Detracking Middle School Math

by Finn

Few things rival the calculus track for their place in Totebagger culture (the half cookie being one of those few). Thus, getting their kids into the right math track in middle school is of vital importance to Totebaggers, who may find this new trend alarming.

Is it time to stop segregating kids by ability in middle school math?

98 thoughts on “Detracking Middle School Math

  1. In my kids’ district, 8th grade is the first time kids are “officially” tracked in math; the higher math kids take Algebra 1, while the other kids take another year of general math and then do Algebra 1 in ninth grade. Neither one of my kids made the cut for 8th grade algebra, and I’m fine with that; I want them to be in a class that matches their abilities, and they both would have been overwhelmed with an advanced class. They are both diligent students, and I am confident that they can learn a good deal of math in an appropriately-paced class, but they just don’t have the natural “math minds” that some other kids have. I’m also glad that the higher kids have the chance to forge ahead more quickly.

    In our high school, tracking begins in earnest for all subjects, with all the core academic subjects for 9th graders divided into “Honors” (highest track), “College Prep 1” (middle track) and “College Prep 2” (lowest track).

  2. the persistent belief that some people are good at math and others aren’t

    Isn’t that a fact rather than a belief?

  3. Our district tracks kids into honors math in 6th grade or 7th grade. It used to be double accel; or single accel, but now it is just honors because it isn’t accelerated math. There is one section of honors math in 6th grade, but there are two or three sections by 7th grade depending on the size of the grade. There are at least two co-taught math sections too. In my District, parents are fighting hard to get their kids into the co-taught sections. That co-taught placement is subjective, but they use ten different data points to track into honors math. Teacher recommendation is one factor, but it has to come from two different teachers – the 5th and 6th grade math teachers. The other factors are state standardized test scores (if available), math class assessments, in school assessment at the end of 5th grade for all kids, overall GPA plus a few other things that are all voluntary to show interest in math. The school uses these last few data points to try to infer if this is something the student wants vs. the parent. For example, there are math competitions at lunch – these include Continental math and some other math clubs. All of these happen once a month and a student just has to attend one time to show “interest” in math. There is an appeal process and some kids will get into the honors section if the parent and student can explain why they want to place into the program. There is still another chance in HS to place into honors so the door isn’t closed.

    There is no other tracking in our District until the HS. No honors English, Social Studies, language, science, etc. I think this is the part that is unfair because some kids should probably be tracked in ELA/SS. I was tracked in third grade into a G & T program. I placed into a similar program for middle school. All of my classes were in this program and it wasn’t just math. I am a fan of these programs because I was with my peer group and it resulted in classes that moved quickly without disruption. I attended public schools in one of the poorest counties in the state so there was racial and economic diversity in my middle school classes. There was less in my smaller elementary school since it was a neighborhood school, but my middle school was much larger. It was all rich white or Asian kids in the G & T program.

    I have compared my education with DDs experience. I attended public schools in NYC with very large classes. NYC was practically bankrupt and I still think that I had a comparable education. This is the first year that she is with her peers for most of her academic classes. The result is less disruptions and more education.

  4. I didn’t have Math tracking growing up but those who were good at Math or diligent enough to practice ended up in some quantitative career anyway. For STEM careers you had to score high enough on the state exams for Math and Science and some prestigious colleges had entrance exams as well. So, lack of tracking didn’t mean that there were no sorting points along the way. I would prefer everyone to have a solid Math education and my own experience says that those that have the ability and/or diligent will sort themselves out eventually.
    Kids school has gatekeeping of the different levels of classes. I don’t totally agree but I have a better understanding of the system now.

  5. #1 is in the “extended” math class this year in 7th, which means she’ll take algebra next year. In the meantime she is really bored in math this year, which is similar to how I was in 7th grade (shakes fist at my since deceased math teacher). They don’t get other tracking until HS. I am now wondering about the quality of our HS but I try to swat away those thoughts if they come up, because we’re def not ponying up $60K/year for private HS!

  6. “But almost immediately, parent opposition sprouted. At district meetings on the detracking effort, parents swamped administrators with questions. How would students be picked for eighth-grade algebra? What research had informed the move? How would children who excelled at math learn alongside students who were struggling?”

    That last question is the key.
    We would never put kids who struggle to stay afloat in the same swim class as those who can already do the backstroke, even if the struggling kids ARE mostly minority and the others are not.

    Why is math different?

  7. I learnt a lot from the Totebag about tracking. Kids school was not transparent on the tracking data points in middle school. They are now and future students will benefit.

