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Saxon Math is one of those curriculums that has taken on a life of its own in the homeschool community because its packaged and marketed well. It is also comprehensive in that it takes a family from K-12 in one subject, so you don't have to keep finding a new program every couple of years. People swear by it because it's simple and it "feels" right. It reminds us of the rote learning many of us did in math way back when we were in school. But, really when you get right down to it, Saxon is one of those math curriculums that basically says: math is a chore, just do it and get it over with.
Nonetheless, Saxon math has been reviewed extensively by mathematicians and others and it generally receives an unfavorable review, in terms of being a sound approach to teaching math. One of the best organizations that reviews math and science textbooks is Project 2061.
You can read their review in its entirety at Project 2061.
Here are some quotes for that report:
1 - Overall, analysts rated Math 65, Math 76, and Math 87 as unsatisfactory in helping students achieve the number, geometry, and algebra benchmarks used for the evaluation.
2 - This material is organized by lessons and has no units or chapters. Most lessons open with a brief statement related to the direction of the lesson or what students will do in the lesson. There is rarely commentary for the students or the teacher on how to set up the lesson and almost no information given that would help students to see a relationship between this lesson and lessons in the past or future. Because the presentation of a skill or concept is very systematically sequenced within a lesson or part of a lesson, one can infer the rationale for the sequence of activities, although there is none stated. In some lessons, two unrelated ideas are presented back-to-back, with no rationale for their juxtaposition. Skills and concepts are sequenced in the sense that, somewhere in the text, students may encounter the next step or level of an idea.
3 - The experiences provided are mainly pencil and paper activities. . . For the algebra graphs and algebra equations concepts, no variety of contexts is offered. Most firsthand experiences are found in the supplementary materials where students are given a few opportunities to do measurements, work with paper models of figures, collect data, and construct graphs.
Another review done by the state of Alabama had this to say about Saxon:
Saxon is strictly a skill based, teacher scripted mathematics program. It offers daily repetition of taught skills. Although research has shown that an investigative approach is the most effective way for students to develop mathematical understanding, Saxon focuses on a limited range of procedural skills. The program emphasizes basic facts and practices at the expense of building conceptual understanding. The program does not promote communication of mathematical thinking, application to real-life problems, or application of mathematical ideas to unique situations. This instructional approach does not correlate with the mission and goals of TEAM-Math. This program is not recommended for textbook adoption.
The text is user friendly and contains daily repetition of skills being taught. It contains traditional assessments every fifth lesson and daily timed self-assessments for students. The text also contains several weaknesses. The text contains limited inquiry-based problem solving. There is limited challenge for higher-achieving students, no open-ended assessment, no individualized practice, no pictures, and no background materials for teachers. Overall, the text strictly focuses on skills, with little emphasis on computational fluency. There is also no integration of technology. Ninety percent of the committee members at these grade levels currently use Saxon alone or integrated with other texts, but the reviewers feel the text alone does not support inquiry based learning or support conceptual development of mathematical ideas for the real world.
To be fair, a mathematician from California State University, LA had this to say about Saxon:
Math 54 presents a sequence of lessons (142) rather than being broken into chapters. Once they have been introduced, the ideas are used throughout the book. Nearly everything from the Core Knowledge Sequence is present in the book and, more than that, used. In the numbers, fractions, computation, and measurement categories, I only saw use of the square root sign missing. Geometry is a little below the CK list, there are no parallelograms or trapezoids, for example, nor use of the ideas of similar and congruent figures.
The real strength of all of the Saxon materials is their fully developed philosophy of incremental review. Topics are introduced gradually. Immediate competence is not expected since different students pick up new ideas at different rates. Eventually, however, every student is doing every topic with reasonable proficiency. This philosophy persists all the way down to the kindergarten materials and it works very well.
February 23, 2020