The Ten Commandments and Progressive Math Education

For 28 years, prior to my retiring in 2006 in Seattle, WA, I watched the destruction of math education in public schools. As a tutor for the past five years in a wonderful K-8 Catholic schooI in Waco, TX, I will leave that position because of the diocese’s purchase of GOMath! They’re throwing out Saxon Math because “you’re the only ones in the diocese still using Saxon” and “the scores went down last year on the ITBS.”

First, let’s acknowledge that the diocese used the new Common Core-aligned ITBS last year, a test that doesn’t align with a traditional math program. Second, let’s acknowledge that Saxon provided good results for six previous years on the traditional ITBS.

I reviewed the GOMath! 4th grade consumable student workbooks (two volumes of 671 pages). There are many pages on the partial product method and partial quotient method, a few pages on the “regrouping” method (or traditional algorithms for multiplying and dividing used internationally), and a few pages on “choose your own method.” A huge problem for math students today is they’re not learning multiplication skills, which impacts learning division skills and that impacts work with fractions. How a book teaches those multiplication skills says a lot.

We know from experience in other schools that teachers, students, and parents will struggle with the use of these unfamiliar, alternative “partial” methods when solving multiplication and division problems.

I will refuse to teach those methods because they will eat up my limited tutoring time of 30 minutes per grade level (one day a week). My refusal will create friction with teachers. That’s not a good work environment for the adults or students.

But how do I get the administration and staff, in one last ditch effort, to understand what will happen to their school’s reputation as a solid builder of strong students? With a third of the students being Hispanic, many from homes where parents don’t speak English, and with many students on scholarships provided by the Catholic Church to help cover the $4,700 tuition, there won’t be extra money to pay for private and remedial tutoring.

Since it’s a Catholic school, maybe a religious analogy will be helpful. What if we contrast the Bible’s listing of the Ten Commandments as presented in Exodus, Chapter 20, and repeated in Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, to the Quran’s version of the Ten Commandments?

The Bible’s Ten Commandments The Noble Quran’s Equivalence or Better
1-  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  (From the KJV Bible, Exodus 20:3)” “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to God’s (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with God.  (The Noble Quran, 3:67)””God forgiveth not (The sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this: one who joins other gods with God, Hath strayed far, far away (from the right).  (The Noble Quran, 4:116)”

Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.  (The Noble Quran, 112:1-4)”

“Lo! Abraham said to his father Azar: “Takest thou idols for gods? For I see thee and thy people in manifest error.”   (The Noble Quran, 6:74)”

“This is the guidance of God: He giveth that guidance to whom He pleaseth, of His worshippers. If they were to join other gods with Him, all that they did would be vain for them.  (The Noble Quran, 6:88)”

“Follow what thou art taught by inspiration from thy Lord: there is no god but He: and turn aside from those who join gods with God.  (The Noble Quran, 6:106)”


The following Noble Verses were sent to me by brother Bassam Zawadi:

“Know, therefore, that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for thy fault, and for the men and women who believe: for God knows how ye move about and how ye dwell in your homes.  (The Noble Quran, 47:19)”

And He is God: There is no god but He. To Him be praise, at the first and at the last: for Him is the Command, and to Him shall ye (all) be brought back.  (The Noble Quran, 28:70)”

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things).  (The Noble Quran, 42:11)”

No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things.   (The Noble Quran, 6:103)”

“Remember Abraham said: “O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security: and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.   (The Noble Quran, 14:35)”

This literary example (which is not about religions themselves but simply contrasting a common topic) is representative of the difference between traditional and progressive education: One side tells what time it is; the other side tells how to build a clock. One teaches clarity. The other side teaches “deeper thinking.” They call this “social justice” teaching because it’s supposed to bring equity of learning mathematics to girls and minorities. It hasn’t, not for more than three decades. And, yet, those leaders who design and sell these unproven methods still hold decision-making power after setting up generations of American children to hate the study of mathematics. Now, that’s beyond understanding.

As John Saxon, the math teacher, author, and publisher once said when defending his demand for clarity in user-friendly math lessons, “Beautiful explanations do not lead to understanding.” His also insisted that “Results matter!” To replace curriculum materials with proven results with unproven materials means we really are using children as guinea pigs, and we’re getting lousy results in the process. It’s wrong on so many levels. All of us are paying for letting this happen to our children—and our country. That is also beyond understanding.

New Hampshire Parents Can Request Replacing Curriculum

HB 542 was passed a few years ago in New Hampshire.  Below is the law parents can cite when requesting a change in materials that are assigned to their children.

If your child is not learning from the academic content the school is providing, please consider requesting a change in the materials.

