Notes From Babel

Jaime Escalante Was Just One Man; Teachers’ Unions Live Forever

with 2 comments

John Stossel reports on the passing of Jaime Escalante, of Stand and Deliver fame, whose tireless commitment to education put him directly at odds with teachers’ unions.

I would think that any reasonable education system would reward Mr. Escalante. But this is a unionized public school we’re talking about. As Reason Magazine reported several years ago:

One assistant principal threatened to have him dismissed, on the grounds that he was coming in too early (a janitor had complained), keeping students too late, and raising funds without permission.

Can you imagine if a private school operated like that? Sadly, the story gets worse.

After Stand and Deliver was released, Escalante became an overnight celebrity… This attention aroused feelings of jealousy. In his last few years at Garfield, Escalante even received threats and hate mail. In 1990 he lost the math department chairmanship, the position that had enabled him to [teach students from 9th grade on, so that they would have adequate preparation once they got to his calculus class.]

But Escalante kept teaching, sometimes with classes of 50 students or more.

Calculus grew so popular at Garfield that classes grew beyond the 35-student limit set by the union contract. Some had more than 50 students. Escalante would have preferred to keep the classes below the limit had he been able to do so without either denying calculus to willing students or using teachers who were not up to his high standards. Neither was possible, and the teachers union complained about Garfield’s class sizes. Rather than compromise, Escalante moved on.

School officials were unapologetic. One official said:

“We were doing fine before Mr. Escalante left, and we’re doing fine after.”

The result? Over the next five years, the number of students at the school passing AP calculus tests plummeted from 85 a year to just 11.

It is impossible to record all the innovations that unions have destroyed. But unions are clearly one reason that even though America spends more money on education than other countries, American students score near the bottom on international tests.

I caught some of Stand and Deliver on cable last night. It’s hard to accept that the unions would still defy Escalante after all he accomplished. If a story like his could not make a dent in the unions, it’s hard to imagine what in the world could.

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Written by Tim Kowal

April 3, 2010 at 9:52 am

2 Responses

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  1. Wow. Thanks for this Tim. Another story I can relate in my continued dislike of unions.


    April 3, 2010 at 10:36 am

  2. Legendary Jaime Escalate’s legacy will live on through the students that he taught, and those of us who remember and appreciate his commitment to teaching. He made the word “ganas” ([desire]to learn} stimulating and positive.
    It is sad that some negative elements of human nature such as jealousy, greediness and politics can be a cause to demolish goodness, achievement and excellence.
    Thanks Tim, love your blogs…

    Marlene Farooq MD

    April 3, 2010 at 6:08 pm

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