By Jerry Jesness
Thanks to the popular 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, many Americans know 
of the success that Jaime Escalante and his students enjoyed at Garfield 
High School in East Los Angeles. During the 1980s, that exceptional 
teacher at a poor public school built a calculus program rivaled by only 
a handful of exclusive academies.
It is less well-known that Escalante left Garfield after problems with 
colleagues and administrators, and that his calculus program withered in 
his absence. That untold story highlights much that is wrong with public 
schooling in the United States and offers some valuable insights into 
the workings -- and failings -- of our education system. 
Escalante's students surprised the nation in 1982, when 18 of them 
passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam. The Educational Testing 
Service found the scores suspect and asked 14 of the passing students to 
take the test again. Twelve agreed to do so (the other two decided they 
didn't need the credit for college), and all 12 did well enough to have 
their scores reinstated. 

In the ensuing years, Escalante's calculus program grew phenomenally. In 
1983 both enrollment in his class and the number of students passing the 
A.P. calculus test more than doubled, with 33 taking the exam and 30 
passing it. In 1987, 73 passed the test, and another 12 passed a more 
advanced version ("BC") usually given after the second year of calculus. 
By 1990, Escalante's math enrichment program involved over 400 students 
in classes ranging from beginning algebra to advanced calculus. 
Escalante and his fellow teachers referred to their program as "the 
dynasty," boasting that it would someday involve more than 1,000 

That goal was never met. In 1991 Escalante decided to leave Garfield. 
All his fellow math enrichment teachers soon left as well. By 1996, the 
dynasty was not even a minor fiefdom. Only seven students passed the 
regular ("AB") test that year, with four passing the BC exam -- 11 
students total, down from a high of 85. 

In any field but education, the combination of such a dramatic rise and 
such a precipitous fall would have invited analysis. If a team begins 
losing after a coach is replaced, sports fans are outraged. The decline 
of Garfield's math program, however, went largely unnoticed. 
Movie Magic Most of us, educators included, learned what we know of 
Escalante's experience from Stand and Deliver. For more than a decade it 
has been a staple in high school classes, college education classes, and 
faculty workshops. Unfortunately, too many students and teachers learned 
the wrong lesson from the movie. 

Escalante tells me the film was 90 percent truth and 10 percent drama -- 
but what a difference 10 percent can make. Stand and Deliver shows a 
group of poorly prepared, undisciplined young people who were initially 
struggling with fractions yet managed to move from basic math to 
calculus in just a year. The reality was far different. It took 10 years 
to bring Escalante's program to peak success. He didn't even teach his 
first calculus course until he had been at Garfield for several years. 
His basic math students from his early years were not the same students 
who later passed the A.P. calculus test.
Escalante says he was so discouraged by his students' poor preparation 
that after only two hours in class he called his former employer, the 
Burroughs Corporation, and asked for his old job back. He decided not to 
return to the computer factory after he found a dozen basic math 
students who were willing to take algebra and was able to make 
arrangements with the principal and counselors to accommodate them. 
Escalante's situation improved as time went by, but it was not until his 
fifth year at Garfield that he tried to teach calculus. Although he felt 
his students were not adequately prepared, he decided to teach the class 
anyway in the hope that the existence of an A.P. calculus course would 
create the leverage necessary to improve lower-level math classes.
His plan worked. He and a handpicked teacher, Ben Jimenez, taught the 
feeder courses. In 1979 he had only five calculus students, two of whom 
passed the A.P. test. (Escalante had to do some bureaucratic sleight of 
hand to be allowed to teach such a tiny class.) The second year, he had 
nine calculus students, seven of whom passed the test. A year later, 15 
students took the class, and all but one passed. The year after that, 
1982, was the year of the events depicted in Stand and Deliver. 

The Stand and Deliver message, that the touch of a master could bring 
unmotivated students from arithmetic to calculus in a single year, was 
preached in schools throughout the nation. While the film did a great 
service to education by showing what students from disadvantaged 
backgrounds can achieve in demanding classes, the Hollywood fiction had 
at least one negative side effect. By showing students moving from 
fractions to calculus in a single year, it gave the false impression 
that students can neglect their studies for several years and then be 
redeemed by a few months of hard work. 