  8. Our schools started tracking in fourth grade for both Math and Reading. In fifth grade they add another math level. DD1 was placed into the middle Math level in 5th grade and remains on that track. First level will have Alg. in 7th grade, Middle is 8th grade, and then rest of the kids will have algebra in 9th.

    I like that they tracked Reading early, as it has been great for DD1 to stay engaged in class, as well as be around her peers, that are as equally excited about learning as she is. Moving into the middle level for math has also been great. It is more challenging for her, but the kids are on the same “learning is fun” level, which makes her like Math more than she did in elementary school.

    Beginning this year they started an accelerated Science class for 6th grade. DD1 requested to not do it because the format would have meant less hands on science experiments, as well as it being a pilot, she didn’t like the unknown what to expect aspect. With this year begin what it is, there are no science experiments in the traditional science. oh well.

  9. I had to supplement math education when kids were in elementary/middle school. There was not enough effort and time paid to true mastery of algebra, multiplication, division, etc. Other than that, I have never had problems with math classes for my kids.

  10. My favorite anecdote is an acquaintance, now a nationally recognized math professor, whose 6th grade math teacher insisted he needed to learn 6th grade math. His parents disagreed and had him tested for placement at the local university. He tested out of all courses through Calculus 3 and into Ordinary Differential Equations.

    His 6th grade teacher had no idea of his skills because she never tested him at the level he was working at.

  11. My kids started getting tracked in second grade for math. It was mostly the regular curriculum with a few additional things from the next grade. My personal beef with the math curriculum is how they spiral the curriculum, not tracking or not tracking. But, I ask think people’s expectations of public schools and what they can offer are much too high, so I keep my mouth shut and just make sure my kids learn to do math like it is still 1985.

  12. “The teachers worried the process for tracking children was overly subjective. Students were placed in regular or accelerated math at the end of fifth grade based on teacher recommendations. But teachers complained of sometimes feeling pressured by parents to recommend their children for accelerated math.”

    Seems like this is the root of the problem, not the idea of tracking itself.

  13. I don’t know what it is like in other places, but there is a lot of attention and $$$$$ for kids that need support services. This is a big deal around here and it is not PC to ask about $ for accel or honors classes/programs. As a result, there is little to no $ for classes for the gifted kids. Also, the administrators do not want to deal with parents about kids that should be/not be in these programs.

    I know that my own experience wasn’t perfect, but it was nice to be able to learn with kids of similar ability for ten years instead of a couple of years. A local friend shared something that her daughter said when she came home after her first semester at Wash U. She told her mom that she loved college because multiple people in each class would engage in class discussions because they understood the text, books or material. She said it was nice that she had multiple people to work with outside of class.

  14. My personal beef with the math curriculum is how they spiral the curriculum, not tracking or not tracking.

    This exactly. My observation is that in elementary little attention is paid to making sure that mastery is achieved before moving on to the next topic. The result is that there is a subset of kids whose parents will do supplemental Math education. The Totebag crowd will do this themselves, other parents (minority parents included) use places like Kumon.

  15. Rocky Mountain Stepmom – instead of teaching topics to mastery, they teach a little bit every year. So, for instance, in second grade, they might do multiplication for x1, x2, and x10. Then in third grade they will add some more. I forced my kids to memorize all from 1-12 the first time they learned multiplication.

  16. For some subjects, I think spiraling is fine. For instance, science is something that you can touch on different sub parts every year with additional material as the kids get older amd able to handle more complex parts of the topic. I hate it for math.

  17. When I was in 6th grade, my mom went in and complained about my being bored in math, and the teacher explained they were doing “spiral learning” – teaching it once, then going around and teaching it again and adding a little more, and then going around and teaching it again. My mom asked “But what about the kids who learn it all the first time?” The teacher had no answer for her – needless to say I learned nothing in 6th grade math since I already knew it all!

  18. My kids are tracked for reading and math here, but it feels very low stakes. I wonder if that is the difference? In DS class (of about 24) there are 4 or 5 math groups. The class is a combined 2nd and 3rd grade class. I found out recently that second-grade DS is in the highest group – the teacher noted he is the only kid his age there. We are almost to the end of the school year here (12.5 more days!) – and the teacher (who will likely be the same for him next year) said, “I don’t know what we will do with him next year, but we’ll figure out something.” It’s all quite casual, and fluid – I think the kids have changed reading/math groups multiple times through the year. I asked DS what he thought about the math group, and he said he didn’t know the groups were different.

    On the original article – I think these multi level classes work really well with smart and motivated teachers. However, I think there are some teachers who are never going to get to that level, and then the class is taught to the average kid. I suspect that Ithaca is full of very high quality teachers – I don’t think this kind of program scales to the kind of districts that need it most.

