Archive for the ‘Parents’ Rights’ Category
Read this week’s powerful letter by Oregon State Representative Dennis Richardson.
Rep. Richardson’s Newsletter August 20, 2014
Common Core. The Answer to Oregon’s Failed Education System?
I flew helicopters for the Army in Vietnam. In flight school it was commonly known that one-third of us Warrant Officer Candidates would “wash-out” and not graduate. While a one-third wash-out rate may have been acceptable there, it is not acceptable for one-third of Oregon high school students to drop-out before graduation.
There are hard questions about Oregon’s education system that deserve to be answered. What will be the costs to individuals, families and society of having one-third of our students dropping out of high school? How are they going to perform in the competitive 21st century global job market? What is Governor John Kitzhaber and Oregon’s state education leaders doing to stop the race to the bottom, where Oregon currently has the second lowest graduation rate in the country, and the highest rate of chronic student absenteeism?
As families get their school supplies in order and make other preparations to help their students start the new school year on the right foot, many are questioning Oregon’s latest endeavor to fix our failed education system and wondering if it will pass the test. Today’s newsletter will address the misguided solution enacted by the Governor and state education leaders to the abysmal condition of Oregon’s public education system, by implementing the newest in a list of federally-promoted educational programs known as Common Core. To put this discussion into perspective, consider the following scenario: For years, the dilapidated Sellwood Bridge in SE Portland has been a source of concern. Out-of-date and unsafe, it needed to be completely rebuilt to remain functional, a project that is currently underway. Now imagine that because of the dilapidated condition of the Sellwood Bridge, every bridge in the state is to be torn down and rebuilt– all at the same time. Think of the cost, the disruption, the waste. Of course the idea would be ridiculous, but in a way it is exactly what is being foisted on the entire Oregon education system by mandating implementation of the Common Core, and the silence from the Legislature is deafening.
What is Common Core?
Starting this academic year, all Oregon public schools (as well as those in many other states) are scheduled to abandon previously established academic standards and implement a new and untried nationalized set of learning goals called Common Core. The performance of these standards will be measured by new standardized tests. At Common Core’s outset, when the federal government offered “stimulus” money to the state Governors that accepted Common Core, the standards and tests involved had not even been written. In other words, the Governor and state education leaders unilaterally committed all Oregon’s school districts to adopting a new statewide curriculum before it had even been developed, and Oregon was committed without Legislative consideration or approval.
Since then, Common Core’s standards and tests have been created by a group of people with very limited classroom experience, and in many cases NO classroom experience at all. Now, Common Core’s standards are being implemented without any legislative or public involvement, and still have not been fully tested. (The implementation of Common Core sounds to me like our national health plan, which was passed by Congress before any of our Congressional representatives had the opportunity to read it.) Currently many states are seeking to repeal or delay implementation of Common Core, and a great deal of legislation has been proposed across the nation to address this issue. The American Federation of Teachers union, called for a midcourse moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of Common Core. The Oregon teachers’ union (O.E.A.) has also called for a moratorium. Even Common Core’s biggest supporter, the Gates Foundation, has called for a two-year delay. Concern over prematurely implementing Common Core crosses political party lines. People who would normally be on opposite sides of the issues are banding together to speak out against Common Core.
Why is opposition to Common Core so widespread and impassioned?
Let’s ask the teachers, those who work in the ‘trenches,’ in Oregon’s classrooms, those who often spend more time with our children than anyone else. The best teachers will tell you that regardless of low pay or long hours, they are teachers because they are passionate about the subjects they teach, about learning, and about being able to make a difference in childrens’ lives. I can only imagine what it will do to the state of our classrooms if, when summer vacation ends, our teachers must throw out the lesson plans they adjust to meet their students’ needs and instead teach to Common Core’s new standardized tests—replacing curriculum with test preparation activities. The ‘heart’ and the passion that connects our best teachers to their students will be missing when they are relegated to class monitors, provided scripted materials written by bureaucrats and other non-educators. Certainly Oregon’s educational system needs to be overhauled, but Common Core is not ready to solve the systemic needs of Oregon’s failed educational system. Veteran teachers are reporting morale is at an all-time low and it’s attributed to the confusion and sterility of Common Core State Standard’s (CCSS) approach to learning and testing. This concerns me greatly, for if passion and creativity are forced out of teaching, we will lose our passionate and creative teachers.
