Some Achieve but the Achievement Gap Persists
As you probably know, Intel sponsors a science competition for high school students that is extremely tough and very competitive. They generally take about 300 students in the competition. There are always the perennial schools like Bronx Science with many candidates but there are also other schools moving up.
One is Ossining High School in Ossining, New York. Both Bronx Science and Ossining are in Westchester County in New York but Ossining is a diverse city best known as the home of Sing Sing prison. Out of the 300 students selected, 8 came from Bronx Science and 8 from Ossining. However, none of these students were selected as one of the 40 finalists.
Ossining's Intel students are mostly girls (there's one boy). Their research includes:
Plus some interesting research on their peers:
So how does this school do it? Like many schools that achieve greatness in one area, it takes one dedicated person. In this case it's "a maniacally dedicated science teacher" and "a decision by local officials to make science research a priority."
That teacher is Angelo Piccirillo who started the science research program in 1998. Here's what he says:
“We started with three students, and they all dropped out,” he said. “We thought, well, we tried and it didn’t work. Who could have imagined we’d have 90 students 12 years later?”
Mr. Piccirillo has built something of a machine that yearly accepts 30 freshmen out of more than 100 applicants. It includes guidance on research topics, mentors, and help with writing papers and presenting them. Ossining now regularly wins its share of prizes.
“It’s difficult to explain, but the best way I can put it to you is that science research is now part of our culture,” he said. “One thing they say in administration is to make sure everyone is a stockholder in whatever you’re trying to do. That’s what we’ve managed to build.”
But here's the rub:
It would be nice if a fabulous science research program translates to a fabulous school and district, but Ossining’s overall test scores do not compare with those of the most successful districts. Its achievement gap between largely affluent whites and less affluent minorities, who make up a majority of the district, remains stubbornly wide. This year’s Intel semifinalists come overwhelmingly on the favored side of the demographic divide.
On the other side:
But then, there are more than a few parents in neighboring districts with higher test scores who are envious of the richer real-world experience students get in Ossining, where students come from an estimated 53 countries and speak 39 languages.Maybe, as budgets get tighter and tighter, someone will question whether closing the achievement gap and maintaining the expensive science research program can coexist.
Do you think having such a well-performing program that admittedly only a few students participate in is worth sustaining? Does that kind of desire for excellence rub off on other students?