John Stossel
  • April 1, 2010 11:01 AM EDT by John Stossel

    Teachers Unions: Don't Work Too Hard!

    Jaime Escalante -- the math teacher who became famous for teaching even the poorest kids calculus in a failing Los Angeles school -- died this week at age 78. His story shows not just what can be accomplished by great teachers, but also what damage unions can do.

    Escalante got national attention when 14 out of 15 of his students at a low-ranking Los Angeles school passed the Advanced Placement Calculus exam. By 1987, 73 students from the school passed the AP calculus exam -- more than all but six other schools in the country. After a movie about his success, called "Stand and Deliver", was released in 1988, Escalante became an icon for showing that even the most disadvantaged kids could learn complex subjects if given the right instruction.

    I would think that any reasonable education system would reward Mr. Escalante. But this is a unionized public school we're talking about. As Reason Magazine reported several years ago:

    One assistant principal threatened to have him dismissed, on the grounds that he was coming in too early (a janitor had complained), keeping students too late, and raising funds without permission.

    Can you imagine if a private school operated like that? Sadly, the story gets worse.

    After Stand and Deliver was released, Escalante became an overnight celebrity... This attention aroused feelings of jealousy. In his last few years at Garfield, Escalante even received threats and hate mail. In 1990 he lost the math department chairmanship, the position that had enabled him to [teach students from 9th grade on, so that they would have adequate preparation once they got to his calculus class.]

    But Escalante kept teaching, sometimes with classes of 50 students or more.

    Calculus grew so popular at Garfield that classes grew beyond the 35-student limit set by the union contract. Some had more than 50 students. Escalante would have preferred to keep the classes below the limit had he been able to do so without either denying calculus to willing students or using teachers who were not up to his high standards. Neither was possible, and the teachers union complained about Garfield's class sizes. Rather than compromise, Escalante moved on.

    School officials were unapologetic. One official said:

    "We were doing fine before Mr. Escalante left, and we're doing fine after."

    The result? Over the next five years, the number of students at the school passing AP calculus tests plummeted from 85 a year to just 11.

    It is impossible to record all the innovations that unions have destroyed. But unions are clearly one reason that even though America spends more money on education than other countries, American students score near the bottom on international tests.

Tim S.

I taught science for 13 years. Sorry, but public schools are *designed* to produce low-level workers and provide custodial care while parents work. Most teachers do their best, but the system is flawed. Scripture says it is the father's responsibility to educate his children, and to render to Caesar [only] what is his... so we homeschooled. Daughter (21) has great morals and is an A student. You can homeschool, too (really). Hire a tutor for some subjects, but YOU be the one in charge.

April 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Engineering Education » Jaime Escalante

[...] you have never watched Stand and Deliver, I highly recommend renting/Netflicking/buying it.  John Stossel has a bried post relating the struggles and success of Escalante in a hostile public school [...]

April 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm



April 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm


You're trying to prove that teachers 'don't work too hard' based on one or two cases of lazy people and a movie? Teachers are normal people, they are not super heros. People like you expect teacher to be able to force a child to learn, or to do the work of parents. There are teacher who do not work hard enough, and there are teachers who are asked to do too much.

April 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Tom in Maine

John - great note. Though it does suggest that unions are supposed to care about the students results. Unions are not there for the students or a teacher. Unions are there to protect their hold on the teacher population and receive dues. A union maximized their self-interest by increasing their control.

April 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm


It's official. Unions have obviously gone from an annoying impediment to freedom and success to an outright enemy of all Americans. Their vastly increasing power has shown what sort of destructive element they are. If you're being paid more than you're worth because of a union, I don't care about you. If you think you're worth more than what the union gets you, you're probably right. Whoever you work for is always willing to pay for excellent employees when unions don't get in the way.

April 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm


Teachers Unions: Es = 1/2 mv2 (s=stupid)

April 1, 2010 at 12:45 pm

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About this Web Site

  • John Stossel joined FOX Business and FOX News in October 2009. His show, Stossel, airs on the Fox Business Network on Thursdays at 8pm & 11pm ET and Fridays at 10pm ET

    He is the New York Times best-selling author of Give Me A Break and Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity. His "Give Me a Break" commentaries take a skeptical look at a wide array of issues, such as education, the economy, parenting, and more.

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