To make matters worse, the future of our teachers are at risk. The new system will tie teacher evaluations to student success on Common Core tests without provisions made for those who teach our more “high-risk” learners, such as low-income students and those with learning disabilities. It seems an almost foregone conclusion that our at-risk learners will fail and the jobs of their teachers are jeopardized since pro-Common Core State Deputy School Superintendent Ron Saxton expects only 35% of Oregon students will pass the Common Core tests. The Oregon Department of Education has requested the U.S. Department of Education to temporarily let teachers off the hook for expected low test scores of Oregon students, but the schools and school districts will be ranked. Who then will teach our most challenged students, when teachers know their reputations or professional futures could be jeopardized if they work with at-risk students? Add the fact that teachers have been given little or no training on these new standards, and it becomes very evident that there are serious flaws with Common Core. Should we really be implementing something we are expecting students to fail? Who will flourish in this setting? Gifted students will be bored, students who already dislike school will be even more inclined to skip, and students with obstacles to learning will simply be unable to succeed. Teachers in schools that have already begun implementing Common Core tell me how struggling students are being pulled from electives in order to pass early implementation Common Core tests. These teachers are witnessing the marginalization of students whose strengths lie outside of the areas being tested. Many teachers are agonizing that Common Core’s mandate will do more harm than good, and will only compound Oregon’s problems with absenteeism and lack of on-time graduation. Is this really what we want for Oregon’s children? Of course not.
When it comes to enacting these new standards, we have more unanswered questions. How much will it cost to train teachers to implement Common Core? How much to purchase new learning materials and to acquire the technology necessary to administer and track the tests? And, who will pay? With schools already in dire financial straits, where will the money come from to implement yet another federal educational experiment on Oregon’s rising generation? Finally, it concerns me to see that many of the people behind these standards and the requirements of these tests are affiliated with multi-billion dollar companies with financial conflicts of interest.
These are companies that have near monopolies on the contracts to provide the tests and corresponding curriculum. There is a glaring conflict of interest in having mandatory materials designed by those who are positioned to profit from them. And even if profits to its originators didn’t taint this new system, even if good intentions were the sole impetus behind this top-down policy, national control of state education policies is still a bad idea.
Decisions about the education of our children should not be dictated by a select, distant few. Educational decisions are best made by those closest to the students—parents, teachers and local school boards—not far away state and federal bureaucrats and large, conflicted corporate representatives. Oregon’s education standards need local control with rational state oversight and evidence-based practices learned from Oregon’s most successful schools. Currently, Oregon’s on-time graduation rate is second worst in the nation and our student absentee rate higher than every other state. I believe in educational equality for all students and that every student deserves three things—a mentor, a reason to stay in school and an opportunity for a decent job after graduation. I believe action to fix Oregon’s failing schools system must be taken, but it should be based on what is working in Oregon’s most successful schools, not untried educational experiments fomented by national “educrats” and funded with federal largess.
Solutions for Oregon educational system’s tragic failure. Rather than fret over the dismal state of Oregon’s statewide educational system and rather than pathetic attempts by Governor Kitzhaber and his appointed education leaders to address it by implementing Common Core, let’s look to Oregon’s home-grown examples of success. Let’s look to the many stories of exemplary teaching and learning that are setting the standard for academic achievement in Oregon. At Riverdale High School in SW Portland, students in Mark Wechter’s physics class are ranked among the best national and international young bridge engineers today. At Summit High School in Bend, more than 40% of the students take AP classes prior to graduation. Students in the Portland School District have won more National Constitution Team championships than any other city in the nation. Singers in Sue Schriener’s vocal ensemble, “Souled Out” at Wilsonville High have competed nationally and are strong enough musicians to share the spotlight with professional ensembles. And there are many more stories like these. In fact, 77 Oregon public schools were exemplary according to the US News and World Report 2014 list of America’s best high schools.
The list of Oregon schools included four with gold medals (Beaverton’s International School ranked #26 out of more than 19,000 public schools nationwide), 22 with silver medals and 51 with bronze medals. With answers and examples of excellence right here in Oregon, why on earth should we diminish these rich learning environments by focusing on untried, one-size-fits-all nationalized experiments like Common Core? We shouldn’t. I believe it’s in the best interests of our students to stop implementing Common Core. It’s a remotely managed reform measure fraught with problems. Let’s look to model programs in Oregon’s own commendable schools for guidance on how to improve the performance of schools and students that are struggling. We should halt Common Core’s race to the middle and allow local schools who best understand their students to engage in creating Oregon’s educational solutions. We should focus on what it is that engages students and keeps them interested and in school, rather than on high stakes educational experiments written by “educrats” who don’t have an understanding of our children. Simply put, I strongly recommend we join the ranks of states that require “evidence-based” practices and have turned down Common Core.
