Legendary U.S. calculus teacher Jaime Escalante dies at 79

14:28, March 31, 2010      

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Jaime Escalante -- "U.S. most famous teacher" died Tuesday at 79.

Escalante gained national fame after a 1982 scandal involving 14 of his Garfield High School students who passed the Advanced Placement calculus exam only to be accused later of cheating.

Jaime Escalante is a Bolivian immigrant born in Dec. 31, 1930. He took the job as a math teacher in East Los Angeles high school at the age of 43.

Students of the school were mostly children of the working-class, and of Mexican-American descendents. Moreover, they were mostly rebellious and unruly.

However, Escalante got a way with them. At his motivational encouragements and entertaining teaching methods, the kids grew an interest in math, and gradually formed an attachment to calculus.

By 1978, he had 14 students enrolled in his first Advanced Placement calculus class. Of the five who survived his stiff homework and attendance demands, only two earned passing scores on the exam.

But in 1980, seven of nine students passed the exam; in 1981, 14 of 15 passed. In 1982, he had 18 students to prepare for the academic challenge of their lives.

The results of their examination were stunning: all 18 of them passed.

The ecstasy was not difficulty to imagine, yet it did not last for long:

Authorities challenged the results and later invalidated them, this angered Escalante and his students. "There's a tremendous amount of feeling that the Hispanic is incapable of handling higher math and science," Escalante reflected later in an interview with Newsday.

Later, 12 of the 14 accused students took the examination again and passed.

After the incident, the numbers of Garfield students taking calculus and other Advanced Placement classes soared. By 1987, only four high schools in the country had more students taking and passing the AP calculus exam than Garfield.

Escalante's dramatic success raised public consciousness, and inspired the making of the 1988 film "Stand and Deliver," which won an Oscar nomination in 1989.

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