Jaime Escalante, Math Teacher Behind 'Stand And Deliver', Dies : The Two-Way Legendary math teacher Jaime Escalante has died at the age of 79 from bladder cancer. Escalante was the inner city Los Angeles high school teacher who transformed poor, under-achieving Hispanic youngsters into high-achieving math students, inspiri...

Jaime Escalante, Math Teacher Behind 'Stand And Deliver', Dies

Jaime Escalante in 1988. AP Photo hide caption

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AP Photo

Jaime Escalante in 1988.

AP Photo

Legendary math teacher Jaime Escalante has died at the age of 79 from bladder cancer.

Escalante was the inner city Los Angeles high school teacher who transformed poor, under-achieving Hispanic youngsters into high-achieving math students, inspiring the hit 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver."

The Los Angeles Times does an excellent job of capturing the significance of Escalante's work with children who had largely been written off by nearly every other adult:

Escalante gained national prominence in the aftermath of a 1982 scandal surrounding 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating.

The story of their eventual triumph -- and of Escalante's battle to raise standards at a struggling campus of working-class, largely Mexican American students -- became the subject of the movie, which turned the balding, middle-aged Bolivian immigrant into the most famous teacher in America.

Escalante was a maverick who did not get along with many of his public school colleagues, but he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation.

"Jaime Escalante has left a deep and enduring legacy in the struggle for academic equity in American education," said Gaston Caperton, former West Virginia governor and president of the College Board, which sponsors the Scholastic Assessment Test and the Advanced Placement exam.

"His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed."

Escalante's rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation's schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.

He was called a traitor for his opposition to bilingual education. He said the hate mail he received for championing Proposition 227, the successful 1997 ballot measure to dismantle bilingual programs in California, was a factor in his decision to retire in 1998 after leaving Garfield and teaching at Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento for seven years.

Escalante was a reminder of a truth we have seen proven repeatedly, that children can rise to the challenge when high expectations are set and an able guide lights a path for them.

Not only did he teach those who were thought to be unteachable but under them they became proficient in calculus, one of high school's more challenging subjects. And he taught them great life lessons too. What a remarkable teacher, who made the impossible possible.

Update at 7:25 a.m. ET. NPR's Claudio Sanchez reported about Escalante's life on today's Morning Edition. As Claudio says, "Escalante believed that a teacher should never, ever let a student give up."

"You have to love the subject you teach and you have to love the kids," Escalante told Claudio several years ago:

Jaime Escalante, Math Teacher Behind 'Stand And Deliver', Dies

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