‘Stand and Deliver’ teacher dies of cancer: “During his tenure at Garfield High School, many of our students excelled in learning, aspired to a higher education and went on to become very successful in various careers,” Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines said. “Today, they are living testaments to a teacher who demonstrated how high expectations coupled with constant support can overcome obstacles to a quality education.”
I remember [Stand and Deliver](http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094027/) in a theatre way back in 1988. I was completely blown away by the story. I loved the fact that given any kind of a chance and some help, these underprivileged students were able to rise up and pass the Calculus AP exam. What’s even more amazing is that it was, for all practical purposes, a true story. What’s even more amazing is that teachers didn’t have much use for it.
I remember talking to a teacher friend of mine who complained that the real story couldn’t have been like that, that it must have been modified by Hollywood to make the film more exciting. Well, it turns out he was wrong and that it is about 90% accurate, and about 100% accurate in all the details that matter.
Another amazing, but probably not too surprising, thing is that the teacher’s union opposed what he was doing because he was taking on too many students in his classroom! The union had negotiated that the classroom max was to be 35 students. He took on more than 50. Was the union concerned that the students weren’t being taught well? Nope… the students in those classes passed the AP exam at better than a 90% rate. A phenomenal achievement. The union was more interested in protecting their (other) members than helping the children (he was doing a labor of love)… as I said, not much of a surprise (the next time you hear the teacher’s union supporting something for the benefit of the children, take it with a grain of salt).
This leaves would-be school reformers with a set of uncomfortable questions. Why couldn’t Escalante run his classes in peace? Why were administrators allowed to get in his way? Why was the union imposing its “help” on someone who hadn’t requested it? Could Escalante’s program have been saved if, as Gradillas now muses, Garfield had become a charter school? What is wrong with a system that values working well with others more highly than effectiveness?
He was a unique teacher that showed what can be done when someone cares. Perhaps, as he passes, teachers and school districts around the country will be inspired as they read his example (and maybe even watch that fantastic film), stand up to the politicians and unions, and really deliver and leave no child behind.