It is challenging to identify the schools and programs that are most successful in the STEM disciplines because success is defined in many ways and can occur in many different types of schools and settings, with many different populations of students. It is also difficult to determine the extent to which a school’s success results from any actions the school takes or the extent to which it is related to the population of students in the school. For instance, selective STEM specialty schools have their own data about their return on investment, a variety of student outcomes, and their impact on individual students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet there are no systematic data that show whether the highly capable students who attend those schools would have been just as likely to pursue a STEM major or related career or make significant contributions to technology or science if they had attended another type of school. Furthermore, specialized models of STEM schooling are difficult to replicate on a larger scale because the context in which a school is located may facilitate or constrain its success. Specialized STEM schools often benefit from a high level of resources, a highly motivated student body, and freedom from state testing requirements. These conditions would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement more widely.
Some studies—mostly at the high school level—have been conducted or are under way to understand these school types and their impacts. Although those studies are in varying states of completeness and have limitations, we present some findings here, along with a description of the school type to which they apply.
Selective schools are organized around one or more of the STEM disciplines and have selective admissions criteria. Typically, these are high schools that enroll relatively small numbers of highly talented and motivated students with a demonstrated interest in and aptitude for STEM. The workshop identified four types of selective STEM schools: (1) state residential schools, (2) stand-alone schools, (3) schools-within-a-school, and (4) regional centers with half-day courses.25 All of these selective STEM schools seek