California’s Best STEM Public High Schools 2021

Nate G.
Nate G.

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In April 2021, the US News & World Report for Education released the official 2021 rankings for the best STEM public high schools across the country. But this begs the question – why is this even important?

Before landing a spot at a top-ranked university (or beginning that lucrative career), you face a key preceding milestone. That milestone? Your students’ graduation from high school. Arguably, the journey through high school comprises four equally defining years. Years that will set-up a students’ foundation to successfully pursue collegiate level academics and the rigor of highly coveted jobs.


Richard Göllner of the University of Tübingen and his team analyzed data from 377,015 student participants from 1,226 high schools. This data included the students’ performance on standardized exams, their socioeconomic background, and their educational background. Göllner’s results found that students who attended these top ranked high schools “tended to complete more years of schooling, earn higher annual incomes, and work in jobs with greater occupational prestige.” 

In the simplest terms, high school matters. In today’s blog, we’ll delve into the key indicators that US News uses to decide their rankings, then take a peek at California’s best STEM public high schools. 

What Determines the Rankings?

For the 2021 rankings, the US News & World Report for Education used individual state education data from 2018 – 2019; AP exam data provided by the College Board; and IB exam data provided by the International Baccalaureate. US News reviewed the data of 24,000 schools nationwide, and ranked approximately 17,800 high schools before arriving at their final reporting for the year. 

Below, review the six indicators that US News provided to calculate their 2021 rankings.

  • College readiness – This is determined by the number of 12th grade students who took and earned a qualifying score on AP and/or IB exams.
  • College curriculum breadth –  This is determined by the number of 12th grade students who took and earned a passing score on AP and/or IB exams in multiple subject areas.
  • Math and reading proficiency – This is based on student performance on state academic examinations.
  • Math and reading performance – This is based on whether performance on state academic exams exceeded expectations given the school’s proportion of underserved students.
  • Underserved student performance – This is determined based on how Black, Hispanic and low-income students performed on state assessments compared with those who are not underserved in the state.
  • Graduation rate – This is calculated based on the proportion of students who entered ninth grade in 2015-2016 and graduated in four years. 

Empowerly Tip: “In other words, these are strong categories to consider for any new school.”

Without further ado…presenting California’s top ranked public STEM high schools for 2021!

Whitney High School 
  • Located in Cerritos, California
  • #1 in California STEM public high schools 
  • #2 in California High Schools Overall 
  • With a staggering 99% graduation rate, Whitney’s curriculum earns the title of heavily STEM-based school. Most students participate in robotics and engineering clubs/enrichment programs. In addition to a robust offering of rigorous math, science, and technology courses, Whitney also actively maintains a small class-size of only 150 students per grade.
Mission San Jose High School
  • Located in Fremont, California
  • #2 in California STEM public high schools 
  • #5 in California High Schools Overall 
  • Despite a student body of over 2,000 students, Mission San Jose ranks among the country’s best! They deliver, with 89% of students passing at least one AP exam, graduation rates of 98%, and math and reading proficiencies of 93% and 95% respectively.
  • Mission San Jose also offers a STEM success program to support students with STEM related interests/questions, coursework tutoring, and enrichment.
Lowell High School
  • Located in San Francisco, California
  • #3 in California STEM public high schools 
  • #7 in California High Schools Overall 
  • What makes Lowell High School unique, is their strong partnerships with local universities such as UCSF. These programs aim to provide Lowell students with access to research internships, state-of-the-art research facilities, university faculty mentorship, and support competing in national science competitions. 
Lynbrook High School
  • Located in San Jose, California
  • #4 in California STEM public high schools
  • #14 in California High Schools Overall 
  • In addition to a robust STEM curriculum with Honors and AP classes at every level, Lynbrook also offers a unique Independent Study: STEM Research elective for students who’d like to take their STEM interests to the next level. Students are provided the guidance, mentorship, and oversight necessary to be successful in their desired research topic. 
Monta Vista High School
  • Located in Cupertino, California
  • #5 in California STEM public high schools
  • #16 in California High Schools Overall 
  • Monta Vista High School offers students the opportunity to participate in their unique AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination). According to Monta Vista’s mission statement on AVID, “Monta Vista AVID is a four-year program for students who possess the motivation and the raw ability to succeed in high school and college…Our goal is to provide capable students with the support to thrive in any curriculum and course they desire to take through developing and practicing useful academic skills. The class is composed of classwork led by the AVID teacher and tutorial groups led by high school tutors.”
  • In addition, Monta Vista offers dual enrollment opportunities at local community colleges. This is a strategic opportunity for students to get both high school and college credit at the same time. With this program, it’s possible that students can get both their Associate’s Degree from a local community college and their High School Diploma upon graduation.

Best of luck!

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