It's been more than 20 years since the movie Stand and Deliver first hit theaters, but it's still hard to watch the final scene without wanting to applaud. The story of math teacher Jaime Escalante is inspiring now for the same reason it was then: the idea of introducing AP calculus at a failing East L.A. school seems daring and exceptional.
But in this session with Atlantic Editor James Bennet and NYU Professor Diane Ravitch, Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, argues that stories like Escalante's aren't so unusual anymore. In the past two decades, entire schools of at-risk children have gone on to the kind of success Escalante's tiny classroom achieved. The next challenge is scaling this success -- taking what works and replicating it everywhere. Kopp compares this task to the curing of a deadly epidemic, and she wonders why researchers and journalists don't seem to share her sense of urgency.
Ravitch, meanwhile, insists that the entire teaching profession needs to be reinvented. It's not an unusual argument -- teacher burnout is one of the key items on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's agenda. But it's intriguing to hear Ravitch contrast the United States with high-performing nations like Finland, where becoming a schoolteacher is not just an altruistic job but a respected and highly coveted career.
Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, a former senior editor at The Atlantic, is now a senior editor at Smithsonian magazine.