For instance, if your district is using the confusing Common Core Math, we would suggest looking at alternatives.  Search for old Saxon Math textbooks for sale.  Often times you can find them relatively cheap.  The REAL Singapore Primary Math US Edition and Singapore

Primary Math Standards Edition could also be a good alternative.  (NOT Math in Focus)

Shurley Grammar books are great for teaching children the basics.

Look for “Good Books” lists.
Here is one from a Christian online resource.

If the school is assigning Common Core materials, maybe it’s time for parents who pay the taxes to start utilizing the law and requesting an alternative.

What should the average child learn at each grade level?  You can print off the Scope and Sequence from Core Knowledge here.

Check your local school district policy based on this New Hampshire Law:

RSA 186:11 – IX-c. Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A.

Side note: Senators Soucy and D’Allesandro TRIED to repeal this law but did not succeed.  That would have been a disaster for parents.

Cross-posted from Stop Common Core New Hampshire

Recognizing an American Hero: John Saxon

John Saxon

John Saxon

Seeking recognition for a hero in mathematics education may be a waste of time since so many Americans’ eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the word “math.” Too many claim they don’t like math, can’t do math, or don’t want even to think about math. (This phenomenon is found only in America. Interestingly, such attitudes are not heard in Third World countries that produce strong math students.)

So what’s the point in looking at an American math hero now? Maybe recognizing a math teacher-turned-millionaire-author-and-publisher who took a beating for 15 years from the powerful math education establishment will help refuel the parents and citizens—those special “Davids”—who are stepping up to fight the unified Goliaths of Common Core.

His enemies, who are among today’s Goliaths, will sneer upon hearing his name: John Saxon. They still refuse to accept the results of his “common sense genius” in teaching K-12 mathematics.

Saxon literally popped onto the national math education scene unexpectedly and uninvited in 1981 after self-publishing his first algebra textbook. Reformist authors, who quickly became his opponents, were claiming that making math more fun and “relevant” to girls and minorities was the answer to getting higher scores on international tests. He said his proven book was user-friendly and historically-based and was the answer for all students. They said his ideas worked only for white males and Asians because American girls and minorities couldn’t think analytically or with deductive reasoning. He called them racist and sexist. War was declared on Saxon with all the might of federal, state, and local resources of the math education leadership.

He had no idea that he, in turn, would ultimately choose to be a catalyst for the “math wars” that erupted among parents, school districts, and state textbook committees in the 1990s, and that the results of his promoting parent empowerment for a decade might help set up the battles by parents against Common Core.

Saxon was simply a retired U.S. Air Force officer who had begun teaching algebra to students in night classes at Oscar Rose Junior College in Oklahoma in 1970. Having taught engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy, he discovered woeful deficiencies in his community college students’ basic math skills. Determining they were capable of learning but that they had not been taught those basic skills, he began creating specially-designed worksheets of problems for his students over the next five years, with step-by-step procedures and a use of creative repetition for continuous practice. By 1975, he had a manuscript that the junior college print shop mimeographed and collated for the students.

Then in 1980, after a year-long pilot study in 20 Oklahoma public schools with amazing results (monitored by the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Teachers), Saxon was ready to publish his book in hardback for any school that taught a first year algebra course. He was rebuffed by six publishers in New York City because he wasn’t “a member of a math education committee.” One other publisher did suggest, however, that he publish the book himself. Borrowing $80,000, Saxon did just that. When he died in 1996, Saxon Publishers in Norman, Oklahoma, had sales of $27 million. When his company was sold in 2004, the reported selling price was $100 million.

For those 15 years as a teacher, author, and publisher, Saxon found himself on the defensive against not only government bureaucrats, but the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), a powerful special interest group with political ties to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The followers of NCTM were receiving large federal grants to write reform math materials that promoted equity over excellence as the new American goal in mathematics. They did not want to share their bounty and prestige with an outsider who wasn’t even “trained” as a teacher. Worse, he disagreed with their equity ideology as the new function of math education.

They attacked his traditional content with no pictures as boring and “drill and kill.” He had refused to put color photos in his books, saying that such space and costs should be used for showing examples on how to work the problems rather than promoting social justice. He insisted on incremental development with one lesson per day, his unique creative repetition, and no separate chapters which he called “hunk learning”—i.e., students trying to consume a major concept and moving on to the next hunk even if they hadn’t digested the previous one. He required a test after every five lessons so reteaching, if needed, could be planned immediately. And, unbelievably, students were not allowed to use calculators for daily work or tests until the eighth grade. (That’s still true today with Saxon Math.)

