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Education Bookcast

Feb 3, 2019

Jaime Escalante was a Bolivian teacher who came to Los Angeles in the 1960s. After joining the chaotic failing school Garfield High as a mathematics teacher in 1974, he soon began an Advanced Placement Calculus program that grew to an unheard of size for such a disadvantaged community.

In 1982, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which wrote and marked the tests, suspected Garfield High students of cheating. This led to interest from the media and later fame for Escalante as people started to take notice of what was happening at the school. Soon after, the film Stand and Deliver was produced based on Escalante's success up to that point, starring Edward James Olmos in the leading role.

However, even this film did not capture the scale of the success at Garfield High, as it came too early. After 1982, the number of students at the school taking AP Calculus continued to climb to stratospheric heights, from 18 in 1982 - already unbelievable to most, hence the media attention - to 33 in 1983, 68 in 1984, and an eye-watering 151 in 1986. Other AP programs also took off, including History, Government, English, Physics, and Computer Science.

How did all this happen? What is Escalante's secret? These are pressing questions, as they could lead to a better understanding of how to motivate and teach students, as well as how to turn a failing school around.

This book is written as a story, and so the themes and key lessons from it have to be disentangled from the narrative. We will be looking at it in four parts:

  1. Introducing the main characters (Jaime Escalante, Henry Gradillas, and Benjamin Jimenez);
  2. Considering the two very different approaches to discipline applied at the school, one with disastrous consequences and one that saved the school from closing;
  3. Examining how Escalante and his "team" managed to raise standards and achievement; and
  4. Admiring the "glory years", after 1982, when the whole school was on the academic upsurge.

There are several lessons to take from the story of Escalante and Garfield High. I hope you enjoy learning from this exceptional case study as much as I have.

Enjoy the episode.