  19. My mom asked “But what about the kids who learn it all the first time?” The teacher had no answer for her – needless to say I learned nothing in 6th grade math since I already knew it all!

    Would the actual reason be that they are using it to sort for TPS cover sheet compliance/agreeableness?

  20. Kids are tracked in our district in all subjects. Math is the earliest, though. It happens going into 7th grade. The cutoff for honors math when my kids went through was strictly a 90 or over for the first 3 quarters. Nothing else is used. DD made iinto 7th grade honors math but then they apply the same criteria again to get into 8th grade honors. DD missed that by a few points, so she had to go into regular 8th grade math. And do you know what that consisted of? The EXACT SAME CONTENT as 7th grade honors!!!! She had to repeat an entire year of math simply because she had an 87 average in 7th grade math. It was INEXCUSABLE. They were treating her as if she had failed 7th grade math. She did virtually no work in 8th grade math and got a 100 on everything.

    She is finally learning new material in 9th grade math, but still is not working very hard for her 97 average. The teacher is totally checked out. The only option she has for getting back on the calculus track would be to take double math next year which would mean she couldn’t take orchesta. Really unfair.

    The thing that is most unfair, though, is that the teachers on the nonhonors track in all subjects are the burnout cases. My oldest took regular, nonhonors history through HS and did virtually no writing. It was all plug and chug worksheets. There was a big difference between the teaching in the nonhonors history compared to the honors science and math classes that he was in. It is the same for DD – the teachers for her honors ELA and history go the extra mile and really seem to care. Her teachers in nonhonors science and math just hurl worksheets at them every day and do little else. Science has been a series of subs, and the current sub can’t even figure out how to post assignments on Classrrom so he just projects pictures of the assignment during class and has everyone fill in the answers right then. No homework at all. I hope they are not going to hold the Regents exams this year because those kids in the science class are not going to be prepared.

    I used to be all for tracking until I experienced the reality. It is clear our school district only cares about the kids in the honors classes.

  21. “This exactly. My observation is that in elementary little attention is paid to making sure that mastery is achieved before moving on to the next topic. The result is that there is a subset of kids whose parents will do supplemental Math education. ”

    It isn’t just math either. There is no interest in elementary school in making sure kids can actually construct sentences, or write basic paragraphs. They do a lot of creative writing, but don’t learn the basics. And then, bam!, in 7th and 8th grade ELA they are suddenly expected to write coherently.

  22. Several decades ago the school district here moved to spiral math (also known as Chicago Math and Everyday Math). They were an early adapter. It was highly praised as the way to catch up to other nations in the math race. What they learned is that the top 10% students will always perform high regardless of the type of instruction and that parents will supplement as they see fit. The middle 80% will slowly make their way through it, no better no worse. The bottom 10% will suffer completely and end up with a dislike for Math and lower than expected grades. The teachers found themselves having to spend more and more time on the getting the 80% up to speed, and the remaining 20% were left behind.

    Several years ago we moved to Singapore Math (more like the math we were all taught back in the day) and it has been night and day for us. DD1 suffered through Everyday Math. She was getting extra help with a math specialist. Per her neuropsych, math concepts take 5x longer to learn than an “average” kid. By the time she would understand something, they’d move onto a new topic and she’d forget what she just learned, and have to learn something knew. Always a struggle and she hated it. Now, per my earlier post, she doing great under the Singapore model.

  23. RMS, spiralled curriculum has been around since the 60’s. It was how I learned math, for example. Because it was the norm, I don’t think anyone paid it much mind. In the 90’s, when American educators first started looking at international norms, they noticed that not all countries used spiralled approaches, and that was when people first started debating about “mastery” learning vs spiralled education
    https://demmelearning.com/mastery-vs-spiral-the-debate-continues/

  24. RMS, spiralled curriculum has been around since the 60’s.

    Well, that’s not how we learned it. Addition and subtraction and some other stuff in first grade, times tables and division in second grade, etc. Every year built on the previous year. That seems logical to me, but maybe that’s because of how it was taught when I was a kid.

  25. We don’t track for any subjects before math in sixth grade, with the exception of DS1’s new accelerated math program starting in fourth grade – and that program is the only reason I can leave him in public school.

    It is no more “fair” to leave a kid with an IQ of 140 in a class aimed at the median than it is to expect a kid with an IQ of 60 to function without support in that class. It’s demoralizing and it results in disengagement and bad behavior.

    Someone ought to quantify the high-IQ students – particularly in less wealthy districts – who never go to college or perform to their potential because they were bored out of their minds until high school (or through high school).

