I’ve been working from home today, enjoying the chance to watch the buds swell, the birds flirt and the daffodils bob in the breeze. Of course this is April in Oregon, so this was sometimes highlighted by a “sun break” (a weather term perhaps unique to Oregon) but more often glimpsed through a quick shower!Appropriate to this season of fresh and hopeful beginnings, we just finished selecting 18 schools as finalists in the Intel Schools of Distinction competition. These schools have demonstrated excellence in science and math education at the elementary, middle and high school levels. A couple of them were magnet schools, one a charter school and one a private Catholic school. The rest were public schools, and they are scattered all across the U.S. in cities, suburbs and rural areas. I am especially happy to say that this year’s crop of applicants (note that I am still milking the ‘spring’ metaphor here…) was the strongest we have seen since the competition began five years ago. Ranging from St. Joan of Arc, a small Catholic elementary school in Indiana serving 75% Hispanic students to DeLay Middle School in Texas serving a largely low-income African-American population to Shawnee Mission High School in a prosperous Kansas community, they all shared several characteristics. These schools all focus first on what students are actually learning – not just to regurgitate it on standardized tests, but to understand and be able to use what they learn. They all invest in their faculty. They hire excellent teachers to start with and they set aside time (and money) for professional development. They go beyond the standard curriculum – each school drew upon a variety of resources to put together a rich curriculum that the faculty are excited to teach and the students equally as excited to study. Of course the reason we created the Intel Schools of Distinction program and the reason we are focused on math and science education is that we are worried. We are worried that students in countries all around the world are learning more math and science and learning it more effectively than students in the U.S. We are worried that students everywhere are drawn to other subjects that seem easier to understand or more fun to learn. We are worried that teachers are often ill-prepared to teach these subjects with confidence and enthusiasm If by recognizing these schools we can simply reward and encourage the teachers and school teams who love math and science and teach their students to do so as well, that is itself sufficiently important to justify our investment. We are going to work hard, though, to help them share what they have learned and how they go about their business. We hope to inspire, noodge, and encourage other schools, other educators to emulate their success. Spring is my favorite season – it matches my natural optimism and feeds my soul. Getting to look at what these schools are doing for their students does so even more effectively.
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