In 1982, 14 of his students took and passed their AP Calculus test. But the Educational Testing Service accused them of cheating because they all made the same errors on one question. Escalante disputed the charges claiming that the students were being questioned because they were from a Latino and poor school. After agreeing to retake the exam, 12 agreed and passed once again.
His devotion to Garfield and its students gained him national attention. In 1988 his work was immortalized in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver starring Edward James Olmos. The same year the book, Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews was released.
Success did not come without challenges though. While Escalante was chair of the Math department he ignored administrative duties in favor of teaching and lost his position. His pop culture status brought the likes of President Reagan and Hollywood actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger to his door. His math program received corporate sponsors and more resources. The attention also caused tensions and jealousy amongst his cohorts.
After 24 years as a high school math teacher, at Garfield and Hiram Johnson High School, Escalante retired in 1998 to tend to his health and other pursuits. In 2001 he returned to Bolivia and taught at la Universidad Privada del Valle. He passed away at 79 years old on March 30, 2010 from bladder cancer.
Escalante’s life was iconic not because of awards or honorary degrees because of how he changed his students lives. Before Escalante no Garfield student had taken an AP exam let alone passed it. His kids went on to be engineers and professors and walked the halls of institutions like Yale and MIT. “Jaime didn’t just teach math. Like all great teachers, he changed lives,” said Edward James Olmos during an interview. For his drive, his unending love of education and for teaching everyone what “ganas” really meant, he is a true Don.