In August, Los Angeles parents persuaded their school board to designate up to 250 dysfunctional schools as "schools of choice," essentially handing the buildings over to charter school operators. One of the first academies to go was Garfield High School. The place was made famous by the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, which chronicles the unlikely success of Jaime Escalante, a teacher who built a rigorous calculus program with disadvantaged students during the 1980s.
After Escalante left, Garfield fell far from its Stand and Deliver peak. Its dropout rate is more than 50 percent, and its Academic Performance Index score (based on student test results) fell from 597 in 2008 to 594 in 2009. The state benchmark is 800. Last year, only 5 percent of Garfield students tested as proficient in any math class.
In the movie, Escalante tells his kids, "If the only thing you know how to do is add and subtract, you will only be prepared to do one thing: pump gas." More than 25 years after Escalante taught there, graduates of Garfield High may not even be qualified to pump gas, much less solve quadratic equations. But the city's educational experiment will give those kids a chance to escape a failing monopoly.