Mar 2, 2014 by

“Hayes: Saxon Math Is Right — Fuzzy, Common Core Math Is Wrong”

by Nakonia Hayes, Classroom Teacher, Principal, Author



PODCAST – On 2.26.14 Joy Pullman of Heartland Institute interviewed Nakonia (Niki) Hayes, an expert on Saxon Math vs. ineffective, fuzzy, reform, Common Core math.

Niki tells the story of John Saxon, a retired military man turned math teacher, who almost singlehandedly started the “math wars” in the 1990’s.  Niki is a long-time teacher who is still teaching Saxon math, a former principal, and the author of John Saxon’s Story: A Genius of Common Sense in Math Education.


In the podcast, Niki gives the intimate details of John Saxon’s life, shares his legacy, and explains, as only a traditional math teacher can do, why Saxon Math is effective while fuzzy/Common Core math is not. Hayes and her book (c. 2010) can be found at Amazon.com and http://saxonmathwarrior.com.




Below, Henry W. Burke has provided a partial transcript of the 2.26.14 interview with Nakonia (Niki) Hayes:

[Introductory comments by Henry W. Burke: The curriculum director for a large public school district (in a non-Common Core state) recently made the statement, “It is simply impossible to find textbooks that are not aligned with the Common Core Standards.” This school administrator is wrong. There are many books that are not tied to the poor Type #2 Common Core Standards philosophy of education. The Saxon Math textbooks are obvious examples of good Type #1 education books. (Link to Type #1 vs. Type #2 chart: https://www.educationviews.org/comparison-types-education-type-1-traditional-vs-type-2-cscope-common-core/ )


Partial transcript of interview:


John Saxon held three engineering degrees, but he is most well known as the father of Saxon Math. John Saxon joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and later graduated from West Point. Saxon was a highly decorated U.S. bomber pilot during the Korean War.

John Saxon comes from a family of teachers; his mother, father and aunt were teachers. His father also became a principal and superintendent. John Saxon loved history and foreign languages, but he did not like math. However, he discovered that math allowed him to do what he loved — fly airplanes. Because he was not a math whiz, he learned to explain math in a down-to-earth, clear way.

After teaching at the Air Force Academy and retiring from the Air Force (as a Lieutenant Colonel), he started teaching Algebra at a local community college in Oklahoma. At the Air Force Academy, he had the cream of the crop for students. The students in Oklahoma struggled with math. They weren’t stupid or dumb, he said; they just didn’t understand the basics of math. To make math more understandable, he made up his own curriculum and problems. One of the students told him he should write it down and add words to go along with the problems. By the end of the year, he had a manuscript.

John Saxon tested the material on 20 schools in Oklahoma and the official results were unbelievable. Saxon thought it was very important to prove that the course works in a one-year pilot program before expanding the audience. This success convinced him that he needed to publish the book.

John Saxon asked six publishers in New York City to publish the book, but none of them were interested. He was not part of their “club” and not on their committees. Even though he had three engineering degrees, he didn’t have their degrees in “Education.”

Not to be deterred, John Saxon decided to publish the book himself. He borrowed $80,000 and published his Algebra book. Because the Saxon Math textbook was so successful, he quickly became a multi-millionaire. He soon added K-12 math textbooks.

He started publishing ads and writing articles in numerous journals. He was a prolific writer and explained why the math establishment was wrong; he said they were corrupt and destroying education. They were horrified that a man who was not part of their group was selling math books. With his new wealth, Saxon gave away lots of books to needy schools.

One-half of the 1.5 million homeschoolers use Saxon Math. He sold 7 million Saxon Math books before he died in 1996. The book sales testify to his success.


Niki Hayes taught high school math and was the P-12 principal on an Indian Reservation in Washington State. Niki became a principal of an elementary school in Seattle, WA, because she knew math was very important in the early years of a child’s education.

Niki asked her staff to vote on the use of Saxon Math in the school and they agreed; some people called her a “Neanderthal” for using Saxon Math. In her elementary school, Saxon Math was very successful. Many teachers came to her, closed the door, and told Niki that they understood math for the first time!

She tells the story of Navajo students near Window Rock, AZ, who chose John Saxon as their graduation speaker in the 1990’s, rather than choosing the governor.  They said Saxon Math had helped them prepare for college.

Niki Hayes believes in the ABC’s of learning. Learning needs Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity. Teachers must make learning simple and rich. Saxon Math is very user friendly, yet students learn rigorous math principles.


John Saxon piloted Saxon Math before he published it. John Saxon insisted that he prove it works on real students before publishing the book.