    I have no problem with making the tracks flexible and offering voluntary summer courses for kids who want to move up a level.

  26. I did “new math” which actually was pretty decent except that the teachers hated it. I seem to recall we did multiplication and division in third grade, not second. We had this weird self paced system where you completed color coded cards on your own. Of course I didn’t bother, and my parents got called in for a lengthy parent teacher conference after I literally went for 2 months doing nothing.

  27. Sky, schools don’t do IQ testing so they have no way of knowing. Kids get educational testing if they are being evaluated for IEPs. The testing includes multiple measures.

  28. “The only option she has for getting back on the calculus track would be to take double math next year which would mean she couldn’t take orchesta.”

    Is summer school not an option? At my kids’ school, that was a commonly used onramp.

  29. “But what about the kids who learn it all the first time?”

    We’ve discussed here in the past how many of us discreetly read books under our desks.

    For those whose kids are called on to help kids who are having difficulty keeping up, I suggest you encourage your kids to embrace that. IME and IMO, teaching others necessitates a greater depth of understanding of the subject matter, i.e., your kids will benefit from the experience.

    It also could also help set them up for lucrative tutoring gigs later.

  30. “In DS class (of about 24) there are 4 or 5 math groups. The class is a combined 2nd and 3rd grade class.”

    That sounds a lot like the Montessori approach taken at my kids’ preschool.

  31. Also despite our laissez-faire approach to almost everything, like shoes, math grouping, instructional time instead of sports, we are big into diagramming sentences.

  32. Back in my day, I was also tracked out of honors math but was able to catch back up by taking summer school. Alas, our district does not do summer school. And no, they don’t accept summer school from other districts.

  33. From the bottom of the referenced article:

    “This story about middle school math was produced by the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.”

    A lot of the stuff the Hechinger Report focuses on seems to be at odds with the needs of totebaggy kids, as if they see education as a zero-sum game in which policies that benefit GT kids necessarily comes at the expense of kids struggling to keep up.

    This might be an example of that.

  34. DS was in Montessori through 5th grade, which was pretty much built for differentiation, then his 4th-5th grade teacher went the extra mile to get traditional math materials to challenge DS.

    Since he transferred to public middle school, his math classes have been very much like my 80’s/90’s math classes – not this “spiral” thing that I am just learning about today. The textbook looks like it could, quite literally, be my math book from 1988. (and it’s got about 30 years of wear & tear too) He is in a test-in program though, so the entire school is “tracked” in a way. Like Lauren said – it is really great for him to be with all kids who are accelerated. The math is still too easy for him, but he does more advanced IXL & Khan lessons for extra credit through his teacher – even with “tracking” there needs to be some differentiation to keep all the kids engaged and mastering the material. And it’s not even just that some kids are better at math – some concepts are easier for some kids to learn than others.

    In 9th grade, from what I have learned, there is quite a bit of testing in and out of different math classes, so there is a chance to level up or down at that point as well.

  35. Sky – do they truly do IQ testing? My experience is that standardized testing in elementary is heavily achievement oriented (i.e. smarter balance testing, ITBS). Achievement testing favors prepared kids.

  36. And, off topic, Amazon seems to have messed up their supply chains. I want to order a few echo devices that my mom could ship to me (we can’t buy local, and the alternatives are far more $$). However, I have now aborted three different echo products because they are promising delivery in “3-6 months”. And, I was willing to go with any color, including “plum”

  37. “spiral learning”

    I guess I agree with the theory behind this.

    In college, I tried to get at least a little ahead in my reading, forcing myself to plow through material even if I wasn’t understanding it well, because I found I learned more from the lectures if I’d had prior exposure to the material.

  38. In college, I tried to get at least a little ahead in my reading, forcing myself to plow through material even if I wasn’t understanding it well, because I found I learned more from the lectures if I’d had prior exposure to the material.

    Well, that’s definitely true, but that doesn’t sound like what people are talking about.

  39. Ada,

    The 3rd gen Echo Dot is back ordered till march. The 4th gen is available for delivery Dec 3-11.

  40. Finn – spiral learning cycled from one topic to another. The average kid just begins to understand the topic and solve a few problems before they went on to the next topic. Not enough time or practice problems to be able to retain it. The next year the same concepts at a higher level but unfortunately the kids have never retained the concepts from the previous year. A utter disaster for the average kid, IMO. If the early Math foundation is not strong it’s not possible to solve higher level problems quickly or accurately. I am talking of average kids, not kids who are high on the Math ability scale. I was average at Math, so I had to work my way through a lot of problems before I was fluent in a certain concept. Lack of Math over a long summer break is another issue. Other countries have shorter breaks at one stretch which help with material retention.

