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March 2023


Both homeschool educators as well as public and private school administrators often ask me "Why do John Saxon's math books require special handling? Another question I am also frequently asked is "If John Saxon's math books require special instructions to use them successfully, why would we want to use them"? Before the end of this newsletter, I hope to be able to answer both of these questions to your satisfaction. 

There is nothing "magic" about John Saxon's math books. They were published as a series of math textbooks to be taken sequentially. Math 54 followed by Math 65, and then Math 76, followed by either Math 87 or Algebra ½, and then algebra 1, etc. While other publishers were "dumbing-down" the content of their new math books, John Saxon was publishing his new editions with stronger, more challenging content. Homeschool families, attempting to save money by buying older used Saxon Math books and inter-mingling them with the newer editions were unaware that the older out-of-print editions were often incompatible with these newer, more challenging editions. The same problem developed in the public and private school sector adding to the confusion about the difficulty of John's math books. 

For example, a student using the old first or second edition of Math 76 would experience difficulty entering the newer second or third editions of Math 87 because the content in the outdated first or second editions of Math 76 was about the same as that of the material covered in the newer editions of Math 65 (the book following Math 54 and preceding Math 76). Jumping from the outdated older edition of Math 76 to the newer editions of either Math 87 or Algebra ½ would ultimately result in frustration or even failure for most, if not all, of the students who attempted this. 

Many homeschool educators and administrators were also unaware that – when finishing a Saxon math book, they were not to use the Saxon placement test to determine the student's next book in the Saxon series. The Saxon placement test was designed to assist in initially placing non-Saxon math students into the correct entry level Saxon math book. The test was not designed to show parents what the student already knew, it was designed to find out what the student did not know. Students taking the placement test, who are already using a Saxon math book, receive unusually high "false" placement test scores. These test results may erroneously recommend a book one or even two levels higher than the level book being used by the student (e.g. from their current Math 65 textbook to the Math 87 textbook – skipping the Math 76 textbook). 

By far, the problems homeschool educators as well as classroom teachers encounter using – or shall I say misusing – John's math books are not all that difficult to correct. However, when these "short-cuts" are taken, the resulting repercussions are not at first easily noticed. Later in the course, when the student begins to encounter difficulty with their daily assignments – in any level of Saxon math books, the parent or teacher assumes the student is unable to handle the work and determines that the student is not learning because the book is too difficult for the student. 

Here are some of the most common misuses I have encountered literally hundreds of times during these past several decades of teaching and providing curriculum advice to home school educators: 

  1. NOT FINISHING THE ENTIRETY OF THE TEXTBOOK: Not requiring the student to finish the entirety of one book before moving on to the next book in the sequence.

    RATIONALE: "But the beginning twenty or so lessons of the new book covers the same material as in the last lessons of the book we just finished, so why repeat it"? 

    FACT: The student does encounter review of this material in the next book. However, because the student has not done sufficient work on these concepts in the previous book to "master" them in the short time left in the school year, their review in the new book is essential to later success in the new book. Skipping the last twenty or so lessons in the previous level textbook means the students are encountering these concepts for the first time. This does not initially appear to create a problem until the student gets to about lesson thirty or so in the book, and by then both the parent and the student have gotten so far into the new book that they do not attribute the student's problem to be the result of not finishing the previous textbook. They start to think the material is too difficult to process correctly and do not see the error of their having skipped the last twenty to thirty or so lessons in the previous book. They now fault the excessive difficulty of the current textbook as the reason the student is failing. 

    Always finish the entirety of every Saxon math textbook! Because all students are not alike, if as you're reading this article you have already encountered this particular phenomenon with your child, there are several steps you can take to satisfactorily solve the problem without harming the child's progress or self-esteem. So that we can find the correct solution, please email me – and include your telephone number – and I will call you with a solution for your child's particular situation that same day. 

