The U.S. education policy world—the entire country, for that matter—is on a quest to increase the ranks of future innovators in science and technology. Yet the programs that get funded in K–12 education do not support students who are already good at and in love with science. These students have potential for outstanding contributions, but without public investment they will not be prepared for the rigors of a scientific career. This is especially true for those without highly educated and resource-rich parents.
This lack of investment is not a matter of chance. It is the result of two related myths about who these students are and what they need from our education system. The first myth is that all talented students come from privileged backgrounds. A second is that students who are successful at a particular time in their school career can somehow thrive on their own, unassisted and unsupervised. We argue that all children deserve to be challenged cognitively, including the most able. Many students with low socioeconomic backgrounds never get the opportunity to develop their talents beyond the rudimentary school curriculum. Jonathan Plucker of the University of Connecticut has shown that high-achieving, low-income students fall further behind their higher-socioeconomic-status peers the closer they get to graduation. Moreover, international comparison studies show science scores improving for all students except those in the top 10 percent.
We know how to identify students who are talented in science and motivated to achieve. We find them thriving in enriched environments (think math and rocketry clubs) inside and outside of school. Standardized tests identify exceptional reasoning abilities in mathematics and spatial skills. Expressing and showing interest in science in elementary or middle school are good predictors of future pursuit of career interests in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.