  41. “The next year the same concepts at a higher level but unfortunately the kids have never retained the concepts from the previous year.”

    Louise describes it accurately. One teacher told me that spiral instruction was a disaster for many average and below average kids. At the very least, it’s an inefficient way to teach students at all proficiency levels.

  42. The whole mastery vs sprial debate was raging in the early 00’s when I was looking into supplements for my oldest. At the time our district used some kind of hodgepodge put together by the teachers and had appallingly low standards in elementary school. Luckilly my oldest just snarfed in math – he read math books for fun – so it didn’t matter much. Later, when Common Core was a thing, the district adopted an actual math curriculum, which was supposedly mastery based and somewhat Singapore-like. It was way better and standards definitely went up. However, one of the things I noticed is that “mastery” doesn’t mean much because the teachers can’t actually teach to mastery. They have an alloted amount of time to teach Topic X, and when it is time to move on, they move on regardless of whether the kids actually got it or not. The only thing that was different from spiral was that the topics never get revisited. It was a problem for the two younger ones (oldest kid was beyond elementary math by then, and mastery came naturally to him, so it wouldn’t have been an issue for him), so we used to supplement with extra problems, some more challenging than what they were getting in school so we could see that the kids actually were getting it. This is a problem with all “mastery learning” approaches, which are much discussed in higher education too – eventually you run out of time.

  43. Count me as another spiral-math hater. They moved so fast each year that it was difficult to tell which concepts DD got and which she didn’t. She seemed to be doing fine — straight As in the honors math classes and all that. And then she hit algebra in 7th grade, and it was *immediately* clear that she had totally missed a number of important concepts, like the commutative property. Algebra really makes you take all those disparate rules and ideas and apply them in an ordered sequence, and what she had “learned” was a bunch of disconnected tidbits that just sort of floated around and refused to cohere. That was a painful year. (DS would have been just fine in that system, but they had changed by time he got there).

    I’m ambivalent about class structure. I do think that in the perfect world, teaching kids in classes with others of comparable ability is probably best. But I don’t know of any system for identifying those kids that isn’t subject to all sorts of issues and pressures that are completely unrelated to a kid’s ability or potential. So I see the promise of multi-level classes, but BOY does that require good teachers. DS had one of those classes in I think second grade — school had transitioned in order to make it easier for kids to get into the GT track later on instead of a hard track as of second grade. I was not a fan at the time, but it worked infinitely better than I feared. The teacher was absolutely amazing and kept the kids on point and made sure the more advanced kids had sufficiently challenging work to do.

    But, again, that makes things so much harder for the teachers, and so what do you do when you have crappy, unengaged teachers? I guess it’s only fair to share the pain of the bad teachers and not just truly relegate the poor kids to the trash heap of life; after all, since it’s the rich parents who have clout, maybe putting some of their kids in those classes could trigger a push for better teachers and better teacher training. But it’s not exactly a panacea; it’s just “what’s the fairest way to divvy up the crappiness.”

  44. switching topics….any bargains today? I picked up the new Apple SE watch for only $218 at Target. 230 minus my red card discount.

    i didn’t purchase any gifts for family, but my bakery treats for my SIL in the pouring rain were a hit. It was an example of it is the thought that counts because she was really happy that someone took the time to do this today. I think her bday gets lost because it is usually right after Thanksgiving.

  45. “I do think that in the perfect world, teaching kids in classes with others of comparable ability is probably best. ”

    I liked the Montessori approach of my kids’ preschool.

    “So I see the promise of multi-level classes, but BOY does that require good teachers.”

    The preschool teachers didn’t seem particularly special. If seemed what made it work well was the curriculum and structure more than the teachers.

    I’m curious of how well that works for older kids.

  46. “But, again, that makes things so much harder for the teachers, and so what do you do when you have crappy, unengaged teachers?”

    I’m wondering about causality here. Might the multi-level class cause at least some teachers to become better and more engaged than they would be trying to teach the same thing at the same time to a bunch of kids of widely disparate ability and background?

  47. “any bargains today?”

    Any good iPhone deals?

    We’re looking for a new phone for DD to replace her current iPhone 5s.

    Best deals for her seem to be $50 off at Costco, or $50 gift card and a free year of Apple TV from Apple for an unlocked iPhone SE.

    For someone not locked into a plan, Boost Mobile has the 64GB iPhone SE for $250. and monthly plans as cheap as $10.

