What Escalante Meant

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There's been lots written about Jaime Escalante, the teacher who inspired the movie Stand and Deliver, since his passing last week.  For a taste of the commentary, blogger Teresa Puente shares her thoughts here. But Escalante's legacy is mixed.  To be sure, he popularized the notion that all kids can achieve at high levels.  And he was a frequent critic of school bureaucracies that stand in the way of kids and learning.  But he also popularized the AP calculus program, a rigid program focused on passing a standardized exam.  Many of his students cheated on the first version of the test they all famously passed, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. What do you think?  What was Escalante's role in your decision to be an educator, or in raising your awareness about academic achievement for poor kids?  

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  • They were suspected of cheating, made to take the test again, and passed (again). It was never proved they cheated - their answers were similar because they were taught by the same teacher and studied together so much. The fact that they ALL passed the second time , I think, proves their innocence. If they were not prepared, at least some of them would have failed.

  • Cheating was never proven. It was suspected. Since they all passed the retest, I sould say that proved NO cheating. Sounds like racial-profiling to me. Shame on AP for doing that to these kids

  • Well what ever Mr. Escalante did it has had no lasting impact on James A. Garfield Senior High were he taught. Garfield is a very large high school with 4,603 students. In 2009 on the California Standards Test only 4.6% of all students in the school were scoring proficient or above in math. The average for the state in math is 45.8%. The percentage of 10th-grade math students taking Algebra II or higher-level math courses was only 27% in 2009. Generally, college-bound students in California take Algebra II in 10th grade, as do those planning to complete all higher-level math courses by graduation. According to the school district only 47% of the school's students graduate within five years.

    This is reflected in Garfield's very weak SAT scores. The average SAT score was only 1218 and Garfield had the 38th lowest SAT average in the whole of LA County in 2009. I think the real lesson Mr. Escalante gives us is that a good well meaning teacher can make a difference for some students, but such a teacher can not change the big picture of a school like Garfield by good teaching alone. It takes a larger perspective than just teaching those in front of you well.

    By the way during the mid-1990s, Escalante became a strong supporter of "English-only" education efforts. In 1997, he joined the "English for Children" initiative, which was a campaign against bilingual education in California schools. Escalante because of this stance became a very controversial figure, and many of his fellow hispanic teachers at Garfield found themselves at odds with his perspectives.

    The average scores for Garfield back when Mr. Escalante was teaching were only somewhat better than the truly bad scores the school has now. While Mr. Escalante did get numerous students through AP math classes, the vast majority students at Garfield never took advanced math classes.

    According to the school district in 2009 there were about 414 students attending Garfield who are considered to be gifted and talented, about 9% of the population. The LAUSD Psychological Services Unit is involved in the very formal identification of students as gifted/talented. I would suspect that this subgroup made up the majority of Mr. Escalante's AP students. Even at a low income school like Garfield there are students with high IQ scores.

    While Mr. Escalante did make students perform, he did not take students with very weak skills into his AP classes. For example he admitted this was a weakness in the film about him, he said there were no students as weak as some in the film. He took students who were generally identified as very intelligent, who often were not academically pressed at Garfield, and made them work hard and achieve.

    Rod Estvan

  • in the movie the kids didn't cheat, but in real life they may well have the first time according to this washington post story that says the post got copies of the exams and found evidence of cheating (changed answers, similar responses). i'm not saying it happened, or that it matters at this point, but it might have:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/30/AR2010033003629.html

  • FWIW, here's the washington post article that says the post investigated the charges and found evidence of cheating the first time around.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/30/AR2010033003629.html

    i don't know if it matters at this point - the legend and it's impact are larger than the actual individuals involved.

    i would love to hear what happened to the original AP kids, though -- only one or two ever came forward.

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