Common Denominator (formerly known as Top Honors), a New York City-based non-profit that provides free 1-on-1 math tutoring to middle-schoolers from the city’s underserved communities, is expanding its programming even as schools already forced to cut back individualized classroom instruction face the prospect of massive budget reductions in the coming school year.
This Spring, Common Denominator (C/D) rapidly pivoted towards a virtual tutoring program at a time when students’ individual attention from teachers and counselors was drastically cut back in the transition to remote learning. C/D’s focus was providing continuity, personalized learning and emotional support without adding to students’ mounting homework burden. As C/D Executive Director Julia Kang noted, “Common Denominator is in many cases the only one-on-one mentorship our students will receive, and we are proud to have been able to keep our virtual doors open during this crisis.” Over 50 virtual tutoring sessions or other events were held during the 2019-2020 school year in response to COVID-19.
Now, responding to the heightened needs of students and families, C/D is offering summer programming for the first time, using its proven approach at no cost to those who enroll. This bright spot stands in stark contrast to the majority of after-school and summer programs which have been severely disrupted by facility closures. Meanwhile, things are unlikely to return to normal in the Fall. ‘Second wave’ risks aside, publicly funded schools are grappling with a proposed $875 million cut to the budget, which NYC schools chancellor Richard Carranza described as ‘horrific’, warning that will likely lead to larger class sizes, less counselling, and less college preparation.
For Common Denominator this is a time to do more, not less. Founded in 2002, the organization is committed to tackling the math literacy gap in NYC’s public schools. Over 2/3rds of eighth grade students do not meet required proficiency levels, with a devastating ripple effect on high-school graduation and college attendance rates. Most families lack the resources to remedy these learning challenges at home. Some 73% of public school students come from low-income households; they are also overwhelmingly people of color and immigrants who face significant structural barriers. C/D’s student body reflects these realities; 82% qualify for federally-subsidized school lunches, and 83% are students of color.
Common Denominator’s solution was to tap the city’s vast population of professionals and students whose strong math skills were matched by a desire to give back to the community. Powered by these volunteers, C/D last year served nearly 200 students a week from all over the city at three locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Focusing on core math skills, confidence-building and mentorship, the program’s results have been dramatic. Its students have a 97% high-school graduation rate, and 60% of C/D students show a full letter-grade increase in school scores.
Common Denominator continues to gear up to tackle its mission with even greater energy than before COVID-19 struck the city. The challenges of scaling up are significant, but Heidi Boyd, Co-Chair of C/D’s board explained, “We’re thrilled about what’s been done, but the successes have only made us even more impatient to bring the same help and support to many more kids in the city.” For Common Denominator, the job won’t be done until math literacy is as much of a common denominator as reading and writing.
Common Denominator is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit. Please direct all media enquiries to Julia Kang via email@example.com or 212-662-0573. More information is available at www.cdmath.org or @cd__math.