  48. I am a big fan of Montessori (DD went to a Montessori preschool), but it takes a lot of special training and would be expensive at scale.

  49. We bought a pair of the new Google Audio speakers on sale. They have good reviews and can be hooked up in stereo. If we don’t like them, they can be moved to a bedroom and we can spring for something higher end.

  50. @Finn – We liked Montessori for early elementary school. It did seem to lend itself well to differentiation, even for less skilled teachers. The whole curriculum is designed for kids to work at their own pace in a way. DS was rarely bored and usually challenged. But I was becoming a bit less impressed as we got to the middle school curriculum. I felt like more traditional textbooks and classes and teachers with more subject matter expertise were going to be more beneficial, which is part of the reason why we left. He made the transition very easily – at least from a academic perspective.

    One thing we found too is that because he had been managing his own workload and timing for a long time in Montessori, he didn’t have any trouble going to the middle school, multiple teacher, multiple classroom, multiple rules organizational challenge. He says its even easier now that they are remote because no one even has weird ways to turn in hard copies – it’s all submitted in Google Classroom for every class. (e.g., the Math teacher had a very specific way of labeling hard copy papers & dinged you for not following it to the letter)

    “The preschool teachers didn’t seem particularly special. If seemed what made it work well was the curriculum and structure more than the teachers.”

    I think this was also more true with the younger kids. For elementary, DS had a great teacher who had also been a traditional elementary teacher with a strong background in reading/writing. That was helpful. Also, with the older kids, if the teachers aren’t strong in certain subjects, it starts to be problematic. It’s the subject matter expert vs teaching expert problem.

  51. I’m online shopping for Christmas gifts. Does anyone have a neck massager that they like? Currently I am the neck massager so am looking for a substitute 😉

  52. You know we never discuss that sort of thing at the totebag.

    LOL ! A good morning and Dec 1, laugh.

  53. I picked up another Roku for the basement and a new black puffer that I didn’t need. I have to focus on some real gifts for family and I will try to shop local instead of looking for bargains.

  54. As an aside, I am DONE with Best Buy. Best Buy wouldn’t price match the price for the Apple Watch from Target. It is their loss because they had to ship it to me and it takes me just a five minute drive to their store to return the watch. I gave them a chance to price match because the watch is still in transit, but Best Buy said no. I ordered the Roku from Best Buy last night because it was in stock at a local store and I was going to pick it up today.

    This is the email that Best Buy sent me an hour after I ordered the Roku stick. I don’t even know what this means, but I just went to Amazon and re ordered.

    “Unfortunately, we had to cancel your order because it has exceeded our orderable quantity limits. Please see our Conditions of Use, which explains order limitations and limited quantities.

    If you’d like to place an order for your business, our Account Managers at Best Buy for Business™ will be more than happy to assist you.

    For details regarding refunds and credits, see the What You Need to Know section below.

    Please accept our apology for this inconvenience. We value you as a customer and hope to see you again soon. ”

    I am trying to avoid Amazon, but now I can see why so many people just stick to Amazon.

  55. lol! “neck massager”

    “a new black puffer that I didn’t need”

    I was saved from buying a jacket that I may or may not need since it sold out before I could snag it at 45% off. This morning it’s back in stock at full price. I’ll keep an eye on it.

  56. I snagged a Roku too, because our current one dates from 2013 and is a bit laggy. I bought a lot of Christmas presents when we were in the city on Sunday, at the Bryant Park Christmas Village and the NY Historical Society and MMA. I feel like that supported enough independent vendors and cultural institutions that I can now shop Amazon with less guilt.

  57. I feel like that supported enough independent vendors and cultural institutions that I can now shop Amazon with less guilt. lol

  58. Lauren, that’s weird. It sounds like they think you are a business, not an individual. I’ve never had problems with them. When I was getting a new laptop last year I loved their 15 day return policy so I could try them out to see if I liked them. I think I bought and returned three.

  59. @Lauren – That is super weird and frustrating. Sounds like a glitch. I would be annoyed too. I have also had really good luck with Best Buy this year, although I ended up buying DS’s Xmas iPad from Costco because it was the best price by far.

    I think Room & Board thinks that I am a business now because I keep getting their “business interiors” ads. I may have spent enough there this year with the move to trigger something.

    Meanwhile, I know I have said it before, but I really can’t stand Amazon. The interface is terrible, all the shady 3rd party sellers with different return policies, the spam emails you get from 3rd party sellers begging for reviews on tiny purchases. Customer service is medicore at best. The drivers have improved a bit, but they still are no where near the caliber of UPS drivers. Why on earth can’t a mammoth tech company fix their ridiculously awful search/filter? There must be a reason that they don’t want to because they own Zappos which has one of the best filter/search interfaces around. MEH. I use it when I can’t find things anywhere else, need quick shipping on something I can’t buy from a local store, or really need to buy something obscure. I’ve been shopping way more at Target this year because of the drive up.

