US Public High Schools Dominate Siemens Westinghouse Science Competition

Elite Public High Schoolers, Predominantly Asian-American, sweep Siemens / Westinghouse Prizes

To survey the high schools of the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science, & Technology winners (descendent of the former Westinghouse Science Talent Search) is to see American secondary, public education at its impressive peak.  Polished web sites burst with notices of state champion teams, “Top Schools in Nation” awards from various publications, and arrays of courseware / e-learning tools to shame most universities.  Curriculums are replete with Advanced Placement programs, wide-ranging foreign-language instruction, outstanding student newspapers, radio and TV stations, extensive performing arts programs, etc.  To students in most of the world, including much of the U.S., these places would be almost hard to believe, educational paradises on earth, combining rigorous study, lavish facilities, and seemingly unlimited encouragement of diverse interests and creativity.

Remarkably, of the 16 high schools represented, only 1 is private (Horace Mann, in New York).  However, most are either in highly affluent and educated districts (Palo Alto, Cupertino, Westport CT, John’s Creek GA) or are highly selective (Stuyvescent, LSMSA in Louisiana).  Four schools are in the San Francisco area, four in the NYC area.

Asian-American students predominate, making up 4 of 6 individual winners (1st, 2nd,3rd, 5th) and 9 of 14 team winners.  Exemplifying the trends, the top prize winner, Angela Zhang, attends the 72% Asian Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California, one of the nation’s most affluent cities (and naturally, home of tech superpower Apple).  A 2005 Wall Street Journal article claimed that Monta Vista was experiencing a “white flight” caused by White American families feeling overwhelmed by the academic focus of the school’s majority Asian American students, notes Wikipedia.

What conclusions might one venture from this small but interesting sample?  One, public education in the U.S. is extraordinary, in places.  You can get outstanding education for your children, without the large private tuitions paid by the elite of most countries, but you’ll probably have to invest greatly to live in one of the elite communities where this “public” good is provided.  Also, cultural factors matter a lot — Asian-American focus on education is dramatically reflected in the makeup of Siemens Competition winners — and proximity to leading cities (SF, NYC, Chicago, Atlanta in this case).

Schools of Individual Winners
#1) Monta Vista High School, Cupertino, California (public, 72% Asian)
#2) Stuyvesant High School, New York, New York (public, selective)
#3) Northview High School, Duluth, Georgia (public, in John’s Creek, Georgia’s wealthiest city, near Atlanta)
#4) Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts, Natchitoches, Louisiana (statewide public, selective, residential)
#5) West High School, Iowa City, Iowa, (public)
#6) Staples High School, Westport, Connecticut (public, 1884)

Schools of Team winners
#1) Oak Ridge High School, Oak Ridge, Tennessee (public; est. 1943 for children of Manhattan Project workers)
#2) Troy High Schoool, Troy, Michigan (public)
#3) Evanston Township High school, Evanston, Illinois (public, 1883)
#4) Oceanside High School, Oceanside, New York (public, Nassau County, Long Island NY)
Horace Mann High School, Bronx, New York (private, 1887;  rated by Forbes as 2nd best prep school in US)
#5) Lowell High School, San Francisco, Californic (public magnet/selective, 1856, ranked 28th best HS by USN&WR)
Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Denton, Texas (public, 2-yr, selective, residential)
Westwood High School, Austin, Texas (public, top-10 Texas & top 100 US rated)
#6) Palo Alto Senior High School, Palo Alto, California (public), and
Henry M. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, California (public)

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