Saxon scoffed when reformists insisted that historically-proven mathematics, which had been developed over 2,000 years by diverse cultures from around the world, was effective only with “white males” in America—and “Asians.” Then, he would explode with anger over what he called disastrous teaching materials and methods being purchased without proof of their results.

The biggest surprise to the leaders was when Saxon bought full-page advertisements in mathematics journals, magazines and major newspapers to respond to the charges laid against him and his work. As a World War II veteran, West Point graduate, Korean War combat pilot awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and a Vietnam veteran, Saxon was a fully trained and experienced warrior who was now fighting “a good war” for children in American mathematics education. Later described as the “George Patton of math education,” Saxon saw no purpose in losing any battle and was not averse to launching a frontal assault. He often got bloodied, but so did they.

As a man with three degrees in engineering, he also knew about the use of mathematics in the real world, including flying airplanes in life and death situations. He ridiculed the elitists’ feigned “real world” problems in textbooks. Saxon wasn’t about to back down from those he thought were promoting their ideology in textbooks and not proving their programs’ results before launching them into schools. “Results matter,” he kept saying, and he had reams of results to show that his textbooks were working.

He constantly called on parents to step forward and fight the new “fuzzy math” programs. Some parents finally did come out swinging in California and in 1994 led a major change in that state’s curriculum standards. That parental action is being repeated now across America regarding Common Core.

Some of his opponents literally cheered when he died. They still hate him today, 18 years after his death. Schools of education that train teachers dismiss his work even though many of his warnings about their programs have come true:

  • Use of calculators too early ruins students’ acquisition of basic skills, many of which must be learned by memorization, such as multiplication facts and mental math.
  • Not understanding the importance of algebra—true algebra—at the eighth grade level as the gateway subject for later entry into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) would prevent many students from entering those fields and leave America short-handed for individuals who could help provide growth and development of the country.
  • Turning teacher-facilitated, rather than teacher-led, classrooms into discovery fun fests with lots of conversation, written explanations of problem-solving, and a focus on non-competitive, differentiated learning found math classrooms that included the weakest to the gifted student. “White males,” gifted children, and Asians were effectively ignored. Process, not the results, was to be enjoyed. Saxon warned this would cause both girls and boys of all races to be in remedial math classes in college, which would negate many of their career choices. Seventy to ninety percent of community college students are indeed enrolled in remedial math today. Up to forty percent must take it in four-year colleges. Common Core proponents claim they will change that statistic—with their weakened math program that even their leaders admit won’t prepare students for STEM careers.

John Saxon’s Story, a genius of common sense in math education, is the biography of a man who fought for his country in three wars and then, in an unexpected second career, for American children in mathematics education. He became, and still is, a real hero to millions of children:

A class of eighth graders in a Spokane, WA, Catholic school put his algebra book on the church’s altar at Thanksgiving in 1985 because of their appreciation for its impact on their learning. The Window Rock High School Navajo students in Fort Defiance, AZ, chose him as their graduation speaker over the state’s governor in 1992. His materials are used by one million homeschooled students today and his textbooks are found in Arizona’s successful BASIS charter schools, as well as in private schools and smaller public schools across the country.

The biography is filled with facts and stories of his successes, as well as an honest portrayal of a colorful, eccentric man “cursed with clarity” who proved to be a born teacher as well as a born warrior. All proceeds from the biography go to West Point’s Department of Mathematical Sciences in honor of LTC (Ret.) John Harold Saxon, Jr. More can be learned about John Saxon and the book at (A free 16-page booklet can also be downloaded.)

Homeschoolers Beware, Saxon Math Aligns to Common Core

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt re. Saxon Math:

Saxon Math makes it easy for you to empower your all of your students to Master the Common Core State Standards and excel on the Common Core Assessments.

The Common Core State Standards state that standards are coherent if they are articulated over time as a sequence of topics and performances that are logical and reflect, where appropriate, the sequential or hierarchical nature of the disciplinary content from which the subject matter derrives (sic).

Greater coherence through a curriculum that is articulated over time leads to mastery of the Common Core State Standards. Saxon Math accomplishes this through its incremental, distributed pedagogy that builds upon concepts throughout the year, articulating them over time. This allows students to gain deep understanding and long-term mastery of the Common Core State Standards.

Saxon continues to publish earlier editions, but how long before they go out of print?

Update (7-16-13): I was told that the statement above (the link now just goes to the product page) was referring to just the public school version.  Here is a list of their Homeschool Resources, one of which does give a Common Core option.  What isn’t stated is whether or not they’ll be updating the homeschool resources that are not aligned with the Common Core.