests, I see that with great teachers and a great curriculum, it’s possible for our students to attain the same level as the best students in specialized Russian Math Schools!

I am hopeful that America’s public education system will go through a transformation over the next decade. The recent round of international testing (PISA) showed America improving in many areas, but unfortunately in areas like Math & Science not as quickly as other countries. At the same time, the core standards passed by the federal government and approved by most states, show a great step forward in math curriculum. I am proud to say the standards are very similar to the curriculum RSM has used for the last 13 years for older grades (we still feel younger grades are capable of more abstract thinking then the core standards require).

Read the whole article: “From Russia With Math”

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By: Irina Khavinson   Irina Khavinson

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