  60. Becky – I can recommend this one. We have it and given as gifts. It’s great. Available on Amazon.

    Naipo Shiatsu Back and Neck Massager with Heat Deep Kneading Massage for Neck, Back, Shoulder, Foot and Legs, Use at Home, Car, Office

  61. Ivy, I agree that the search capability on Amazon is not good. However, their recommendation algorithms are pretty good – they essentially developed the field of recommender algorithms back in the late 90’s. I always wonder why Netflix has such poor recommendation software.

    I use Amazon a lot but for certain things, I don’t like them. I do not like to search for clothes on Amazon for example. A site like Zappos, or even Target, gives you a more organized experience for searching for clothes. So I rarely use Amazon for clothing and never for shoes. On the other hand, our coffee maker died about a month ago, and it took DH about 30 minutes to identify the successor model, sort the reviews by stars so he could read some samples, and then decide that yes, we wanted the same coffee maker again. Two days later, it was sitting on the porch.

    I hate what Amazon has done to Whole Foods. WF was not my fave foodie store even before Amazon, but it was reliable for many things. Now, though, it is so annoying because it has turned into Amazon’s idea of a millenial hipster-emporium. The ones I have been to recently do not emphasize the produce nearly as much, and instead emphasize the takeout food and the whole app experience. I visited one in Manhattan last fall which was seriously annoying – huge throngs of people bunched up in the entry, all moving slowly because they were frantically tapping on their phones at the same time. Even fewer veggies, and far more “meals ready to eat” than even our local store.

  62. BTW, did you guys hear that the founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, died in a house fire in New London, CT.

  63. @MM- I completely agree with you about Whole Foods. Amazon has ruined Whole Foods. Also, there has been really high employee turnover since they took over and the CS has gone WAY down. There are two near my house, and one barely has a produce department at all anymore but has a massive section of mediocre takeout food. Also – I’ve noticed that they have stock issues way more often than other stores – I assume because they are pushing low inventory based on Amazon algorithms. Meh. It is still the best store near me for a lot of specific items, but I really use to enjoy shopping there and had relationships with the people who worked there, and now it’s just an okay grocery store – better than the local Kroger chain for some items.

  64. Since Amazon took over Whole Foods, I think I’ve been to one once. Tried their same day delivery but the one item I really wanted they ran out of after I’d already ordered, with no good substitute, and it was too late to cancel the entire order. Won’t bother with them again. Found what I needed at a local market.

  65. the spam emails you get from 3rd party sellers begging for reviews on tiny purchases.

    I’ve had a couple of purchases where they have offered a gift card in exchange for a five-star review. I tried to call out one of them for doing it in my review and Amazon rejected the review.

  66. Tampa’s Whole Foods was redone shortly before the buyout, and already featured several rows of fridges with MREs. I miss the funky store I used to ride my bike to in Austin!
    German Websites are generally bad, and Internet speeds aren’t great, but the Zalando site has great search and recommendations. It “knows” how big my son & I are, and will recommend sizes of a particular product based on that.

  67. I think Whole Foods started facing stiff competition from local grocery stores even before Amazon bought it. My local grocery (Kroger owned) is quite good and I thought I would miss Whole Foods, couldn’t wait for it to open here but when it came, it was lacking what my normal grocery store had. I stop by sometimes as their bakery it still better than my grocery store for cakes. Our independent bakers haven’t vowed me for birthday cakes, they tend to focus on special occasions

  68. “German Websites are generally bad, and Internet speeds aren’t great, ”
    I am surpised. It was in Karlsruhe that I bought my very first train ticket over the Internet. The Internet seemed far more pervasive, and the sites more useful, in Germany back then than in the US. Cool thing – I had a research project going back in the US that involved use of a 3D solid modelling tool that ran on a server at my US university. I was able run that software and have it display to my Sun workstation in the Karlsruhe lab, so I could work on it. I also managed a collaboration with a student back home using online tools of that era, while I sat in Karlsruhe. The university at least had plenty of Internet bandwidth, for the late 90’s that is.

  69. “Odd, he was locked in a storage area at 3:30am when the fire broke out”

    there’s something fishy going on

  70. @Milo/MM – yes, sounds like it’s still being investigated. I caught a bit of the story on GMA this morning and they were playing the 911 calls. i too love Zappos, and actually lost an employee to them years ago when they were still kind of a new thing. He’s done a lot of good in Vegas, it’s been interesting to read about his impact on the larger community.

