Online math vs. online literacy

Educators at San Jose's Rocketship charter schools find online math programs more effective than online literacy

By Tina Barseghian

When it comes to math and literacy software, the choices are vast and varied. But over the past months, I’ve heard a recurring complaint from different school administrators: The quality of literacy software is not as high as that of math.

Why is this the case?

I spoke to Aylan Samouha, chief schools officer at Rocketship Education, a network of charter elementary schools in San Jose that allots 25 percent of students’ time at school in the computer lab, where they use math and literacy software for basic skills mastery. Time in classroom with their teacher is spent on what they call “higher-order thinking” and collaborative projects.

For math, Rocketship uses Dreambox Learning, ST Math, TenMarks and Equatia. For literacy, Compass Learning is used for vocabulary and Rosetta Stone for English language learners. Students also have independent reading time, for which they’re given “comprehension quizzes.” For both math and literacy, students who need more individualized help work in small groups of four or five with math and literacy specialists.

Samouha, who’s in charge of what software the school uses, says that the math software is “much further along than literacy.”

“It’s not like people aren’t trying to crack the code,” he says. “But the truth is that there are aspects of math, particularly at the elementary school level, that lend themselves to online learning more easily.”

In general, he points out, with any form of learning — online or otherwise — basic skills are easier to teach, grasp, and to measure than higher-order thinking and concepts. And although math does involve conceptual thinking, even at the elementary level, it’s easier to break out conceptual skills than in literacy.

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Journalist Tina Barseghian curates KQED's MindShift learning website.