Top High Schools: The Public Elites

NEWSWEEK's Challenge Index is designed to recognize schools that challenge average students. These top-performing schools, listed below in alphabetical order, were excluded from the list of top high schools because, despite their exceptional quality, their sky-high SAT and ACT scores indicate they have few or no average students.

Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, N.J.: A collection of seven career-focused academies where students have an extended school day.

Bronx High School of Science, New York: One of the most famous schools in America for many years. It has a richly talented, ethnically diverse student body.

Gatton Academy of Math and Science, Bowling Green, Ky.: Juniors and seniors from all over the state are selected by scores, grades and essays to live in their own Western Kentucky University residence hall, earning college credit as well as completing high school.

High Technology High, Lincroft, N.J.: The highest-scoring of the growing number of schools with this name across the country. This is a new species of high school, with a great emphasis on modern equipment and hands-on learning.

Hunter College High School, New York: Another one of the city's greats, with a seventh- through 12th-grade program administered by Hunter College. It was an all-girls school until it went coed in 1972.

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora: "Wayne's World," the Mike Myers "Saturday Night Live" sketch and film, is not the only cool thing associated with Aurora. IMSA is also a state-funded boarding school. It takes 10th through 12th graders and has a strong mentoring program.

International Community School, Kirkland, Wash.: Students are selected through a lottery to attend this school, which focuses on international awareness. It is one of the few public elite schools without a selective admissions systems. Instead, as happens sometimes, the lottery participants self-select into an academic powerhouse.

Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies, Richmond, Va.: Unlike the science-math orientation of most of the public elites, the focus of this school is on world cultures and building students' leadership skills.

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham: This school, established in 1980 in an abandoned hospital, started the small but interesting trend of state-created boarding schools drawing bright and ambitious high-schoolers from all over the state.

Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, Oklahoma City: A state-funded boarding school that teaches all courses at the university level.

South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, Hartsville: Another state boarding school, this one is for 11th and 12th graders across the state.

Stuyvesant High School, New York: Along with Bronx Science, probably the most famous on this list. It has been teaching the city's most academically ambitious students for several generations. It offers about 55 AP courses every semester, and has plenty of courses above that level.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County, Va.: The most selective public high school in America, drawing mostly from the affluent households of northern Virginia and with one of the most talented faculties in the area.

Union County Magnet High School, Scotch Plains, N.J.: This selective-admission school also focuses on science, math and technology.

University Laboratory High School, Urbana, Ill.: There is competitive admission for this day school on the campus of the University of Illinois. It makes good use of its higher-education environment.

Whitney High School, Cerritos, Calif.: Like Jefferson and High Tech High, a suburban version of the New York superschools, with very competitive admission, but unlike students at the state boarding schools, those at Whitney go home at night.

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