Since our students are returning to class in less than a month, our Governor and state education leaders should immediately put a moratorium on Common Core. If they fail to take the initiative, our Legislative leaders should be unified in demanding an immediate moratorium on Common Core. We only have one chance to educate a child and all our children deserve better than what they’ll get from Common Core.
Representative Dennis Richardson
I wrote this essay for the Libertas Institute essay contest. If you like it, please click on “like” at the Libertas link before August 22nd 2014, and share it so that I have a shot at the prize for the most “like”s. Thank you. Also, thanks to Libertas for asking Utah citizens to think and write about this important subject.
Queen Esther of the Bible modeled the proper role of civil disobedience when she chose to break the law to free her people from the sentence of death. She did not shrink from personal consequences that her act of agency would bring. She said, “I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”
Esther illustrated the justification for civil disobedience: we break a law only when lawful appeals cannot overcome threats to life, liberty, property, or free exercise of conscience; when it’s the only honorable course. Esther’s selfless act contrasts with the self-indulgence of others who break laws without being willing to shoulder the consequences.
Martin Luther King wrote about that willingness: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
Thoreau explained that governments were only able to commit wrongdoings, to “crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels,” because individuals upheld bad governments by their failure to exercise agency, who “serve the state…as machines.” He pressed every individual not to “resign his conscience” to a government, and asked, “Why has every man a conscience then?”
Utah’s predominant religion teaches “We believe… in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law” (Article of Faith 12) and warns: “sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected ” (D&C 134). But further study of D&C 134 reveals that “thus protected” means “protected in their inherent and inalienable rights” –defined as “free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” “Thus protected” is key: we honor government as long as we are protected in our inalienable rights. When laws fail to protect, when foul oppressions are enacted, people of conscience recognize the duty –of lawful pushback when possible, and of civil disobedience when regular appeals fail.
Pondering heroic acts of civil disobedience helps to clarify the difference between noble and ignoble disobedience.
1. 150 B.C. – Abinadi of the Book of Mormon defied the rule against freedom of speech and willingly faced the consequence of death by fire. 2. 1500′s – English protestants by the hundreds were burned at the stake or beheaded for breaking the law in refusing to follow the state religion under Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”). 3. 1776 – Many signers of the Declaration of Independence were punished or killed for signing, which was an act of civil disobedience under British law. 4. 1850′s – Harriet Tubman traveled between Northern and Southern states, illegally freeing 300 slaves. 5. 1940′s – Sweden’s diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, jumped on top of trainloads of Jews on their way to death camps; ignoring governing protocol and soldiers’ warning bullets, Wallenberg gave out illegal passports and ordered captives to exit the trains. He saved thousands and then lost his own life in a Russian prison. 6. 1940′s – Holland’s Caspar Ten Boom illegally hid Jews during World War II. He responded to those who criticized him: “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.” 7. 1950′s – Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking segregation laws by deliberately sitting “illegally” on a bus. 8. 1989 – China’s “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square deliberately walked straight into communist tanks aimed to quell all freedom-seeking demonstrators. He was seized; it’s unknown whether he was executed. 9. 1990′s – Mongolia’s Oyun Altangarel, a state librarian, was fired for seeking freedom of religion and speech, but her organization’s hunger strike moved her country toward freedom.
Oppression is not only found in distant times and countries. It’s happening under our noses in 2014 in Utah –as are corresponding heroes of civil disobedience. Consider three stories.
1. In 2013, the Salt Lake Tribune published teacher Ann Florence’s op-ed, in which Florence wrote about “an avalanche” of counter-productive mandates which did not benefit students and did cause teacher demoralization. She lamented standardized tests and Common Core. She wrote, “We are tired of the threats and disrespect… tired of having our dedication reduced to a number. Educating children is… a life’s work that deserves the highest honor.”
In 2014, when Florence openly criticized computer-adapted standardized tests as “a waste of time and irrelevant,” refused to grade them, and spoke out to news media, the honors English teacher was fired by Granite School District for “a pattern of noncompliance”.
Florence told ABC4 news, “I am challenged constantly to teach my students to consider their own opinions, to examine their opinions …but when I try to employ critical thinking as a teacher and I have the support of hundreds of other teachers, I’m silenced and I’m fired.”