This Hollywood message had a pernicious effect on teacher training. The 
lessons of Escalante's patience and hard work in building his program, 
especially his attention to the classes that fed into calculus, were 
largely ignored in the faculty workshops and college education classes 
that routinely showed Stand and Deliver to their students. To the 
pedagogues, how Escalante succeeded mattered less than the mere fact 
that he succeeded. They were happy to cheer Escalante the icon; they 
were less interested in learning from Escalante the teacher. They were 
like physicians getting excited about a colleague who can cure cancer 
without wanting to know how to replicate the cure.
The Secrets to His Success How did Escalante attain such success at 
Garfield? One key factor was the support of his principal, Henry 
Gradillas. Escalante's program was already in place when Gradillas came 
to Garfield, but the new principal's support allowed it to run smoothly. 
In the early years, Escalante had met with some resistance from the 
school administration. 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. Gradillas, on the other hand, handed Escalante the keys to 
the school and gave him full control of his program.
Gradillas also worked to create a more serious academic environment at 
Garfield. He reduced the number of basic math classes and eventually 
came up with a requirement that those who take basic math must 
concurrently take algebra. He even braved the wrath of the community by 
denying extracurricular activities to entering students who failed basic 
skills tests and to current students who failed to maintain a C average. 
In the process of raising academic standards at Garfield, Gradillas made 
more than a few enemies. He took a sabbatical leave to finish his 
doctorate in 1987, hoping that upon his return he would either be 
reinstated as principal of Garfield or be given a position from which he 
could help other schools foster programs like Escalante's. He was 
instead assigned to supervise asbestos removal. It is probably no 
coincidence that A.P. calculus scores at Garfield peaked in 1987, 
Gradillas' last year there.
Escalante remained at Garfield for four years after Gradillas' 
departure. Although he does not blame the ensuing administration for his 
own departure from the school, Escalante observes that Gradillas was an 
academic principal, while his replacement was more interested in other 
things, such as football and the marching band.
Gradillas was not the only reason for Escalante's success, of course. 
Other factors included: The Pipeline. Unlike the students in the movie, 
the real Garfield students required years of solid preparation before 
they could take calculus. This created a problem for Escalante. Garfield 
was a three-year high school, and the junior high schools that fed it 
offered only basic math. Even if the entering sophomores took advanced 
math every year, there was not enough time in their schedules to take 
geometry, algebra II, math analysis, trigonometry, and calculus.
So Escalante established a program at East Los Angeles College where 
students could take these classes in intensive seven-week summer 
sessions. Escalante and Gradillas were also instrumental in getting the 
feeder schools to offer algebra in the eighth and ninth grades. 
Inside Garfield, Escalante worked to ratchet up standards in the classes 
that fed into calculus. He taught some of the feeder classes himself, 
assigning others to handpicked teachers with whom he coordinated and 
reviewed lesson plans. By the time he left, there were nine Garfield 
teachers working in his math enrichment program and several teachers 
from other East L.A. high schools working in the summer program at the 

Years ago, when asked if Garfield could ever catch up to 
Beverly Hills High School, Gradillas responded, "No, but we can get 
close." The children of wealthy, well-educated parents do enjoy 
advantages in school. Escalante did whatever he could to bring some of 
those advantages to his students.
Among the parents of Garfield students, high school graduates were in 
the minority and college graduates were a rarity. To help make up for 
the lack of academic support available at home, Escalante established 
tutoring sessions before and after school. When funds became available, 
he arranged for paid student tutors to help those who fell behind. 
Escalante's field-leveling efforts worked. By 1987, Gradillas' 
prediction proved to be partially wrong: In A.P. calculus, Garfield had 
outpaced Beverly High.
Open Enrollment
Escalante did not approve of programs for the gifted, 
academic tracking, or even qualifying examinations. If students wanted 
to take his classes, he let them.
His open-door policy bore fruit. Students who would never have been 
selected for honors classes or programs for the gifted chose to enroll 
in Escalante's math enrichment classes and succeeded there. 
Of course, not all of Escalante's students earned five's (the highest 
score) on their A.P. calculus exams, and not all went on to receive 
scholarships from top universities. One argument that educrats make 
against programs like Escalante's is that they are elitist and benefit 
only a select few.
Conventional pedagogical wisdom holds that the poor, the disadvantaged, 
and the "culturally different" are a fragile lot, and that the academic 
rigor usually found only in elite suburban or private schools would 
frustrate them, crushing their self-esteem. The teachers and 
administrators that I interviewed did not find this to be true of 
Garfield students.
Wayne Bishop, a professor of mathematics and computer science at 
California State University at Los Angeles, notes that Escalante's top 
students generally did not attend Cal State. Those who scored fours and 
five's on the A.P. calculus tests were at schools like MIT, Harvard, 
Yale, Berkeley, USC, and UCLA. For the most part, Escalante grads who 
went to Cal State-L.A. were those who scored ones and twos, with an 
occasional three, or those who worked hard in algebra and geometry in 
the hope of getting into calculus class but fell short.
Bishop observes that these students usually required no remedial math, 
and that many of them became top students at the college. The moral is 
that it is better to lose in the Olympics than to win in Little League, 
even for those whose parents make less than $20,000 per year.

