A dynamo in pursuing his objectives, Packer has built an army of inspired teachers that has grown from about 87,000 when he took over 15 years ago to 165,000 today. That is the stuff that makes me happiest.” In 2003, 95,065 students from low-income families took an AP exam.But his main focus has been opening AP to participation by students from disadvantaged families. By this year, that number had jumped to 608,707, a 540 percent increase.
The movement to unleash the potential of impoverished American teenagers through AP began with Escalante’s 1987 miracle.
That year, his big barrio school, Garfield High in East Los Angeles, produced 27 percent of all the Mexican American students in the United States who passed an AP calculus exam.
Thirty years later, due to a string of unlikely events, Packer is national director of the AP program and determined to make its fruits accessible to kids from modest backgrounds like his own. He is also — along with the late Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher who was the subject of the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver” — the man most responsible for making the Advanced Placement program the most powerful educational tool in the country.
A scholarly, mild-mannered 48-year-old, Packer is pretty much unknown outside the world of AP. And his leadership is a critical factor at a time when AP is both undergoing rapid expansion and facing criticism and nascent challenges.
Escalante is Packer’s hero, though they never met before Escalante’s death in 2010.
Their only similarities — other than devotion to AP — are that both spent their early years in lakeside towns on mountain plateaus (Escalante’s Bolivian hometown, Achacachi, is much higher than Provo, Utah) and were the sons of educators who had little money.Packer did well in elementary school, but in middle school his grades slipped.His mother disapproved of his neglect of homework in favor of video games and Dungeons & Dragons, so she got him a job cleaning toilets at a school. His 10th-grade AP European history teacher showed him how to analyze facts, not just memorize them. (AP exams, usually given in May, are scored on a five-point system.If could spare her son some of that, it was worth it.She wrote the check, and after a panicked evening of cramming for the unexpected challenge, Packer took the test.He has a longtime girlfriend but has never married and has no children, although he does have 23 nieces and nephews.He is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as Sunday school teacher at his congregation in Manhattan.Escalante had solidified his reputation as a fine teacher despite accusations that his students had cheated on an AP test in 1982 — the subject of the movie.But the results of the 1987 tests, which had no irregularities, were astounding.Packer was reading before he was 5 and always had a book with him.“When he was born, I filled his crib with every kind and shape of ball from the world of sports, but to no avail,” Rand told me.