Jaime Escalante, the brilliant public school teacher immortalized in the 1988 film, "Stand and Deliver," died this week at the age of 79. With the help of a few dedicated colleagues at Garfield High in East Los Angeles, he shattered the myth that poor inner-city kids couldn't handle advanced math. At the peak of its success, Garfield produced more students who passed Advanced Placement calculus than Beverly Hills High.
In any other field, his methods would have been widely copied. Instead, Escalante's success was resented. And while the teachers union contract limited class sizes to 35, Escalante could not bring himself to turn students away, packing 50 or more into a room and still helping them to excel. This weakened the union's bargaining position, so it complained.
By 1990, Escalante was stripped of his chairmanship of the math department he'd painstakingly built up over a decade. Exasperated, he left in 1991, eventually returning to his native Bolivia. Garfield's math program went into a decline from which it has never recovered. The best tribute America can offer Jaime Escalante is to understand why our education system destroyed rather than amplified his success—and then fix it.
America not only needs more teachers like Jaime Escalante, it needs an education system that recognizes them and helps them to reach a mass audience. The tutoring sector is a proven model for doing so: Unleash the freedoms and incentives of the marketplace, so teachers like Escalante become the Steve jobs or Bill Gates of education, profiting from their exceptional ability to serve our children.