  2. MISUSE OF THE SAXON PLACEMENT TEST: Skipping one of the books in the sequence (e.g. going from Math 54 to Math 76) because the "Saxon Placement Test" results clearly showed the student could easily handle the Math 76 material. 

    RATIONALE: "He even got some of the Math 87 level questions correct. Besides, we had him look at the material in the Math 65 book and he said that he already knew that material, so why bother doing the same concepts again." 

    FACT: First, as I wrote earlier, the Saxon Placement Test was designed to place non-Saxon math students into the correct level math book. It was designed to see what the child had not encountered or mastered, not what he already knew. Saxon math students who take the Saxon placement test receive unusually high "false" test scores. The only way to determine if the student is ready for the next math book is to evaluate their last four or five tests in their current Saxon math book to determine whether or not they have mastered the required concepts to be successful in the next level book. The brain of young students cannot decipher the difference between recognizing something and being able to provide solutions to the problems dealing with those concepts. So when they thumb through a book and say "I know how to do this" what they really mean is "I recognize this." Recognition of a concept or process does not reflect mastery. 

  3. USING DAILY HOMEWORK TO DETERMINE A STUDENT'S GRADE: Skipping the weekly tests and using the student's daily assignments to determine their grade for the course reflects memory rather than mastery of the material. 

    RATIONALE: I cannot count the number of times I have been told by a parent "He does not test well, so I use the daily assignment grades to determine his course grade. He knows what he is doing because he gets ninety's or hundreds on his daily work." 

    FACT: Just like practicing the piano, violin, or soccer, the student is not under the same pressure as when they have to perform in a restricted time frame for a musical solo or a big game. The weekly tests determine what a student has mastered through daily practice. The daily homework only reflects what they have temporarily memorized as they have access to information in the book not available on tests. Answers are provided for the odd numbered problems and some students quickly learn to "back-peddle." This phenomenon occurs when the student looks at a problem and does not have the foggiest idea of how to work the problem. So they go to the answers and after seeing the answer to that particular problem, suddenly recall how to solve the problem. However, later, when they take the test, there are no answers to look up preventing them from "back-peddling" through to the correct solution. 

As with anything, there are always exceptions that justify the rule. However, just because one parent says their child did any one or all of the above, and had no trouble with their math, does not mean you should also attempt it with your child. That parent might not have told you that (1) their child encountered extreme difficulty when they reached Saxon Algebra 2, and even more difficulty with the Saxon Advanced Mathematics textbook, or (2) they had switched curriculum after experiencing difficulty in Saxon Algebra 1, or (3) their child had to take remedial college algebra when they enrolled at the university because they had received a low score on the university's math entrance exam. 

If your child is already experiencing trouble in one of the Saxon series math books, and you need to find a workable solution, please email me at: Include our telephone number as it helps provide a quicker solution to your dilemma.. 

In next month's issue, I will cover: 




February 2023


Home School Educators frequently ask me about students taking a non-Saxon geometry course between algebra 1 and algebra 2, as most public schools do. They also ask if they should buy the new geometry textbook recently released to homeschool educators by HMHCO (the new owners of Saxon). As I mentioned in a previous newsletter late last year, a group of professors who taught mathematics and science at the University of Chicago bemoaned the fact that educators continued to place a geometry course between basic algebra (Algebra 1) and the advanced algebra course (Algebra 2) to the detriment of the student. AND THIS WAS MORE THAN 110 YEARS AGO!

The danger of using a separate geometry textbook as described by these professors more than one hundred and ten years ago - still exists today! Placing a nine month geometry course between the Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 courses creates a void of some fifteen months between the two algebra courses. How did I arrive at fifteen months? In addition to the nine month geometry course, you must also add the additional six months of summer between the two courses when no math is taken. The professors went on to explain in their book that it was this "lengthy void" that prevented most students from retaining the necessary basic algebra concepts from the basic algebra (Algebra 1) to be successful when encountering the rigors of the Algebra 2 concepts.

