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Jaime Escalante, Rip

Lisa Snell
March 31, 2010, 12:39pm

Reposted and written by  Matt Welch at Reason's Hit and Run. 

The famous East L.A. calculus teacher, immortalized by the Edward James Olmos biopic Stand and Deliver, died from bladder cancer yesterday at age 79. The L.A. Times obit hints at what happened in the rest of the story:

He was called a traitor for his opposition to bilingual education. He said the hate mail he received for championing Proposition 227, the successful 1998 ballot measure to dismantle bilingual programs in California, was a factor in his decision to retire that year after leaving Garfield and teaching at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento for seven years. [...]

Unpopular with fellow teachers, he won few major teaching awards in the United States. He liked to be judged by his results, a concept still resisted by the majority of his profession.

Much more on Escalante's problems with the education establishment in this classic 2002 Reason piece about the celebrated teacher's "shamefall fall."  Excerpt:

It is less well-known that Escalante left Garfield after problems with colleagues and administrators, and that his calculus program withered in his absence. That untold story highlights much that is wrong with public schooling in the United States and offers some valuable insights into the workings -- and failings -- of our education system. [...]

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.

[T]here is no inner-city school anywhere in the United States with a calculus program anything like Escalante's in the '80s. A very successful program rapidly collapsed, leaving only fragments behind.

Whole thing here.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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