Jaime Escalante

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Jaime Escalante
Jaime Escalante teaching, 1983 (cropped).jpg
Jaime Escalante in 1983
Born(1930-12-31)December 31, 1930
DiedMarch 30, 2010(2010-03-30) (aged 79)
SpouseFabiola Tapia

Jaime Alfonso Escalante Gutiérrez (December 31, 1930 – March 30, 2010) was a Bolivian-American educator known for teaching students calculus from 1974 to 1991 at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Escalante was the subject of the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, in which he is portrayed by Edward James Olmos.

In 1993, the asteroid 5095 Escalante was named after him.[2]

Early life[edit]

Escalante was born in 1930 in La Paz, Bolivia. Both of his parents were teachers. Escalante was proud of his Aymara heritage.[3][4]

Early career[edit]

Escalante taught mathematics and physics for 12 years in Bolivia before he immigrated to the United States.[4] He worked various jobs while teaching himself English and earning another college degree before eventually returning to the classroom as an educator.[5]

In 1974, he began to teach at Garfield High School. Escalante eventually changed his mind about returning to work when he found 12 students willing to take an algebra class.[6]

Shortly after Escalante came to Garfield High School, its accreditation became threatened. Instead of gearing classes to poorly performing students, Escalante offered AP Calculus.[7] He had already earned the criticism of an administrator, who disapproved of his requiring the students to answer a homework question before being allowed into the classroom: "He said to 'Just get them inside.' I said, 'There is no teaching, no learning going on here. We are just baby-sitting.'"[8]

Determined to change the status quo, Escalante persuaded a few students that they could control their futures with the right education. He promised them that they could get jobs in engineering, electronics, and computers if they would learn math: "I'll teach you math and that's your language. With that, you're going to make it. You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back because you're going to know more than anybody."[8]

The school administration opposed Escalante frequently during his first few years. He was threatened with dismissal by an assistant principal because he was coming in too early, leaving too late, and failing to get administrative permission to raise funds to pay for his students' Advanced Placement tests. The opposition changed with the arrival of a new principal, Henry Gradillas. Aside from allowing Escalante to stay, Gradillas overhauled the academic curriculum at Garfield, reducing the number of basic math classes and requiring those taking basic math to take algebra as well. He denied extracurricular activities to students who failed to maintain a C average and to new students who failed basic skills tests. One of Escalante's students remarked, "If he wants to teach us that bad, we can learn."[9]

Escalante continued to teach at Garfield and instructed his first calculus class in 1978. He recruited fellow teacher Ben Jiménez and taught calculus to five students, two of whom passed the AP calculus test. The following year, the class size increased to nine students, seven of whom passed the AP calculus test. By 1981, the class had increased to 15 students, 14 of whom passed. Escalante placed a high priority on pressuring his students to pass their math classes, particularly calculus. He rejected the common practice of ranking students from first to last but frequently told his students to press themselves as hard as possible in their assignments.[6]

National attention[edit]

In 1982, Escalante first gained media attention when 18 of his students passed the Advanced Placement Calculus exam. The Educational Testing Service found the scores to be suspicious because they all made exactly the same math error on the sixth problem, and they also used the same unusual variable names. Fourteen of those who passed were asked to take the exam again. Twelve of them agreed to retake the test, and all did well enough to have their scores reinstated.

Westlake Theatre building, side wall mural of Jaime Escalante and Edward James Olmos.

In 1983, the number of students enrolling and passing the calculus test more than doubled. That year, 33 students took the exam, and 30 passed. That year, he also started to teach calculus at East Los Angeles College.[10] By 1987, 83 students passed the AB version of the exam, and another 12 passed the BC version. That was the peak for the calculus program. The same year, Gradillas went on sabbatical to finish his doctorate with hopes that he could be reinstated as principal at Garfield or a similar school with a similar program upon his return.[11]

In 1988, a book, Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews, and a film, Stand and Deliver, were released based on the events of 1982. Teachers and other interested observers asked to sit in on his classes. He shared with them: "The key to my success with youngsters is a very simple and time-honored tradition: hard work for teacher and student alike." Escalante received visits from political leaders and celebrities, including President Ronald Reagan and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.[12] In 1990, Escalante worked with the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education to produce the video series Futures, which won a Peabody Award.[13]

Escalante has described the film as "90% truth, 10% drama." He stated that several points were left out of the film:

  • It took him several years to achieve the kind of success shown in the film.
  • No student who did not know multiplication tables or fractions was ever taught calculus in a single year.
  • Escalante suffered inflammation of the gallbladder, not a heart attack.

Over the next few years, Escalante's calculus program continued to grow.

Departure from Garfield[edit]

In his final years at Garfield, Escalante received threats and hate mail.[14] By 1990, he had lost the math department chairmanship. Escalante's math enrichment program had grown to more than 400 students. His class sizes had increased to over 50 students in some cases. That was far beyond the 35 student limit set by the teachers' union, which increased its criticism of Escalante's work.[14] In 1991, the number of Garfield students taking advanced placement examinations in math and other subjects jumped to 570. The same year, citing faculty politics and petty jealousies, Escalante and Jiménez left Garfield.[14] Escalante found new employment at Hiram W. Johnson High School in Sacramento, California. At the height of Escalante's success, Garfield graduates were entering the University of Southern California in such great numbers that they outnumbered all the other high schools in the working-class East Los Angeles region combined.[15] Even students who failed the AP exam often went on to study at California State University, Los Angeles.[14]

