First Person

Ask an Expert: What do you think of Mathnasium?

Q. Can you tell me about Mathnasium of Cherry Creek in Denver? Is it legit? My 8-year-old has a need for extra help in math. – Sharon of Colorado Springs

A. During the school year there are often homework clubs or times during the day that a student can go for help. In addition, there are often teachers who are willing to work as tutors before or after school. This option makes it easier for families.

However, if you are looking for something outside of school or during the summer, you have to go with the private tutoring centers or individual tutors. Depending on a tutor’s experience, the rate increases.

Teachers in training make good tutors

One place I’ve found decent tutors who don’t charge exorbitant rates are local schools of education at a local university. Pre-service teachers are often looking for contact hours with students and achieve this by tutoring. Many times they can work with a student on campus or at a local library or community center.

Parents can contact their child’s school for a list of recommended tutors, or consult the yellow pages or the Internet. If you can supplement these with third party recommendations it may be more informative, but I’d encourage parents/families to spend time at any facility they sign up for or sit with the tutor during the initial tutoring session to make sure the experience is what they are hoping for.

More about Mathnasium

Mathnasium in Cherry CreekMathnasium is a math only tutoring center that focuses on remediation and new topics of learning.  It is a chain. However, each center is independently owned and operated. While Mathnasium is nice because its focus is only on mathematics, it is a prescribed curriculum and not a one-to-one tutoring scenario. According to the owner, though, the ratio of elementary age students to instructors is 3-1.

When a student arrives or enrolls at Mathnasium they are given a placement test. This test has a written and verbal component.  Based on the results of this assessment – as well as parent and child input – goals are created for the students.  Once these goals have been determined, the coach starts working with a student to progress through modules that meet those goals.  These modules consist of tasks and worksheets that the students work through to provide practice and understanding around a topic.

While it seems that the work is skill-driven at times, there is also some one-on-one coaching.  The size and focus of the small group work is dependent on whether or not there is a group of students who are working on the same areas/goals. These small groups do allow for discussion and not just skill and drill activities.

Rates for an 8-year-old range from $20 to $50 per hour – averaging $25 per hour, according to Mathnasium staff.

I believe Mathnasium has potential as a place to support students’ mathematical learning and understanding. However, there are a lot of variables that will affect your child’s situation, as is the case with many tutoring centers.

In the end, it depends upon your individual student’s needs as well as his or her compatibility with the needs of the other students enrolled in the program.

Editor’s note: The information below comes from the Mathnasium website.

Sample of math learning at Mathnasium

The curriculum samples shown here represent critical topics Mathnasium addresses at each grade level. An asterisk (*) indicates program elements covered at Mathnasium that are not typically covered in most school programs.

4th grade

Rounding off

  • Round off any whole number to any place up to millions.
  • * “Is 1 5/8 closer to 1 or to 2?” for appropriate numbers
  • * “Is 2.07 closer to 2 or to 3?” for appropriate numbers

Find the missing numbers… (seeing patterns)

  • 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, ___, ___, ___
  • * 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ___, ___, ___
  • * 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, ___, ___, ___

Problem solving

  • * State and understand that:
    • “The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.”
    • “Any part equals the whole minus the other parts.”
  • Solve two- and three- step word problems using two or more operations.
  • Use various techniques in problem solving:
    • Break down the problem into simpler parts.
    • Apply the “easier number” method.
    • Draw a picture.
    • Use mental math.
  • Check answer for reasonableness.


First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.