2. When Stuart Harper, St. George High School Physics Teacher, spoke out against the Common Core “reform,” he was threatened with job loss. Harper had stated that he didn’t like Common Core being “pushed upon us [teachers],” nor could he tolerate the “lack of control we have over its content.” He criticized the “awful quality of its math core,” an “over-emphasis on testing,” “burdens on schools for curriculum changes and data collection” and said that “its focus drives schools deeper into the political realm and further from real education.”
The district told Harper he’d created rebellion and insubordination. They insisted that he accept their claims about Common Core– as if seeking verification was not scientific; as if truth cannot hold up under scrutiny; as if freedom of thought equals insubordination; as if debate equals unethical conduct.
Harper reasoned with officials, saying, “my intent was not to promote rebellion, but to simply encourage personal research on the subject and exercise freedom of speech on my off time, as a citizen and father. I was told, ‘Those freedom of speech rights you are probably referring to do not apply’ … I made it clear that if I continued to be intimidated into silence that I would resign…”
Harper would not be silenced, though he knew that the system “expects acceptance and conformity to its decisions… and even goes as far as intimidating and threatening those who have differing opinions. ” In his resignation letter, he wrote, “Any society or organization that silences and discourages freedom of speech removes the possibility to express ideas…” He revealed that the system hurts not only teachers’ freedom of conscience but also students’ freedom of conscience: it “no longer promotes learning, but rather focuses on training. It teaches what to think, not how to think.”
Harper was pressured to resign and did resign– not just over academically inferior standards, but over “an environment that clearly has no respect for the Constitutional right of free speech.”
3. When Utah high school student Hannah Smith (not her real name) saw, during the state’s Common Core (SAGE) test, that an objectionable test question should be viewed by parents, she captured screen shots of the question with her cell phone. She sent them to her mother, and they were shared, published and viewed nationally.
Smith was threatened by administrators with possible loss of graduation and was told that she was a cheater. The teacher who had been in the room was also threatened with professional action. State education leader Judy Park was quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune, threatening, “Any licensed educator that has been involved, I will report to UPPAC (Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission of the state Board of Education), because they have now violated the obligation to follow ethics.” Park added, “[A]ll this concern about Common Core and SAGE has led us to the point that parents are encouraging students to break the law.”
Utah’s government uses multiple methods to stifle debate and freedom of thought in education. Utah teachers and school staff report (anonymously) that they must conform to education and data reforms without discussion. They’re told that they may not inform parents nor students of legal rights to opt out of SAGE testing, nor speak out against the Common Core without punishment for insubordination.
Key to the coffle is the state school board’s selection procedure, which narrows the candidate pool before voters get a chance to vote. The selection procedure starts with a survey that asks whether candidates support Utah Core/Common Core. It is further narrowed by insider committees and narrowed again by the governor to two pre-selected candidates. From these, voters may choose one. A rejected candidate recently sued the governor, calling this selection procedure “viewpoint discrimination.”
Why must we reclaim the sacred freedom to disagree and debate? Benjamin Franklin explained: “Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions. if these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions?”
Speaking against inappropriate education reforms now ranks as civil disobedience for Utah educators. Utah parents who opt children out of SAGE tests are sometimes chided by school administrators as “unsupportive” of schools despite the law upholding the parental right to opt out of the tests.
Utah’s predominant religion says that we “do not believe that human law has a right to…… bind the consciences of men” (D & C 134). It states that the “magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” The chapter teaches “that the commission of crime should be punished… all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment” (D&C 134). I think Thoreau would agree: he called government’s harm to conscience a “sort of bloodshed” and said, “through this wound a man’s real manhood” flows out. He wrote: “we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”
Although Utahans are witnessing the lack of freedom being put into place by the Common Core tests and Common Educational Data Standards (CEDS) –most fail to step forward.
In part this may be because there is controversy over whether new standards harm or help, but it’s unarguable that the oppressive nature of implementation harms free exercise of parent/teacher conscience and that the tests and data collection systems make students unwitting guinea pigs of D.C.’s experiment. These things should matter; even those who believe Common Core’s claim to improve education may recall that the Declaration of Independence speaks of “consent by the governed” which Common Core can’t claim since it wasn’t vetted by teachers, parents or taxpayers prior to adoption.
Fact: Utah’s government oppresses exercise of conscience by threatening job loss to educators who exercise it. Teachers governed thus are not protected in their inalienable rights. Fact: because the government creates no allowance for parents to opt children out of its federal-state database tracking system (State Longitudinal Database System) it also violates parental “right and control of property”–privacy being personal property. Fact: for at least two years the state school board (collectively) has rejected every plea for relief from parents and teachers on this matter, and the legislature has not succeeded in righting the wrong.
