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My dissertation involved, among other things, the East Asian way of teaching and learning mathematics. (See, for example, Leung (2001).) I was particularly interested in the Kumon method. Although I found a nice paper in a refereed journal that describes it (Ukai, 1994), and some informal studies comparing it with other ways of teaching mathematics, I was unable to find any experimental studies (those involving random sampling or assignment).

What papers in refereed journals have presented experimental studies comparing the Kumon method (or something similar to it) with other ways of teaching and learning mathematics?

References

Leung, F. K. S. (2001). In search of an East Asian identity in mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 47, 35-51.

Ukai, N. (1994). The Kumon approach to teaching and learning. Journal of Japanese Studies, 20, 87-113.


Here is additional information as requested in a comment. (I'm quoting from my dissertation.)

Students in East Asian countries outperform their counterparts in other countries in large-scale international studies of mathematics achievement (Leung, 2006). Leung (2006) asserted that this is because their teachers have good conceptual understanding and procedural skills, their instruction is teacher-dominated, and their culture strongly emphasizes the importance of education, which creates high expectations for them and their teachers. It also seems that East Asian teachers and students acquire their mathematics competence from instruction that focuses on procedures and repeated practice with variation (Leung, 2006).

[...]

How does this kind of education result in the high mathematics achievement observed? Leung (2006, p. 43) proposed this explanation:

The process of learning often starts with gaining competence in the procedure, and then through repeated practice, students gain understanding. Much of the mathematics in the school curriculum may need to be practiced without thorough understanding first. With a set of practicing exercises that vary systematically, repeated practice may become an important "route to understanding" [...].

[...]

The view that repeated practice of procedures leads to conceptual understanding is especially apparent in the program known as Kumon Math.

Kumon Math, published by Kumon North America, Inc., is a supplemental mathematics curriculum for students in preschool through secondary school. The curriculum is not structured by age or grade level, but by a student's own pace, and is composed of hundreds of short assignments that progress through increasingly difficult mathematics skills. Students complete one assignment every weekday and attend a Kumon center for two sessions per week. Every assignment is timed and graded. Students master skills through repetition and cannot progress to a new skill before completing an assignment within a set amount of time and with close to 100% accuracy. New skills and exercises build on previously mastered concepts. (WWC, 2009)

Ukai (1994) gives a detailed description of the Kumon method and the philosophy behind it. In Kumon Math, "[c]oncepts are not explicitly taught. Rather, through repetition, learners experience insight. For example, the means of solving such problems as $48\div 6$ or $132\div 12$ will be patently clear, without verbal or written explanation, to a child who has completed several hundred multiplication problems and to whom $6\times 8$ and $11\times 12$ are operations that have been 'overlearned' " (pp. 92-93).

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you please explain a bit what this is all about? $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 24 '14 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ A short description of the Kumon method is needed to understand what is going on. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Mar 24 '14 at 2:37
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Outside of what is found in refereed journals (which one can generally find by just searching Google Scholar) a good source - if you have access - is ProQuest's "Digital Dissertations."

Searching there, I found a few theses on Kumon: Here are citations and abstracts for two of them; the bold text was added by me.

$1.$ Thijsse, L. J. (2003). The effects of a structured teaching method on mathematics anxiety and achievement of grade eight learners.

Abstract: The hypothesis that a structured, sequenced, approach to mathematics learning, based on the application of learnt facts, decreases mathematics anxiety and increases mathematics achievement is tested. A literature study and an empirical investigation were conducted with respect to the relationships between maths anxiety, maths achievement and teaching methods. A qualitative research design which focussed on the cross-case analysis of different case studies was used.

The qualitative case study involves multiple methods such as interviews, observations and a pretest, posttest design. It analyses and compares the effects of the Kumon method, used as the intervention programme, on maths anxiety and maths achievement of an experimental group and a control group.

The results of this research indicate that learners on the intervention programme who showed a decrease in anxiety, showed an increase in achievement. This has implications for the teaching methods used in South Africa.

$2.$ Medina, S. L. (1989). A study of the effects of the kumon method upon the mathematical development of a group of inner-city junior high school students.

Abstract: In this research, 103 Hispanic junior high school students were instructed using the Kumon Mathematical Method. Instruction took place 1 hour per day, 5 days a week in a public school setting. Instruction extended over an eight month period. Student subjects were pretested and posttested on the Mathematics batteries of the California Achievement Test (CAT). The amount of progress in mathematics was determined by computing gain scores for each section of the examination. Data included in this report includes: (1) CAT math concepts scores; (2) CAT computation and applications scores; (3) CAT total math scores; (4) school attendance; (5) Kumon Examination scores; (6) Kumon time scores; (7) number of packets completed; (8) Kumon level advancement; (9) class period; (10) academic track; and (11) grade level. Correlational relationships between variables are also discussed. Reported were significant gains in math computation, math concepts, and math applications scores at the seventh grade level; grade 8 students maintained their percentile rankings for the duration of the study; subjects significantly increased their speed on the Kumon exam; and CAT math gain scores were greater for the seventh graders than for the eighth graders. CAT gain scores were correlated with post Kumon exam scores. CAT gain scores were not correlated with Kumon exam time scores, number of Kumon packets completed, or Kumon advancement.

And here is one non-dissertation (disclaimer: the paper is linked from the Kumon site).

$3.$ McKenna, M. A., Hollingsworth, P. L., & Barnes, L. L. (2005). Developing latent mathematics abilities in economically disadvantaged students. Roeper Review, 27(4), 222-227.

This Javits grant evaluation study sought to develop latent abilities in economically disadvantaged students by providing opportunities for mathematics development and acceleration. This study examined the effects of Kumon instruction, a supplementary, highly sequential, individualized method of developing mathematics skills. Whole classes of Title I elementary school students from grades two through five were divided into two groups, those with Kumon instruction and those without. All students continued with traditional textbook mathematics. Pre- and posttests were administered to all participants to assess progress, compare standardized test results, and examine levels of acceleration. Results showed that Kumon group students improved their mathematics skill levels more than non-Kumon group students, and they scored significantly higher than non-Kumon group students two years after their Kumon instruction ended.

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    $\begingroup$ I've already seen the Medina paper, but the Thijsse paper is new to me. Thank you for the reference, I think it will prove to be useful. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 25 '14 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche Not sure what you have or have not seen; I added in one more citation for convenience. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman Mar 26 '14 at 0:04

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