Stand and Deliver
Coincidental with my challenge to President Bruininks to do this tomorrow, I learned that the person who's done most to popularize the phrase (in modern times) has died.
Jaime A. Escalante, the most famous and influential American public-school teacher of his generation, died March 30 of cancer at his son's home near Sacramento. He was 79.
A lively, wisecracking Bolivian who did not begin teaching in the United States until he was 44, Escalante transformed one of the lowest-performing high schools in the country into a model for raising the achievement of disadvantaged children. 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.
Escalante pioneered the use of Advanced Placement, a program of college-level courses and tests designed for high-achieving private schools, to raise standards in average and below-average public schools. His success at Garfield High School, where 85 percent of the students were low-income and few parents had more than a sixth-grade education, suggested that more time and encouragement for learning could trump educational disadvantages.
The Garfield AP program continued to grow, with courses in history, government and biology, and spectacular results in calculus.
In 1987, Garfield students took 129 AP calculus exams, more than all but four high schools, public or private, in the country. That year more than a quarter of all Mexican American students in the United States who passed the Calculus AB exam attended Garfield.
His wife, Fabiola, arranged for the family to move to California, to which two of her brothers had already immigrated. Escalante went along with his wife's plan, but he was frustrated to discover upon arriving that his Bolivian credentials would not get him a job in any U.S. school.
He spent 10 years learning English and repeating his undergraduate education and teacher training, mostly at night and during the summers, before he was accepted as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Much of Escalante's success with students stemmed from his ability to persuade them to work on lessons in his classroom after school each day, and to attend Saturday and summer classes to prepare for calculus. He rejected the usual markers of academic excellence and insisted that regardless of a student's GPA, he would let her take the AP course if she promised to work hard.
On one occasion, a student he did not know wandered into his after-school classroom, crowded with people doing their homework. She said she was in the gifted class and needed help with a problem. His voice full of delight, Escalante motioned to a boy in the room and said, "Let me have a student who is NOT gifted show you how to do that."
And he did all this without a TERI program.