05/15/2012 10:41 am ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

Schools That Should Teach America About Teaching Science

The Nation's Report Card on Science 2011, released last week by the federal government, showed modest improvement but raised even more concern about America's ability to grow the science-literate workforce needed in the 21st century. Yet, as worrisome as the mildly improving report is, there are schools in the United States that are inspiring scientists of the future, and there is much that we should learn from them.

The Wall Street Journal summarized the federal report, which was issued by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as follows: "U.S. eighth graders made modest gains on the latest national science exam, but more than two-thirds still lacked a solid grasp of science facts, according to figures released Thursday that renewed concerns American schools are inadequately preparing children for college and the workforce."

In some locations the results were even more startling. As the New York Post reported, "Barely half of New York state's public-school eighth-graders were able to correctly identify the atoms in a molecule of water on national science exams last year, test officials said yesterday. Just 54 percent of students picked the correct combination -- two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen -- out of four options given for a multiple-choice question on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam."

Our nation cannot sustain our global preeminence in science and technology if we don't raise these scores more rapidly. But hand-wringing is not the answer. What's needed is for us as a nation to understand how science can be taught well and to learn from those who do it. Fortunately, the Intel Science Talent Search points us in the right direction.

An analysis of the semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search in this decade (2010-2012) highlights schools where science teaching is especially strong in the United States. It's the semifinalists -- 300 each year -- rather than the later rounds that reveal the most about where the greatest number of science leaders are inspired and trained. That analysis shows that the Top 15 schools for producing the largest number of semifinalists are:

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA (31)
Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, MD (27)
Stuyvesant High School, New York, NY (27)
Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Denton, TX ( 24)
The Harker School, San Jose, CA (22)
Bronx High School of Science, New York, NY (21)
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, NC (20)
Ward Melville High School, East Setaucket, NY (18)
Jericho High School, Jericho, NY (17)
Ossining High School, Ossining, NY (16)
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, IL (12)
Lynbrook High School, San Jose, CA (12)
Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, Plainview, NY (11)
Roslyn High School, Roslyn Heights, NY (11)
Paul D. Schreiber High School, Port Washington, NY (10).

There are all schools that we should applaud, recognize, and understand. They have discovered and refined important ingredients for inspiring students in the sciences.

Of the 15 schools listed above, only five are focused in name on the sciences. While two of the schools are in San Jose, CA, the nation's most populous state is not otherwise represented on the list. More than half of the list (eight) is composed of public schools in New York, a state in which barely half of public-school eighth-graders were able to correctly identify the atoms in a molecule of water. And five of those eight are located on Long Island.

These schools have much to teach us about preparing and inspiring extraordinary students in science. Their lessons can help other schools produce more science leaders and help us as a nation educate the science-literate workforce of the future.

James M. Gentile is president and CEO of Research Corporation for Science Advancement (, which celebrates its Centennial -- 100 years of science advancement -- this year.