Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Whatever Happened to Jamie Escalante?

Escalante was the subject of that 1988 movie "Stand and Deliver". The story line is true, a bunch of inner city kids take the AP Calculus Exam. This 2002 Reason article sums up the results:

"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 students.

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."

So the solution to the modern problems of where the next generation scientists and engineers will come from stares at us straight in the face. But, peer envy, unions, and a lack of political will, did the program in. Education is the great equalizer, but to access its promise takes determination and plain hard work. In our modern comfort-oriented society we have substituted self-esteem for accomplishment, a very costly bargain


Anonymous said...

A step forward in education, I think, would be to personalize, privatize or individualize it more. I think that a voucher-system, rather than a network of state-run schools, would be a step forward in that direction. Nonetheless, I don't think the odds of adopting such a program are very likely. To do so would mean to balance the privilege (i.e. state-subsidized education) with the responsibility of going out in the world and actually putting the privilege to good use. This sounds good, but I don't think it would work because, just last semester, I had an on-line debate with a UI student that seemed to think the constitution clearly stated that state-subsidized education was not a privilege, but a basic human-right.

Frank said...

"with a UI student that seemed to think the constitution clearly stated that state-subsidized education was not a privilege, but a basic human-right."

What chapter and verse did he quote you on that?

State-run higher-ed is a virtual voucher system. However the rot from k-12 has now worked its way in the university system of this country.