Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Teacher inspired a movie, but not his colleagues

An op ed about the obstacles Escalante faced from The Blob (also worth reading is Jay Mathews column on The irksome myth about Garfield after Escalante,

Escalante left Garfield in 1991, a bit of a pariah among colleagues and the teachers union. Five years later, only 11 students at the school passed the AP calculus exam, down from 85. What went wrong?

…The teachers' union objected because Escalante offered to teach classes larger than 50 students. His first principal threatened to fire him for teaching kids after school and fund raising without permission. Parents objected when he barred students from extracurricular activities if they failed to maintain a C average. Even the janitor complained because Escalante came in to work early.

In other words, Escalante accepted no excuses from himself or others.

The perception one gets from "Stand and Deliver" and "Good Will Hunting," to take an example closer to home, is that math skills can be transmitted to low-income students by osmosis from a gifted teacher. The reality is different, but too complex to fit into a 90-minute film.

To make up for a lack of math skills among students' parents, Escalante held sessions before and after school and hired tutors for students who fell behind, running afoul of the union and teachers who resented his success, but were unwilling to replicate his work ethic.

Escalante's students got into top colleges -- MIT, Harvard and Yale among them -- but not because anyone bent the rules for them. Grades on the AP calculus exam do not include a sympathy factor for one's race or ethnicity.

As his efforts gained national attention, Escalante began to receive hate mail and even death threats. In the year before he left, he was replaced as math department chairman.


Teacher inspired a movie, but not his colleagues

The Lowell Sun

Updated: 06/12/2010 06:35:28 AM EDT

By Cornelius Chapman

Special to The Sun

The news that Jaime Escalante, the teacher depicted in the movie "Stand and Deliver" , died in March brings to a close one of the more inspiring stories ever produced by American public education.

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