Documentary Recalls Union Bosses’ Hounding of Math Teacher Extraordinaire

“The problem [for government union militants] was that Escalante’s classes were big. . . . He was setting a precedent, giving the message to the administrator: ‘If Escalante can do it, why not you?’” Image: Photo previously published in The Hispanic Blog, courtesy of Anthony Friedkin from Yahoo Community Immigrant Group
Public television is not generally known for exposing the flaws of government institutions other than the military and law enforcement. But this April PBS stations across America premiered School Inc., a three-part documentary that investigates why U.S. public schools underperform those of other wealthy countries, even though spending per pupil here is higher than it is virtually everywhere else in the world.

School Inc. is currently available for streaming on the PBS web site.

In a column published this week regarding the documentary, commentator John Stossel commended creator/writer/host Andrew Coulson (who passed away shortly before School Inc. was completed) for vividly showing how the public school bureaucracy stubbornly resists desperately needed changes in the way it does business. (See the link below to read Stossel’s whole piece.)

Coulson emphasized the detrimental impact of government union officials, who under laws now on the books in more than 30 states have the power to force school officials to recognize them as the monopoly-bargaining agents of teachers and other school employees on matters regarding their pay, benefits, and work rules.

As a key illustration, he cited the remarkable story of California math teacher Jaime Escalante, part of which was recounted in the acclaimed movie Stand and Deliver (1988, Warner Brothers). Stossel explained:

Escalante taught at California’s Garfield High School. The student body was, and is, composed of some of the most “disadvantaged” students in America. Yet more Garfield High students passed advanced placement calculus test than did students from Beverly Hills . . . .

Escalante was the reason. He was simply a better teacher.

One student tells Coulson, “He built a relationship with each student, knew them by name, knew their story . . . . Students didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Unfortunately, despite the incredible success of Escalante, the other math teachers he trained, and their students, his tenure at Garfield ended on a bitter note:

Coulson says, “In any other field, we might expect this combination of success, scalability, and publicity to have catapulted Escalante to the top of his profession and spread his teaching model across the country.” That isn’t what happened.

[Teacher union militants at Garfield] resented Escalante’s fame and work ethic.

A former Garfield student who now is a teacher told Coulson, “The problem was that Escalante’s classes were big… He was setting a precedent, giving the message to the administrator: ‘If Escalante can do it, why not you?’”

The union [hierarchy] used its organizing power to get [the] votes to oust Escalante as math department chairman. Escalante then quit.

In all likelihood, government union chiefs would never have been able to strip Escalante of his richly-deserved chairmanship were it not for California labor statutes authorizing union monopoly bargaining and compulsory union dues and fees for employees of K-12 public schools.

During the nearly two decades he lived subsequent to his acrimonious departure from Garfield High in 1991, Escalante went on to make additional important contributions to the teaching profession in the U.S. and in his native Bolivia. But the sad real-life epilogue to Stand and Deliver, in which Garfield’s calculus program rapidly deteriorated after 1991 and Escalante’s 1996 offer to return to the school was rejected by a Big Labor-cowed principal, remains relevant today as a jarring example of the detrimental impact of monopolistic unionism on U.S. education.

Why Government Schools Fail –