I do not agree that everything in New Math or New Chemistry or New Physics was junk.
A lot of it became junk after the New Math experiment essentially expired like the last waves at high tide on a beach, leaving behind bits of wrecked curriculum like so much driftwood.
For me, personally, what I experienced of New Math in decent (whites-only) US public schools after 1958 to 1964 was just fine. I enjoyed it. (Yes, I'm old enough to have fuzzy memories of being taken out to the yard around our near-suburban farm to look at Sputnik. And yes, I've seen and endured a lot of the pre-New-Math curriculum -- and I recall that it was boring as hell and made me hate math temporaritly, a subject I grew to love and, eventually teach.)
Also, what I experienced of an experimental chemistry and math course at a New England boarding school (PEA) in the mid-1960s was also quite positive. I was told, many years later, that the math in it was too hard for most teachers and students, in most schools, so it was quietly abandoned. It was a lot more enjoyable than, and more relevant than, but equally as rigorous as, the French version I took the next year. In what would have been my American senior year in HS, but which ended up with me going to school in a French lycee in France, needless to say, in French, and finally taking their ferocious final exam, the baccalaureat. There I took separate physics and chemistry courses and doing quite well on it, too. (Let me say as an aside that the group theory and sets and bases and modular arithmetic I did under "new math" as a lad in the US helped me immensely when we were studying that stuff VERY deeply for the secondary school level, in France. Otherwise I would've had no clue what they were talking about.)
I am sure there are folks who implemented New Math stupidly, not really understanding it, just sort of following 'group think', because, well, because we educators appear to like to go with the program. Just like many religions and political parties and movements and even change their ideas (for whatever reason) and fully expect everybody else to go along, no matter what, and OR ELSE, we have the same thing in education. There are these movements that spring up, and we teachers and parents and students or administrators or teacher-edcuators (depending on which role we hold at any given moment) are expected to master the new doctrine and the new vocabulary and new ideology and to fling it with the greatest of ease and the utmost confidence.
Regardless of whether there is any evidence whatsoever for the superiority of the new dogma.
So they attempted to teach New Math and botched it badly and then said the only solution was "back to basics" - which means going back to the horrible math books like those of Stein. Oh my god are those Stein books awful! Almost as bad as Saxon. The only diffeernce between Saxon and Stein is that with Stein, once you finish with a topic you never see it again, until next year, when you repeat the exact same thing with one extra digit, for no apparent reason or connection with anything. With Saxon, you keep repeating the exact same problems that have no intrinsic interest or reason to be learned except that he, John Saxon, felt like putting them together in a certain order for ease of computation. And you keep doing a set of 30 variations on the same problems for night after night. Yes, there is a certain logic. But it's not the logic of anybody who really knows anything about math.
In any case, for years after the demise of New Math, and for no discerrnable reason to most of the people who encountered them, just about every single math book at any age in the US would have sections on set theory Later, this was reduced to a chapter. Then just a few lessons in the first chapter. Then one lesson. Then it became part of the introduction (which no one uses). Then it was relegated to the appendix. Then it disappeared completely from the secondary curriculum - even in geometry books where it might be useful when discussing logic.
Perhaps we can simply agree to disagree, and have different teachers or departments teach math or science or whatever from different perspectives? I think it helped me to realize that there indeed were really different ways of looking at what some may think is a permanent, immutable, everlasting science or math or whatever curriculum. It's a lie. It's all put together by committees....
I think you can draw some conclusions from these earlier examples about the current fad of Leave No Child Untested and Leave No Teacher Unpunished I think some of the worst aspects of this thing, as well as Race to the Trough, is how compulsory it all is...
==================================================== By the way, one of the main reasons I did the math and science thing in French (there are choices) is that it's quite similar to the English version. After you realise that for $4,908.60 they will write FF4.908,60 and they do long division differently and potassium sulphate becomes 'sulphate de potassium' and calcul integral is almost the same, and they abbreviate the tangente d'un angle x as tg(x) and they speak of the cosinus and sinus, those trivia weren't that hard for me.
However, having the patience to try to get through ultra-boring Racine and Corneille (French playwrights roughly contemporary with Shakespeare ) oh man, that was torture. (On the other hand, reading Descartes' "Discours sur la methode" was great. French is a great language for writing technical stuff with great precision and clarity. When I try translating stuff into English, it's always much longer and less felicitous-sounding, too...
In France, they still make a decision on what to specialize in around 10th grade. Not everybody goes on to the lycee, and to the baccalaureat track. I don't know what the percentages are, at all. I know that a lot of youngsters go on to one-, two-, or three-year training programs of one sort or another, get that certificate, and then go on ... And for some it's to the unemployment line, I'm sure, or to working outside of their specialty, whatever it was. I just read a book called Le Quai de Ouistreham by a relatively well-known French journalist who actively sought work for a number of months in the north of France (it's supposed to be translated soon). A lot of the expressions were quite new-fangled, since the technology didn't even exist when I last lived in France over 40 years ago, and I was unaware of it when I visited for some time agnout 10 years ago. In any case, there are lots of young to middle-aged folks in France who are scrounging just like folks in the US. When she got a permanent job scrubbing toilets and cleaning decks on one of the ferries that goes between France and the UK right across the English Channel, it was a huge step up: she would begin to earn benefits! (Although health insurance was taken for granted...)