Math and Science Magnet Schools: Are They Right for Your Kid?

Geek Culture

Kids at the Bronx High School for ScienceKids at the Bronx High School for Science

Kids at the Bronx High School for Science

Most Geeklets, by definition, are genetically susceptible to a passion for subjects like math, science or computers. Every school covers the basics within these areas well enough, but if a kid wants to go beyond that, there is usually a limit to what they can access. There are several reasons for this. One is the typical cultural climate of most public schools. The fact is that learning has never been and will probably never be considered ‘cool’. Anyone who appears to be too eager to learn in class, or spends too much time learning on their own outside of class usually acquires the social standing of a leper.

Students who are willing to drop a few spots in the pecking order for the sake of intellectual curiosity eventually reach the point where their school can no longer offer courses in the advanced subjects that interest them. Regular public schools do the best with what they have, but with state and local education budgets being slashed across the country, most schools don’t have the money or manpower to teach classes that go very far beyond the basics. Of course, in the internet age, kids have access to much more information outside of school that they can access in the privacy and wedgie-free environment of their own homes. However, most universities still won’t accept “Stuff I Looked Up On Wikipedia” for advanced credit.

Some states have a solution to these problems in the form of public high schools that focus exclusively on math and science. The National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (good ol’ NCSSSMST) lists 32 states that have anywhere from one to 13 schools that fall into this category. Some of these are also known as magnet or charter schools. They are designed to attract (get it…magnet …attract?) students from a broad geographical region who are academically talented and are drawn to math and science.

These schools are funded at least in part by state or local governments. They are considered public schools in the sense that they are paid for by taxpayer money and are usually tuition free. However, they are often free of the same administrative and curriculum requirements that regular public schools have. For example, they can hire teachers who are experts in their field even if they don’t hold teaching certifications. That allows the schools to hold courses in subjects that would not normally be available until the upper levels of college and even graduate school. Some are intended as a supplement to the public school system and may only offer half-day programs while others are full time and may even require students to live on campus in dorms.

There are downsides to these types of schools also. The number of students who apply to these schools usually far outstrips their enrollment capacity. This means that these schools must have extraordinarily high admission standards. Then, for students that do get accepted, the expectations are very high. There is an argument to be made that it is unfair to put kids into such a high-pressure situation. Also, because these schools focus almost exclusively on academics, most of them have fewer offerings in the way of extracurricular activities. Things like competitive sports or organized social clubs may be harder to come by, for example. However, the kids that these schools are designed for are the ones that actually enjoy and seek out intellectual challenge. So, if your kids are in middle school and breezing through algebra like it’s a cakewalk, you might look around to see if there is a specialized math and science school in your area.

Photo: Bronx High School for Science

(Post by new GeekDad Brent Richards)

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