North Carolina School of Science and Math: A Model of Excellence
Admission to the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) has been coveted by the state’s academically talented students since the school’s inception in 1980. Last year 667 rising sophomores applied and 276 were accepted for admission to the class of 2002.
Acceptance, which is limited to students who are residents of North Carolina or have a resident parent, is based on standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, on-campus interviews, and, most important, demonstrated interest and talent in mathematics and the sciences. The few students who are accepted attend the school at no cost. Tuition, books, fees, and room and board are provided, and all students are required to live on campus. The residential component of the school reinforces the enriched academic experience (although it also causes a small percentage of students to leave the school each year).
The curriculum makes the NCSSM unique among public high schools. There are no tests, no GPAs, and hence no class rankings. Eliminating competition among students allows them to work together, help each other, and learn as a group. Calculus classes write a textbook as a project, and alumni report having seen some of their authored questions later in their freshman college classes. There are no advanced placement (AP) classes, because all courses are academically challenging.
The NCSSM knows that not all students in the state have the means or the test scores to attend and that many of the state’s schools lack the resources to offer accelerated math and science courses. Indeed, some courses that seem commonplace in urban schools (such as physics or AP math) are simply not available in the smaller rural schools. Spurred by a grant from a major national corporation in 1992, the NCSSM created its Distance Learning Program to solve this inequity. The NCSSM’s advanced courses are now offered via telecast to many schools around the state. These schools receive syllabi, order textbooks, and provide the courses to students who desire enrichment in particular subjects. Many corporations in the state now support this program with annual grants, and every year the roster of high schools offering these distance-learning courses grows.
In a related pursuit, a consortium of business leaders, government representatives, and education administrators targeted the seven most disadvantaged school districts in North Carolina. They planned and set up cybercampuses designed to share the NCSSM’s resources, personnel, and curriculum. This outreach program, the Education Future Center, has been a success since it began in 1996: with top-of-the-line equipment, fully interactive NCSSM classes are broadcast to outreach schools, and instructors and students are able to see and hear each other across the network. A liaison from the NCSSM keeps in close contact with the cybercampuses.
Through programs and on its outreach campus, the NCSSM ensures that most students in the state who desire academically advanced programs in math and the sciences receive them.
Susan Ludwig is a teacher and freelance writer who holds an M.A. in educational leadership, with an emphasis in exceptional student education, from Florida Atlantic University.
- National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
- North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics