High-Tech Education: Boston

In 1998, Boston became the first major school district to connect all its schools to the Internet

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone here. Bill Gates studied here (before dropping out). The sewing machine, vulcanized rubber, the Polaroid camera, the microwave oven, artificial limbs, synthetic penicillin, the first computers, Arpanet, e-mail, inertial guidance systems–all are products of Boston ingenuity. Not so surprising when you consider that the city boasts more than 60 colleges and universities. Ten Nobel laureates currently teach at MIT, 39 at Harvard; Boston’s universities spend $2.3 billion annually on R&D, almost twice as much as the next biggest spender, Baltimore.

This abundance of talent and resources trickles down to the city’s public schools. Boston University and Northeastern professors coach high school teams competing in an international robotics competition, and MIT engineering students mentor kids interested in tech careers. When Boston opened a technology-based high school, Harvard, MIT and the University of Massachusetts, along with companies including Dell, IBM and Microsoft, donated expertise, manpower and more than a million dollars’ worth of high-tech equipment. Every student at TechBoston Academy is given a wireless laptop, and every classroom has an interactive Smart Board, a touch-sensitive display linked to the teacher’s computer. In 1998, Boston became the first major school district to connect all its schools to the Internet.

Meanwhile, the legacy of invention continues. B.U. grad student Matt Heverly helped design the robotic arms for Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and is now working on technology to enable image-guided fetal heart surgery. And a low-cost rocket-powered surveillance system that MIT grad Andrew Heafitz originally created for a science fair at Boston-area Newton South High School is now in development with the U.S. Air Force.

THE NUMBERS

Overall rank: 4
Percent of public schools with internet access: 100
Annual university R&D expenditures: $2.3 BILLION
Percent of students equipped with a computer at school: 80
Number of science museums: 3

HIGH-TECH EDUCATION: RUNNERS-UP

2. Houston, TX
3. Raleigh, NC
4. Philadelphia, PA
5. Washington, DC
6. Atlanta, GA
7. Baltimore, MD
8. New York, NY
9. Chicago, IL
10. San Diego, CA