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Jaime Escalante
Photo: David Butow/Corbis via Getty Images

Jaime Escalante

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Jaime Escalante became famous for his work with troubled, "unteachable" high school math students. His story was told in the 1988 film 'Stand and Deliver.'

Who Was Jaime Escalante?

Jaime Escalante was an educator who was born in Bolivia and came to the United States in the 1960s to seek a better life. He began teaching math to troubled students in a violent Los Angeles school and became famous for leading many of them to pass the advanced placement calculus test. He was played by Edward James Olmos in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver.

Early Life

Educator Jamie Escalante was born on December 31, 1930, in La Paz, Bolivia. The child of two teachers, Escalante became one of the most famous educators in America during the 1980s and 1990s. He left Bolivia in the 1960s to seek a better life in the United States. An educator back at home, he had to work many odd jobs, teach himself English and earn another college degree before he could return to the classroom.

Professional Career

In 1974, Escalante took a job at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, California. He found himself in a challenging situation: teaching math to troubled students in a rundown school known for violence and drugs. While some had dismissed the students as "unteachable," Escalante strove to reach his students and to get them to live up to their potential. He started an advanced mathematics program with a handful of students.

In 1982, his largest class of students took and passed an advanced placement test in Calculus. Some of the students' test scores were invalidated by the testing company because it believed that the students had cheated. Escalante protested, saying that the students had been disqualified because they were Hispanic and from a poor school. A few months later many of the students retook the test and passed, proving that they knew the material and that the company was wrong.

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Escalante's classroom challenges and successes were the topic of much public discussion in 1988. That year, his story was the subject of a book entitled Jaime Escalante: The Best Teacher in America and a film called Stand and Deliver starring Edward James Olmos. Both educators and students have found Escalante's work at Garfield inspiring.

Later Years and Legacy

After Garfield, Escalante taught at another high school in Sacramento. He did not seem to find the same level of success that he had at his previous post. Escalante also received some criticism for lobbying against bilingual education in California schools. He retired from teaching in 1998.

Escalante has received many awards for his contributions to the field of education, including the Presidential Medal for Excellence. He was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1999.

Escalante died in March 2010 after a long struggle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Fabiola, and their two sons.

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