The choice then has become to behave as silent property, as governed as cooped chickens, or to rise to the scary, defining moment of Common Core. Stand-up actions (parents opting students out of testing, administrators claiming the right to say no) may result in ridicule or job loss but may be the only way we can defend the Constitutional right to local control of education, the only way to do the right thing.
Consider Thoreau’s words: “under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”
For the sake of our American liberties and for the sake of our children, it is time for those who share the spirit of Queen Esther to echo her example: “I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”
This mother of four AP students points out, among other things, that the new APUSH curriculum is anti-semitic. It presents World War II in a way that excludes the atrocities of Hitler and the heroism of those who fought him. This mother wants to know what the people of America are saying about the new College Board history curriculum which not only discludes the atrocities of Hitler, but does not include the Reverend Martin Luther King, nor Benjamin Franklin, nor the Gettysburg Address, nor the sacrifices and motivations of the signers of the Declaration of Independence– a curriculum that makes no mention of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and barely mentions George Washington.
So do I.
If you have not already done so, please sign the petition letter that’s going to the State Board of Education. Link here.
Tomorrow’s state school board meeting is a big deal. Please be there and bring people. Wear a grass green shirt to show opposition to the federal ESEA/NCLB waiver and to Common Core.
At 9:00 a.m., this peaceful outdoor protest by the offices of education will feature YOU and YOUR friends and family, with your signs, taking a stand.
We will take a stand against the stripping away of local control of our schools, the guinea pig-like academic experimentation on our children, and against the replacement of classic, time-tested education with the Common Core snake oil that nobody was consulted about, prior to being billed for. We will stand against the unconstitutional power grab of the Department of Education and claim the right as parents and as citizens to reclaim local control. We are calling the bluff of the Department of Education, which pretends to authority that it does not hold.
If you have not already done so, please sign the petition letter that’s going to the State Board of Education. Link here.
Another letter and petition has already gone to the State School Board from members of the Utah Chamber of Commerce and others. It says the opposite message. Understand: the national and state Chambers of Commerce have put huge pressure on the state school boards to continue with the ESEA/NCLB waivers for one simple reason: money.
In their letter, signed by many Utah business people and local school board members, the governor’s appointee to review Common Core wrote that “as a key stakeholder, surely the perspectives and support of the business community are an important plan of any successful plan for improving education in the state.” Translation: “because we’ve invested money in the Common Core-based technologies and are making a mint off this experiment, and because we work for organizations heavily funded by Common Core financier Bill Gates, we want and claim a stake in your child’s education.”
Our letter, which was written yesterday, has already been signed by hundreds and hundreds of people. It says this (highlights):
To the Members of the Utah state Board of Education:
… To receive a waiver from NCLB, Utah agreed to option A, which required Utah to show proof that we had adopted Common Core. In other words, the state was coerced into agreeing to a reform package that exerts a far greater control over our state education system than NCLB.
The waiver should not be renewed… The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government no opportunity to be involved in Utah education. By renewing the waiver, Utah will be obligated to continue with their Common Core commitment to the federal government, which is a violation of both federal and state Constitutions.
…Utah law states that we can and shall be flexible with our funding to utilize it to meet state goals and objectives over federal goals and objectives.
Concerns that there may be a reduction in federal funds affecting Title I schools should not stop the board from doing the right thing.
It will be the responsibility of the legislature and the Governor to make sure that Title I schools have necessary funding.
Please do not sign the waiver.
Please ask friends to sign our letter to the board. Then come to tomorrow’s open board meeting and to the protest. If you are unable to come, write to the state and local boards of education.
Wake up, Utah parents.
Diane Ravitch recently posted a letter from a Utah teacher who tried to let parents know that they ought to opt children out of the Common Core AIR/SAGE standardized tests. The teacher said that she was stopped, and was told she was not allowed to tell parents that they have a legal right to opt out. The state would take disciplinary measures against the teacher’s license, she was told, if she continued to tell parents the truth.
The teacher wrote, “So how do parents even know what is being done to their children?” They don’t.
Read the teacher’s letter here: Utah: AIR’s Absurdly Long Common Core Tests.
Recognizing an American Hero: John Saxon
by Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
This article, found at Education Views, introduces John Saxon, whose math materials are used by one million home schooled students today. Saxon’s textbooks are found in Arizona’s BASIS schools, as well as in private schools and some public schools across the country.
Both this article and the book about John Saxon are written by Niki Hayes, who has given permission to repost the article here.
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 home schooled 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 http://saxonmathwarrior.com. (A free 16-page booklet can also be downloaded.)