Public education in South Carolina is the source of constant hand-wringing among parents, employers and politicians. But that angst shouldn't overshadow the fact that some schools defy the tarnished image and bring credit to the state.

Two were recently highlighted in The Washington Post, one as among the country's most challenging high schools and one as among the country's 23 top performing schools with elite students.

Academic Magnet High School's selection as No. 61 on the most challenging list comes as little surprise locally. Since its founding in 1988, the North Charleston school consistently has excelled academically. Competition for spots in the school is stiff.

The S.C. Governor's School for Science & Mathematics, a public boarding school in Hartsville, is not eligible for the Post's "most challenging" list because of its admissions rules and high test scores. But being one of the 23 top-performing high schools in the United States is impressive, elite students or not.

Yes, these two schools have an advantage over other public schools in that they can cherry-pick students whose school performance commends them.

Yes, the fact that they went to all the trouble to research and apply to either of these schools suggests they have ambition - and, likely, supportive families.

And yes, both schools are small enough (GSSM has 220 students and AMHS has 612) to allow for strong student-teacher bonds.

Still, the best students can languish without appropriate instruction and the most ambitious can lose interest if they are not challenged.

The success of the Governor's School and Academic Magnet should inspire other schools, regardless of size, to excel. Average students need excellent teachers, and at-risk students need to be challenged.

Congratulations to the Academic Magnet High School and the S.C. Governor's School for Science & Mathematics.

And here's hoping to find more South Carolina schools on next year's list.