Ellen at Armchair Commentary discusses her five favorite teachers in the movies. (Via Instapundit.) I agree with her winner, Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) in To Sir, with Love. My second favorite, which she ranks third, is Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) in Stand and Deliver. Stand and Deliver is particularly compelling, because it is based on a true story. (90% truth and 10% drama, Escalante says.) What I didn’t know, until I read the comments, was the sad postlude to the story.
The events of Stand and Deliver took place in 1982. In 1987, the year before the movie came out, Escalante’s math enrichment program reached its peak. After that year, the program started to face difficulties, at the hands of the teachers’ union, jealous colleagues, and a new principal. (The old principal, Henry Gradillas, had spearheaded efforts to improve academic standards at Garfield High School. In 1987 he took a sabbatical to finish his doctorate, hoping afterward to return to Garfield. Instead he was picked to supervise asbestos removal.) Escalante left Garfield in 1991, and his handpicked successor, Angelo Villavicencio, left the following year.
Within a few years, the percentage of students passing the AP exam dropped into single digits. In absolute terms, 11 students passed the exam in 1996, down from a peak of 85 in 1987. That year, Villavicencio offered to return to Garfield to rebuild its once-proud program. His offer was declined.
In the end, Stand and Deliver isn’t just the story of how inner-city education can succeed; it’s also the story of why it so often doesn’t.