Byline: Daniel Stone
To call the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science a high school, you'd have to suspend an element of reality. You'll find no football games, pep rallies, or dismissal bells on the verdant Bowling Green, Ky., campus. Instead you'll find couches for study halls and white boards scribbled with advanced math equations. Last week, one student walked through campus sporting a T-shirt proclaiming, "Extreme science: What a rush."
Welcome to Gatton, America's best high school, according to Newsweek's 2012 rankings of the best 1,000 schools. On every metric--test scores, graduation rates, and college-matriculation rates--Gatton sets the nation's curve. The school, about 100 miles south of Louisville, is a public boarding school with selective admission based only on academic performance--a quality that separates it from most public schools, mandated to seek economic and racial diversity. Once the school's 126 high-achieving students are in, they're given broad autonomy: they live on campus, conduct scientific research, and take college-level courses, including many at the adjacent Western Kentucky University. During semester breaks, the school helps students study abroad.
If it sounds like college, that's the idea. …