  71. also, @Ada – I don’t know if you’re opposed to the echo show, but those are still shipping in December. Yikes, I just went to double check before posting this and the Echo Show 8 now says shipping in 3-6 months. I ordered one last Friday and it will be here in two weeks. (fingers crossed, I guess.) Anyway, the Echo Show 5 is a nifty size and says in stock on 1/1. I upgraded from on old cylinder one to a screen one as part of my prime day deal with the ring doorbell, and we like it so much I’ve already upgraded two others. Just wanted to pass along that as another, albeit slightly more expensive, option.

  72. On the Zappos guy, apparently several first responders referred to him as trapped, but one said he was barricaded in and wasn’t letting anyone in. It does sound like a strange situation. I had never read anything about him until this made the news, but he sounds like an interesting guy.

  73. @sunshine – thanks. Amazon won’t ship Amazon products here, so it has to get to my parents before next week in order to go in the big box of tech and men’s underwear that is getting shipped to us. I’ll live without my echo show.

  74. There was a recent case nearby that was a suicide, a woman covered herself in gasoline and lit her house on fire, then changed her mind. I wondered if the Zappos founder case was something like that.

  75. When no cause of death is reported for a youngish public figure, suicide is usually the cause.
    Especially here, when references to a tragic house fire could easily have been included in the news reports.

  76. “the search capability on Amazon is not good. However, their recommendation algorithms are pretty good”

    How many of you know exactly which story I was about to recount?

    I’ve posted it more than once. I’m wondering if I’ve posted it enough times than regulars here will remember.

  77. axs54, thanks for posting that.

    I’ve seen that sort of massager and thought about buying one but never pulled the trigger. I’d not known anyone who had one and could tell me how well it worked.

    My search for that also showed the Naipo Shiatsu Neck Back Massager Massage Pillow with Heat, Deep Tissue Kneading Massager for Shoulder, Lower Back, Leg, Foot, Muscle Pain Relief, Best Relaxation Gifts in Home Office and Car.

    We used to have something similar, a massage pillow, that I liked until it died. We paid about the same amount (around $40) for that one too.

  78. It’s also the case that some very successful people are in fact bipolar. People think bipolar means the manic episodes are equal to the depressive episodes. But that’s often not the case. It can be 98 – 2 and those manic episodes can involve tremendous productivity.

    One of the most famous cases is probably Winston Churchill.

  79. Hartford Courant, which is kind of the local paper for CT, says it was ruled accidental

  80. Becky, we also have a cheap neck massager from Miniso that’s IMO well worth what we paid for it, which IIRC was about $3.

    Something like this:

  81. “I really can’t stand Amazon. The interface is terrible, all the shady 3rd party sellers with different return policies, the spam emails you get from 3rd party sellers begging for reviews on tiny purchases.”

    I agree about the interface, and for us, a big issue with 3rd party sellers is different shipping policies. I’ve learned to check the Prime box in the filter column when doing searches which avoids a lot of the 3rd party issues.

    I’ve not gotten any of those spam emails begging for reviews, perhaps because I usually check the Prime box.

    “The drivers have improved a bit, but they still are no where near the caliber of UPS drivers.”

    We still get most of our Amazon stuff delivered by UPS or USPS. I don’t know of anything delivered to us by Amazon drivers.

    “Why on earth can’t a mammoth tech company fix their ridiculously awful search/filter?”

    My guess is they can, but choose not to.

    I like that Amazon makes some stuff easily available that wasn’t always so easily available; in particular, replacement parts that allow us to fix things rather than have to throw them away and replace them.

    Recent example– our garage door opener stopped working. Upon opening, it was obvious the starter capacitor was bad (it was literally cracked in half). I found a replacement at Amazon for about $13, ordered it, and in less than a week the opener was working again. Had I not been able to find the part myself, I’d have had to either buy and install a new opener for $200+, or call in a repair that IIRC starts at about $75.

  82. “I like that Amazon makes some stuff easily available that wasn’t always so easily available; in particular, replacement parts that allow us to fix things rather than have to throw them away and replace them.”

    This is exactly what I use Amazon for. I needed a replacement remote control for an old ceiling fan recently, and that is exactly where Amazon is the best option.

  83. Mooshi, I replied to your question about German wifi on the wrong page—sorry. I left you several links showing how slow it is and explaining why. There are also a ton of articles with titles like “why is Germany’s internet so bad?” available online.

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