Saxon Math promotes creative thinking with the problems. John Saxon said, Creativity springs unsolicited from a well-prepared mind.” Saxon maintained that students already know how to think. They simply needed the math foundation and knowledge. Saxon’s books do not have fancy graphics; he did not want to waste the space with non-essential material. He used it instead to offer explanations on how to work the problems. He was very concerned about equity issues among students, but he based that concern on building excellence of results which would then allow a growth in equitable opportunities.

“Beautiful explanations do not lead to understanding,” said Saxon. He didn’t care if the students didn’t like math. John Saxon knew that when they learned to do the math they would feel good about it. Once you get it, you cannot understand why everyone doesn’t use Saxon Math.

The Saxon Company was sold in 2004 to a large textbook company. The K-8 books are still O.K.; they did not change those books. Niki Hayes recommends that people use the pre-2004 books (editions 1 through 3) for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.



Saxon Math is Traditional Math. Traditional Math is based on 2,000 years of teaching math. Our parents and grandparents learned Traditional Math in school and they learned math algorithms. Algorithms are certain procedures that, if used correctly, work every time; and people get the correct result! You simply take Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and that leads to the correct answer. With Traditional Math, answers and accuracy count. Results matter!

In Saxon Math, calculators are not used in K-5 grades. In the early years, students need to learn the times tables and long division; they work the problems out by hand. Repetition promotes learning and understanding.

If Saxon Math does not work, blame the book. With the Common Core Standards (Reform Math), you cannot blame anyone or anything; it was created by a committee. Hence, there is no accountability.

The Reform Math proponents scoff at algorithms and multiplication tables. They say those methods are a waste of time because students can use calculators. Instead, Reform Math advocates promote “process.” Process is the product, not results.

Reform Math is manipulative; they have lots of discussion and lots of hands-on activities. They talk about math a great deal and try to get people to feel good about math. In Reform Math or Common Core Math, “group-think” is very important; group activities are highly encouraged. They include lots of fuzzy, fun things.

Common Core Math (Reform Math) is inductive not deductive thinking. Reform Math urges the students to discover new ways to do multiplication and division. (Forget about the methods that have worked for thousands of years.)

With Reform Math/Fuzzy Math/Common Core Math, there are no wrong answers. Students can say 2 + 2 = 5, as long as they can explain the answer. “Students need to enjoy the journey.” The following is an absurd but real example that can be seen in Reform Math: “This is the number 5; color it and give it a name. Write a story about it.”

When teachers come out of college after four years, they still must be trained to teach math. It takes at least two years of training (professional development) to teach Reform Math. Because new teachers only last about five years, constant professional development is required. With Saxon Math, teachers can be trained in three hours! Saxon Math is straightforward and easy to understand.


Reform Math is all about feelings and entertainment; it is not about learning math. Reform Math’s tentacles are engrained into the statehouses and urban administrations. They vilify Saxon Math because if he’s right, that means they are wrong; and they are selling training materials and consulting services. Reform Math is very expensive because it requires many consultants, bells, and whistles.

Technology is highly promoted in the Common Core Standards; and technology is very expensive! Common Core Standards (Reform Math) is all about the money, power, and prestige! It is not about the children; it is about the adults!

*Partial transcript by Henry W. Burke – hwburke@cox.net



Donna Garner


Published by Jimmy Kilpatrick

by Education News
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  1. Tim

    I call bullshit and I would be happy to prove it.

  2. TCliff

    I have a BIG problem with the “either/or” mentality. I was a middle school math teacher in the 90’s, teaching at a K-8, L.A. inner-city school. I fully embraced the New Math’s push for hands-on, concrete, exploration approach for the early learning of the fundamentals of mathematics, after studying how the early grades were taught in China, for example. I also embraced Saxon’s approach to the algorithms in the higher grades, his spiral of learning, etc. If TIME is given to the child and the teacher to build the strong coneptual (“conceptual” does not mean the esoterics of mathematics, rather the hands-on and concrete understanding of basic math CONCEPTS)in the early grades (using things like base ten blocks and rods,fraction manipulatives and pictures, etc) then the students are able to progress more rapidly and more abstractly (“abstract” as in algorithms and algebraic variables) in the higher grades. Without the conceptual undertstanding early on, math becomes either magic and arbitrary (you do this and then this and then you get the right answer…why is it right?…cuz the teacher said so)…or math is seen as something that some other kids just “get” and some “don”t. I talk to too many adults (educated in the 90’s and before, and now) that are all too happy to announce they are no good at math, never were, hated math in school…they never “understood” it. Many people turn off math when they stop believing that it makes sense, that it is real…that all they are doing is a set of steps that someone tells them will get them the right answer. I am still convinced that both approaches are needed.