Death of a Dynasty Escalante's open admission policy, a major reason for 
his success, also paved the way for his departure. 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.
Other problems had been brewing as well. After Stand and Deliver was 
released, Escalante became an overnight celebrity. Teachers and other 
interested observers asked to sit in on his classes, and he received 
visits from political leaders and celebrities, including President 
George H.W. Bush and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 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 direct the pipeline. 
A number of people at Garfield still have unkind words for the school's 
most famous instructor. One administrator tells me Escalante wanted too 
much power. Some teachers complained that he was creating two math 
departments, one for his students and another for everyone else. When 
Escalante quit his job at Garfield, John Perez, a vice president of the 
teachers union, said, "Jaime didn't get along with some of the teachers 
at his school. He pretty much was a loner."
In addition, Escalante's relationship with his new principal, Maria 
Elena Tostado, was not as good as the one he had enjoyed with Gradillas. 
Tostado speaks harshly about her former calculus teachers, telling the 
Los Angeles Times they're disgruntled former employees. Of their 
complaints, she said, "Such backbiting only hurts the kids."
Escalante left the program in the charge of a handpicked successor, 
fellow Garfield teacher Angelo Villavicencio. Escalante had met 
Villavicencio six years previously through his students -- he had been a 
math teacher at Griffith Junior High, a Garfield feeder. At Escalante's 
request and with Gradillas' assistance, Villavicencio came to Garfield 
in 1985. At first he taught the classes that fed into calculus; later, 
he joined Escalante and Ben Jimenez in teaching calculus itself.
When Escalante and Jimenez left in 1991, Villavicencio ascended to 
Garfield's calculus throne. The following year he taught all of 
Garfield's AB calculus students -- 107 of them, in two sections. 
Although that year's passing rate was not as high as it had been in 
previous years, it was still impressive, particularly considering that 
two-thirds of the calculus teachers had recently left and that 
Villavicencio was working with lecture-size classes. Seventy-six of his 
students went on to take the A.P. exam, and 47 passed. 

That year was not easy for Villavicencio. The class-size problem that 
led to Escalante's departure had not been resolved. Villavicencio asked 
the administration to add a third section of calculus so he could get 
his class sizes below 40, but his request was denied. The principal 
attempted to remove him from Music Hall 1, the only room in the school 
that could comfortably accommodate 55 students. Villavicencio asked 
himself, "Am I going to have a heart attack defending the program?" The 
following spring he followed Escalante out Garfield's door.
Scattered Legacy When Cal State's Wayne Bishop called Garfield to ask 
about the status of the school's post-Escalante A.P. calculus program, 
he was told, "We were doing fine before Mr. Escalante left, and we're 
doing fine after." Soon Garfield discovered how critical Escalante's 
presence had been. Within a few years, Garfield experienced a sevenfold 
drop in the number of A.P. calculus students passing their exams. (That 
said, A.P. participation at Garfield is still much, much higher than at 
most similar schools. In May of 2000, 722 Garfield students took 
Advanced Placement tests, and 44 percent passed.) 

Escalante moved north to Sacramento, where he taught math, including one 
section of calculus, at Hiram Johnson High School. He calls his 
experience there a partial success. In 1991, the year before he began, 
only six Johnson students took the A.P. calculus exam, all of whom 
passed. Three years later, the number passing was up to 18 -- a 
respectable improvement, but no dynasty. It had taken Escalante over a 
decade to build Garfield's program. Already in his 60s when he made his 
move, he did not have a decade to build another powerhouse in new 
Meanwhile, Villavicencio moved to Chino, a suburb east of Los Angeles. 
He had to take a pay cut of more than $7,000, since his new school would 
pay him for only six of his 13 years in teaching. (Like many districts, 
the Chino Valley Unified School District had a policy of paying for only 
a limited number of years of outside experience.) In Chino, 
Villavicencio again taught A.P. calculus, first in Ayala High School and 
later in Don Lugo High School.
In 1996 he contacted Garfield's new principal, Tony Garcia, and offered 
to come back to help revive the moribund calculus program. He was 
politely refused, so he stayed at Don Lugo. Villavicencio worked with 
East Los Angeles College to establish a branch of the Escalante summer 
school program there. This program, along with more math offerings in 
the district's middle schools, allowed Villavicencio to admit even some 
ninth-graders into his calculus class.
After Villavicencio got his program running smoothly, it was 
consistently producing A.P. calculus passing scores in the 60 percent to 
70 percent range. Buoyed by his success, he requested that his salary be 
raised to reflect his experience. His request was denied, so he decided 
to move on to another school. Before he left, Don Lugo High was 
preparing to offer five sections of AB calculus and one section of BC. 
In his absence, there were only two sections of AB and no BC. 
Meanwhile, after seeing its calculus passing rate drop into the single 
digits, Garfield is experiencing a partial recovery. In the spring of 
2001, 17 Garfield students passed the AB calculus exam, and seven passed 
the BC. That is better than double the number of students passing a few 
years ago but less than one-third the number passing during the glory 
years of Escalante's dynasty.
And after withering in the absence of its founder, the Escalante program 
at East Los Angeles College has revived. Program administrator Paul 
Powers reports that over 1,000 high school students took accelerated 
math classes through the college in the year 2000. 

