Based on US News and Word Report, the top 10 high schools in Virginia are all located in Northern Virginia, and the majority of the top 20 schools in Virginia are as well. Additionally, the majority of these top schools appear to be concentrated in Fairfax County. This seems to be a byproduct of an excellent environment and community, an area with thriving businesses and great neighborhoods.
The top school in Virginia and one of the top schools in the country is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, located in Alexandria, VA. This schools admits its students based on test scores, academic record, and other merits, which is similar to the college application process. This allows the school to admit the top students in the area. The academic achievements and accomplishments of these students are well documented.
It seems that the type of student who thrives at Thomas Jefferson, a competitive and challenging academic boot camp, are those who are psychologically well prepared and driven for hard work and achievement. They have an advanced maturity at an early age to be able to manage their schedules, prioritize and focus on hard work, and plan for the future. Many of them are so well aware of their future plans that they have their university and career progressions already mapped out. Compared to the majority of high schoolers in the country, this is an extremely rare characteristic and represents a very small percentage of the population. These are students that demonstrate a maturity well beyond their years, fostered by either their parents or just through natural tendencies.
But aside from these top notch students, who could probably thrive on their own without too much guidance, the question is how effective is the American educational system for other bright students who find the current uncreative education system extremely demotivating. Let’s face it, the typical high school classroom consists of a teacher reading from a textbook the majority of the time, which any intelligent student could do on his/her own, making this exercise a complete waste of time. And when you combine all the classes and teachers doing this for an entire school year, you have several years of wasted time in a classroom where the amount of actual learning is minimal. This wasted time has a tremendous opportunity cost, because these same students could be spending these years developing skills or knowledge that could greatly benefit their futures.
Also, it is rare for one of these teachers to actual teach material in a way that can be related and applied to the real world, which is the key to engaging the interest of students who have the potential to learn and excel but are demotivated by the pointless nature of the typical classroom. When the only objective of a class is to memorize material in a textbook and take a test on this memorized material, it does not facilitate actual learning of the subject of study. What is required is an emphasis on why the field of study is important in the real world, how knowledge learned can be applied, and how learning this information will benefit oneself and allow one to achieve goals in the real world. This is how you motivate those who have the capacity to excel but don’t have a worthwhile purpose.
However, it remains to be seen whether there is any incentive for a major overhaul in the American education system. Improving the quality of the education system would require effort and resources for training teachers and improving curriculums. And of course, education is only a priority for politicians in name and not in actual practice. Although the United States can boast to have the most brilliant business people, scientists and innovators in the world, its educational system unfortunately has a mediocre ranking compared to other countries. This is why the students who have the greatest advantage are the ones who have the parents with the expertise to guide them to excellence.