Jamie Escalante may be the most famous high school teacher in America. In the 1970s and 80s, Escalante developed a calculus program at Garfield High School in Los Angeles. The program was dramatized in a 1983 movie, Stand and Deliver .
Reason magazine reports that in 1979, Escalante taught just five students in his new calculus class even though such a small class was against the rules. Only two passed the Advanced Placement exam. By 1982, 18 students passed.
The Educational Testing Service thought that was so much success that it was suspicious, so they had the students take the test again. All those who did, passed. But such success was no guarantee that Escalante would enjoy a free hand in training other math students.
A new principal came to Garfield, one who was less sympathetic to the calculus program. Some of Escalante’s colleagues were jealous of his fame. A union at the school objected to the growing size of Escalante’s popular classes. Finally, frustrated by bureaucratic hampering, Escalante left the school in 1991. Garfield’s calculus program declined.
What happened? Part of the problem is the public school system, which is more of a bureaucracy than a market. Markets reward success. Markets are ecstatic about success. Markets pay you lots of money for success. Bureaucrats, by contrast, often regard success as too much of a boat-rocker. Makes the class sizes too large. Gives you too many customers.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.