Although the program now accepts students from beyond the college's 
vicinity, the target pupils are still those living in East L.A. 
Nationally, there is no denying that the Escalante experience was a 
factor in the growth of Advanced Placement courses during the last 
decade and a half. The number of schools that offer A.P. classes has 
more than doubled since 1983, and the number of A.P. tests taken has 
increased almost sixfold. This is a far cry from the Zeitgeist of two 
decades ago, when A.P. was considered appropriate only for students in 
elite private and wealthy suburban public schools.
Still, there is no inner-city school anywhere in the United States with 
a calculus program anything like Escalante's in the '80s. A very 
successful program rapidly collapsed, leaving only fragments behind. 
This leaves would-be school reformers with a set of uncomfortable 
questions. Why couldn't Escalante run his classes in peace? Why were 
administrators allowed to get in his way? Why was the union imposing its 
"help" on someone who hadn't requested it? Could Escalante's program 
have been saved if, as Gradillas now muses, Garfield had become a 
charter school? What is wrong with a system that values working well 
with others more highly than effectiveness?
Barn Building
Lyndon Johnson said it takes a master carpenter to build a 
barn, but any jackass can kick one down. In retrospect, it's fortunate 
that Escalante's program survived as long as it did. Had Garfield's 
counselors refused to let a handful of basic math students take algebra 
back in 1974, or had the janitor who objected to Escalante's early-bird 
ways been more influential, America's greatest math teacher might just 
now be retiring from Unisys.
Gradillas has an explanation for the decline of A.P. calculus at 
Garfield: Escalante and Villavicencio were not allowed to run the 
program they had created on their own terms. In his phrase, the teachers 
no longer "owned" their program. He's speaking metaphorically, but 
there's something to be said for taking him literally. 
In the real world, those who provide a service can usually find a way to 
get it to those who want it, even if their current employer disapproves. 
If someone feels that he can build a better mousetrap than his employer 
wants to make, he can find a way to make it, market it, and perhaps put 
his former boss out of business. Public school teachers lack that 

There are very few ways to compete for education dollars without being 
part of the government school system. If that system is inflexible, 
sooner or later even excellent programs will run into obstacles. 
Escalante has retired to his native Bolivia. He is living in his wife's 
hometown and teaching part time at the local university. He returns to 
the United States frequently to visit his children. When I spoke to him 
he was entertaining the possibility of acting as an adviser to the Bush 
administration. Given what he achieved, he clearly has valuable advice 
to give.

Whether the administration will take it is another question. We are 
being primed for another round of "education reform." One-size-fits-all 
standardized tests are driving curricula, and top-down reforms are 
mandating lockstep procedures for classroom instructors. These steps 
might help make dismal teachers into mediocre ones, but what will they 
do to brilliant mavericks like Escalante?
Before passing another law or setting another policy, our reformers 
should take a close look at what Jaime Escalante did -- and at what was 
done to him.
Jerry Jesness is a special education teacher in Texas' Lower Rio Grande 
AS THIS AUTHOR SAYS: This [STORY OF ESCALANTE] leaves would-be school reformers with a set of uncomfortable questions. Why couldn't Escalante run his classes in peace? Why were administrators allowed to get in his way? Why was the union imposing its "help" on someone who hadn't requested it? Could Escalante's program have been saved if, as Gradillas now muses, Garfield had become a charter school? What is wrong with a system that values working well with others more highly than effectiveness? NAPTA JESNESS ASKS THE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ASKED BUT WILL NEVER BE ANSWERED AS LONG AS THOSE IN POWER HAVE THE FREEDOM TO DO AS THEY PLEASE, NOT AS THEY SHOULD. OUR SCHOOLS COULD NOT MAINTAIN THIS QUALITY TEACHER OR OTHER QUALITY TEACHERS BECAUSE THEY PRIORITIZE SELF-SERVING CONTROL OVER RESULTS. KEEP ON READING ON THIS WEBSITE AND LEARN WHY THEY NEED SO MUCH CONTROL. NAPTA