Angelo Villavicencio, one of Escalante's handpicked instructors, took over the program after Escalante's departure, teaching the remaining 107 AP students in two classes over the following year. Sixty-seven of Villavicencio's students went on to take the AP exam and forty-seven passed. The math program's decline at Garfield became apparent following the departure of Escalante, Villavicencio, and other teachers associated with its inception and development. In just a few years, the number of AP calculus students at Garfield who passed their exams dropped by more than 80%. In 1996, Villavicencio contacted Garfield's new principal, Tony Garcia, and offered to come back to help revive the dying calculus program. His offer was rejected.[14]

Later life[edit]

Escalante in the 2000s

In the mid-1990s, Escalante became a strong supporter of English-only education efforts. In 1997, he joined Ron Unz's English for the Children initiative, which eventually ended most bilingual education in California schools.[16]

In 2001, after many years of preparing teenagers for the AP calculus exam, Escalante returned to his native Bolivia. He lived in his wife's hometown, Cochabamba, and taught at Universidad Privada del Valle [es].[17] He returned to the United States frequently to visit his children.

In early 2010, Escalante faced financial difficulties from the cost of his cancer treatment. Cast members from Stand and Deliver, including Edward James Olmos, and some of Escalante's former pupils, raised funds to help pay for his medical bills.

He moved to Sacramento, California, to live with his son in the city of Rancho Cordova, where he taught at Hiram Johnson High School.[18]

Death and legacy[edit]

Escalante died on March 30, 2010, at his son's home, while undergoing treatment for bladder cancer. He was 79.[19][20]

On April 1, 2010, a memorial service honoring Escalante was held at the Garfield High School. Students observed a moment of silence on the front steps of the campus.[21] A wake was also held on April 17, 2010, in a classroom at Garfield.[22]

Escalante is buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier Lakeside Gardens. In 2016, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his likeness.[23]

Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Woo, Elaine (March 31, 2010). "Jaime Escalante dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 2, 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2010.
  2. ^ Michigan State University Newsroom – MSU spring commencement speakers reflect dedication to education
  3. ^ Anne E. Schraff, Jaime Escalante: Inspirational Math Teacher (ISBN 978-0766029675), p. 12-13
  4. ^ a b "Jaime Escalante Bio". The Futures Channel. Archived from the original on 2013-01-10. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  5. ^ "Jaime Escalante biography". A+E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  6. ^ a b Mathews
  7. ^ https://www.staunton.k12.va.us/cms/lib/VA01000591/Centricity/Shared/Student%20Advocate/Nov11_Adv.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  8. ^ a b la Brecque, Ron (November 6, 1988). "Something More Than Calculus". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  9. ^ Woo, Elaine (31 March 2010). "Jaime Escalante dies at 79; math teacher who challenged East L.A. students to 'Stand and Deliver'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 5 April 2010.
  10. ^ Rude, John (29 January 2015). "Escalante Program Proves Its Worth". East Los Angeles College.
  11. ^ "Stand and Deliver Revisited". Reason.com. 2002-07-01. Retrieved 2020-07-22.
  12. ^ Jay Mathews, Escalante: The Best Teacher in America (ISBN 0-8050-1195-1), p. 210
  13. ^ "Futures". Retrieved 2019-03-02.
  14. ^ a b c d e Jesness, Jerry (July 2002). "Stand and Deliver Revisited". Reason. (Archive)
  15. ^ Mathews, p. 297
  16. ^ "In Any Language, Escalante's Stand Is Clear". Los Angeles Times. 13 November 1997.
  17. ^ "Más de 400 alumnos rindieron Homenaje al Profesor Jaime Escalante". Gobierno Autonoma Departmental Santa Cruz. Retrieved October 21, 2014.
  18. ^ Bates, Karen Grigsby (March 9, 2010). "Students 'Stand And Deliver' For Former Teacher". All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved 2010-03-10.
  19. ^ Raquel Maria Dillon, Associated Press (2010-03-30). "Teacher Who Inspired 'Stand and Deliver' Film Dies". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
  20. ^ Bermudez, Esmeralda (February 2010). "From his sickbed, Garfield High legend is still delivering". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ Simmons, Ann M. (1 April 2010). "Garfield High pays tribute to Jaime Escalante". L.A. NOW.
  22. ^ Leovy, Jill (17 April 2010). "Honoring a legendary teacher and his legacy". Los Angeles Times.
  23. ^ "Jaime Escalante Stamp | USPS.com". store.usps.com. Retrieved 2018-11-26.
  24. ^ "Schwarzenegger Convenes Education Summit". September 10, 2003. Archived from the original on February 26, 2009. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  25. ^ Reid, Alexander (June 2, 1991). "UMass Speaker Stresses Need for Science, Technology Education". The Boston Globe. p. 42. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  26. ^ "History of Cal State L.A." California State University, Los Angeles. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2010. CSU/CSLA honorary doctorate awarded to alumnus Jaime Escalante '73, '77, '82 at 43rd Commencement.
  27. ^ [1] Archived August 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ "University of Northern Colorado Honorary Degrees Conferred" (PDF). University of Northern Colorado. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 7, 2008. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  29. ^ "National Winners | public service awards | Jefferson Awards.org". www.jeffersonawards.org. Archived from the original on 2010-11-24.
  30. ^ "'Hero' Teacher Escalante Addresses Students At Wittenberg Commencement May 9". Wittenberg University. April 13, 2004. Archived from the original on September 1, 2006. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  31. ^ "Jaime Escalante: 1999 Inductee". National Teachers Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  32. ^ "Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans". White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  33. ^ "Escalante-Gradillas $20,000 Prize for Best in Education". The Best Schools. Retrieved March 27, 2014.

External links[edit]