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Closing the pre-K math education gap for Latino students

Child Trends says Latinos start kindergarten three months behind their white peers in math literacy education
MISCALCULATING MR. MIX-UP—Sara Gardner, a preschool instructor at Edward Everett School in Boston Public Schools, has the puppet Mr. Mix-Up purposefully count apples incorrectly so students can explain his mistakes.
MISCALCULATING MR. MIX-UP—Sara Gardner, a preschool instructor at Edward Everett School in Boston Public Schools, has the puppet Mr. Mix-Up purposefully count apples incorrectly so students can explain his mistakes.

When beginning kindergarten, Latino students are three months behind in math literacy when compared to their white peers, says a 2017 study conducted by Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization that works to improve the lives children and families.

The study, “Making Math Count More for Young Latino Children,” cites poverty in Latino households as a cause, and says these young students will fall farther behind if the problem isn’t addressed in the classroom

And their numbers will only grow as the nation becomes more diverse, says Tina Plaza-Whoriskey, senior communications manager at Child Trends.

“Latinos already make up one in four of all U.S. children,” and will soon make up one in three, Plaza-Whoriskey says.

Integrating math instruction into preschool can help close the equity gap. To evaluate a program, experiment with different programs to find which produces the best results, she says.

The Child Trends study analyzed promising programs:

  • Building Blocks, a curriculum of activities built around experiences and interests that introduces children to various math disciplines
  • Number Worlds, which focuses on students who are one or more grade levels behind with classroom games and props
  • Tools of the Mind, a program that supports children’s self-regulation

Rich in language

Boston Public Schools, with a student population that is 45 percent ELL, offers Building Blocks in pre-K. The curriculum develops a child’s understanding of operations, patterns, geometry, algebra and data analysis.

The district’s pre-K success prompted PBS to film a news segment about it. (See DAmag.me/pbs.)

In 2007, Boston schools started to improve its pre-K math program by participating in the Scaling Up TRIAD Initiative, a project where 180 preschool teachers in Boston, Buffalo and Nashville received PD and tested Building Blocks in their preschools. TRIAD was funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

TRIAD, which is an acronym for Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development, is a preschool mathematics intervention tool.

Classes begin with story time or a learning exercise on shapes or counting before students divide into small groups for hands-on activities and games. A popular group activity features Mr. Mixup, a puppet controlled by the teacher who makes many mathematical errors. Because Mr. Mixup acts silly, preschoolers want to help him.

Students succeed because they can also take classroom activities home to play with their parents, says Connie Henry, assistant director of the district’s K12 mathematics program. “Connecting families to what kids are doing in school," Henry says, "is an important aspect of learning math.”