“Props” to Jaime Escalante

The name, Jaime Escalante, came up in print at least twice last week, but there is more to his story that warrants discussion.

During Univision’s December 9, Presidential Debate, the Moderator asked Congressman Duncan Hunter about Hispanics dropping out of school. The Presidential Candidate responded:

You know, in California there was a great teacher named Jaime Escalante, who taught calculus. And he taught calculus in the barrio so effectively that his kids when they took the test were accused of cheating by the school district because they scored so high.

Jaime Escalante brought to the school system the one thing that we need throughout America, and that is inspiration, because young people are deciding what they want to do when they’re in third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade.

And what we’re going to have to do — and incidentally, Jaime Escalante ultimately left that school district and the calculus program went down because he had a run-in with the teachers union.

That’s an understatement.

There is so much more to Mr. Escalante’s story.

For much of the 1980’s and at the beginning of the 1990’s, roughly one-fourth of all Mexican American students who passed the rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) calculus exam nationwide were educated at Garfield High School in East L.A.

Garfield’s was the most successful inner-city mathematics program in America. The program’s architect was Jaime Escalante, math teacher and math department chairman.

In the late 1980’s, Mr. Escalante became world famous.

The 1988 motion picture Stand and Deliver chronicled the inspiring story of Mr. Escalante and his students.

But in 1990, L.A. teacher union officials engineered his removal as math department chairman.

According to Mr. Escalante, teacher union bosses had previously chastised him for having “too many” students in his calculus class!

In 1991, the humiliated teacher decided to transfer to a high school in another city. When local union bosses heard the news, they circulated a celebratory note that read, “We got him out!”

The sad and incredible end of Jaime Escalante’s career at Garfield High School is unfortunately no aberration.

For decades, teacher union officials have manifested a marked hostility toward outstanding teachers, and they have consistently opposed efforts to compensate teachers properly for going above and beyond the call of duty.

National Review Online’s “The Corner” blogger, Mark Hemingway, had it right when he sent out “Props” to the candidate for discussing Mr. Escalante. Hemingway noted:

Everyone remembers Stand and Deliver, yet no one knows that he was eventually drummed out of his school by unions for being too influential and too good a teacher. He’s a textbook example of why teachers unions are one of the most insidious forces in America.