Questions for Saxon/Harcourt Achieve

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I receive an incredible amount of mail from readers interested in the changes being made to the traditional Saxon math books. I hear from people who use the books. I hear from people who are considering use of the books. I hear from current Saxon employees. I hear from former Saxon employees. I hear from booksellers of Saxon products. I hear from mathematicians who evaluate and write math curriculum. I hear from college professors who are frustrated with the mathematically illiterate new-new-math high school graduates who end up, by default, in what once were college level math courses, now remedial math classes.

Most of the people write to ask me questions, which I gladly answer to the best of my ability. Many, however, write to tell of experiences they have had with New-Saxon. Many write to tell of things they believe they have been told by: Saxon reps; booksellers; neighbors; family members; or by someone who told someone who told someone else. I suspect that, as with much hearsay, there is, or at least was, some basic truth at the level of the initial utterance. My goal is to separate a truth from any embellishment; from any agenda. I believe that the best way to do this is to ask the Saxon/Harcourt Achieve people and hope that they will be honorable and honest with their responses.

I could write directly to the Harcourt Achieve, but I choose not to do that for the following reason: The president/CEO of Harcourt Achieve, Tim McEwan, wrote me a personal email following one of my articles. I appreciated him doing that, but before I could respond to his mail, I received an email from a woman who claimed to have nothing at all to do with Saxon or with Harcourt. It would have been just another email from an unknown reader except for the fact that…she attached a copy of McEwan’s personal email to me!! I concluded that he had not been writing to me at all. He had instead written a piece of propaganda with blind copies to…well, it would be anyone’s guess as to how many people received copies of an email that on the surface was addressed only to me.

So, I will pose my questions and discuss my concerns here, openly, with no blind copies sent to anyone at all.

1) I have received complaints that Harcourt Achieve refuses to sell hardback editions to homeschooling families, thus limiting homeschooled children to the soft cover, rewritten, moving-towards-new-math editions. If this is true, I am truly appalled by such discriminatory practices. I request an explanation of why such an anti-scholarly decision would be made by a company selling products advertised as ones to educate children.

Look at the Saxon price list for schools. It runs five pages and included in that price list are the hardback editions that homeschoolers are not allowed to buy.

Look at the Saxon price list for homeschoolers. It consists of two pages and the only options given are the newly rewritten books, which include stem and leaf plots and reorganization of topics. I am not the only one suspicious that this may be the beginning of a process: a series of rewritten books, with a predetermined target group, with sales limited until Saxon can have most homeschoolers trapped in the fuzzy world of new-new-math.

2) I have communicated with sellers of homeschooling materials who explain that Harcourt refuses to sell them any hardback books, hinting of some contract Harcourt signed with schools. If this is true, the contract supposedly prevents H.A. from selling the previous hardback editions to homeschoolers. If such a contract exists, it was a ridiculous decision with grave implications. Homeschoolers’ money is as green as the money stolen from their paychecks to purchase HB books for public schools.

However, a decision to restrict sales would make sense if the following rumor is in actuality a truth: that Saxon’s goal may be to dumb down the homeschooling children with these new materials. In light of the suggestion of a contract to restrict sales, this additional tip/rumor causes me to wonder whether state schooling could be pressuring Saxon to harm homeschooling in hopes of compromising the academic progress that homeschooled students are making; of putting an end to homeschooled students excelling as publicly schooled students fail.

3) One correspondent mentioned that Saxon believes that the new soft cover books are “more suited to homeschoolers.” Why would that be? Why would it be appropriate to force homeschooled children into the world of Fuzzy Math, while public schools are allowed to buy effective, traditional math books?

4) Is Saxon/Harcourt not training its representatives well? Did HA not even take the time to learn about a major producer of scholastic materials before making the decision to purchase the entire company? What kind of business sense does that make?? I don’t even switch brands on important products before reading the labels, yet one reader writes that a HA rep wrote, in response to questions about the Saxon products, “…I have very little information for you and may not for a while since the Saxon products are very new to us at Harcourt and we are still learning about the homeschool markets…” Is Harcourt saying that the traditional Saxon books were rewritten to be “more suited to homeschoolers” even as they admit that they “are still learning about the homeschool market”? I have in my possession a copy of this email from the Saxon representative who admitted Harcourt’s ignorance about homeschooling. Why would any competently run organization buy another company then immediately change a successful product, then admit a lack of understanding of the market upon which they are forcing the new products?

5) Why do some of the most educated and competent mathematicians refer to “Harcourt Achieve” as the “slow learner” division of Harcourt? When I requested an explanation, I was provided with opinion backed by intelligent support and phrases like “…the least content heavy…” Is HA forcing homeschooled children into slow learner, content-weak products, and for what short-term objectives; for what long-term goals?

Additionally, I’ve heard that Harcourt Achieve even describes itself as the branch of Harcourt that “deals with students who are not ‘the best’ or even average.” I have also heard that when confronted about their target audience, the HA people reluctantly admitted that their focus was “intended [for] the students who were mostly behind, as a sort of ‘reclamation project’.”

Frankly, if homeschooled children are “a reclamation project” it is because we homeschooling parents have to de-program the children from the warping of attitudes, perceptions and loyalties that passes for education in state schooling. When our homeschooled children are academically delayed, it because little-to-no true scholastic and foundational instruction was ever given in the public schools prior to decisions by wise parents to bring their children home where they can receive a real and complete education.

Our public schools are the entity that should be considered for a reclamation project. I take that back. Better yet, let us close them all. Let us sell these prisons-for-children to the highest bidders — with every buyer forced to sign a contract, binding on self and any future owners, that the buildings will never again be used to house children in any capacity.

Let us encourage those who would homeschool — to homeschool; those who would send their children to private or religious schools — to do so; those wishing neighborhood, local schools — to gather and create the kinds of small schools to which individuals, in unique neighborhoods and communities, seek to send their children. Schooling is a family decision, not a federally mandated one. How did we ever allow it all to go so wrong?

If Saxon/Harcourt Achieve responds, I will write a follow-up article to report how they answered each of these questions suggested by letters from readers.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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