Home school educators also asked about using the new fourth editions of Saxon Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 recently released by HMHCO (the new Saxon owners) together with their new separate geometry textbook now offered for homeschool use. To create the new fourth editions of both the Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 textbooks, all the geometry was gutted from the previous third editions of both Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. Using the new fourth editions of their revised Saxon Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 now requires also purchasing their new Saxon Geometry book to receive any credit for geometry. That makes sense, if you consider that publishers make more money from selling three books than they do from selling just two. Regardless of which editions you finally choose to use, I would add a word of caution. If you intend to use John's Advanced Mathematics, 2nd Ed textbook, do not use the new fourth editions of Algebra 1 or Algebra 2.

So what Saxon math books should you use? The editions of John Saxon's math books from fourth through twelfth grades that should be used today appears on page 15 of my book. These editions remain the best math books on the market today, and they will remain so for decades to come.

If you desire more information about the pros and cons of using a separate Geometry textbook, please read my January 2022 Newsletter. Should you still have questions or reservations, feel free to email me at or call my office any week-day at 580-234-0064 (CST).



January 2023

The Infallible Professor

As we start a new year, I thought I would share a quick story about an experience I had while a student in college decades ago, an experience I am certain many of your sons and daughters encounter in their classrooms as well.

More than 50 years ago while attending a university in the South – as an active duty member of the armed forces – I encountered a rather single minded professor in a sociology class who – in his own words – "Did not want to hear any student's thoughts or opinions." Needless to say – having grown up in Chicago – I violated his edict and was ejected from his class when I questioned some rather obvious misinformation he was putting out about large cities – obvious at least to anyone who had the opportunity to live in these cities. There were about twenty young men and women in the class all from rural areas of the state and it was clear that none of them had yet – except for perhaps a vacation – traveled outside the state or came from a large city he was referring to.

Later in the afternoon, I went to his office to discuss why he had ejected me from his class. He was still quite openly angry with me and quite adamant about me accepting a "C" with the added stipulation that I was not to return to his class. I reminded him that I had earned an "A" in his class at that point. He would not budge from his position, so I left his office. That evening I wrote the following poem and had it published in the school newspaper several days later.

The Infallible Professor

"With my professor I must agree.
Not he with me, but me with he!
How then am I to learn what's true
And pass on to you the knowledge
Of mankind – when my thoughts are
thoughts of a professor's mind?"

The day after it was published, the professor contacted me and after a sometimes heated discussion, we both agreed upon some ground rules. He would allow me to return to class with the grade I had earned to that point. And I would not be penalized again for questioning anything he brought up in class. While we tangled in class a bit over other items he brought up – he never again lost his temper. And I passed his class with my earned grade of an "A"!

What had angered me most at that time was that my question was brought up in a respectful way. I gave several actual existing locations in the city of Chicago that made his statement of fact untrue – that all large cities were not identical in their physical layouts. Rather than asking me to explain in detail what I had just stated was fact – contradicting his premise – he immediately took on the aura of a dictator and attempted to shut me down by loudly and angrily shouting at me to "shut up" and loudly and angrily shouting that this was his classroom and if he wanted my opinion he would have asked for it.

I wanted to tell him that it was my money paying him to teach us — not to dictate to us. I wanted to tell him that we lived in a free democracy and that all ideas are open for meaningful and polite discussion. I wanted to remind him that is what my uncles and cousins — and my father — had fought and died for during two World Wars. But somehow I also realized that this was not the time or place for that discussion and I quietly picked up my notes and book and left his room.

I realize that his persona lives on in some college professor that your son or daughter may encounter. And I thought the poem I wrote more than half a century ago (change "he" to "she" if necessary) may be used again by any student if it brings the same peace of mind to that young student that it brought to me that night.

I promise to get back to mathematics next month.

           Have a Blessed, Safe, and Happy New Year!


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