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Grooming Future Einsteins

In my post from Nov. 27, Sad About Science, I wrote about the struggles of getting students motivated to study science.

This week's issue of Education Week has a story that addresses that concern, but also raises questions about fairness and elitism. The story, "Math, Science Academies Favored to Challenge Top-Tier Students," is about the growth of math and science academies, which offer high school students with talent and motivation in those subjects a demanding academic environment.

Many of these academies have difficult entrance requirements, prompting some critics to call them elitist and question the fairness of investing public money in such institutions. Those are legitimate concerns, especially if the goal is to raise achievement in math and science across the board, rather than just among top students.

Even so, the impact such academies can have on student motivation among some of our brightest students cannot be overestimated. Bright, highly motivated students often thrive when they are surrounded by peers who are equally motivated.

The Education Week story mentions one student who graduated from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. The student said attending the academy motivated her to look beyond the opportunity ceiling she once saw ahead of her. She is now a student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. If she hadn't attended the academy, she said, "I don't think I would have gotten interested in genetics, or gone to a research university." ( It's worth noting that she probably would not have been able to attend the academy without financial aid.)

In the quest to raise the science and math achievement of the masses, it's important not to overlook the needs of our brightest students. Maintaining that balance, of course, is not always as easy as some might suggest.

But no great achievement in life is ever easy, right? I'm sure Einstein would agree.

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