Death of Famed Math Teacher Sparks Reflections

By Erik W. Robelen — April 01, 2010 1 min read
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I can’t recall the last time the death of a school teacher, much less a math teacher, attracted as much attention as the recent death of Jaime Escalante. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie made about you. (Escalante rated “Stand and Deliver” as 90 percent fact and 10 percent fiction—pretty good for Hollywood.)

But as the obituaries and tributes pouring out make plain, Escalante made a big mark in education, well beyond the students he taught.

“A lively, wisecracking Bolivian who did not begin teaching in the United States until he was 44, Mr. Escalante transformed one of the lowest-performing high schools in the country into a model for raising the achievement of disadvantaged children,” writes education columnist Jay Matthews in the Washington Post. “A 1988 film about his success, “Stand and Deliver,” with Edward James Olmos playing the East Los Angeles math teacher, spread his story around the world and inspired teachers in hundreds of inner-city schools to copy his methods.”

Matthews knows a thing or two about Escalante, having written a book about him: “Escalante: The Best Teacher in America.”

Here are more obituaries from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the Associated Press.

President Obama issued a statement praising Escalante. He said: “Throughout his career Jaime opened the doors of success and higher education for his students one by one, and proved that where a person came from did not have to determine how far they could go.” Others who have offered up tributes include Randi Weingarten from the American Federation of Teachers and Checker Finn from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

My colleague Mary Ann Zehr shares some thoughts about Escalante in her Learning the Language blog.

Finally, to hear Escalante in his own words, check out this 2006 interview with Teacher Magazine.

Photo Information: This March 16, 1988, file photo from the Associated Press shows Jaime Escalante teaching math at Garfield High School in Los Angeles.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.