Developing effective strategies to support America’s most talented students is a topic that is often overlooked in the ongoing national dialogue about improving our nation’s schools. The National Science Board has released an important report focusing on the identification and nurturing of these students who could be America’s “next generation of innovators.”
“Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital” was produced by an ad hoc Task Group of the Board’s Committee on Education and Human Resources. Camilla Benbow of Vanderbilt University was the Lead of the Task Group on STEM Innovators. Drawing on the findings and recommendations of a panel of experts, and with assistance from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, the Task Group’s 62-page report offers a compelling rationale and strategy to the President, Congress, NSF and other agencies and organizations.
“The Board’s 2-year examination of this issue made clear one fundamental reality: the U.S. education system too frequently fails to identify and develop our most talented and motivated students who will become the next generation of innovators,” states the report. The underlying rationale for making the changes recommended by the Task Force is two-fold. From a national perspective, innovations that could be developed by these students after they enter the workforce could be the foundation of new jobs and improvements in the overall quality of life.
In addition, as what the Task Force characterizes as an “opportunity for excellence,” it contends that as broadly-based improvements are made in the nation’s educational system, “to reach true equality of opportunity, and to ensure that potential does not go unrealized, we must not overlook the educational needs of our Nation’s most talented and motivated students. Too often, U.S. students with tremendous potential to become our future innovators go unrecognized and undeveloped.” The report explains that these students, with different types of STEM abilities, are found in all demographics. There are few Department of Education and National Science Foundation programs that provide “minimal” direct or indirect support for K-12 high-ability students.
The Task Group offered three major recommendations that are accompanied by eighteen policy actions. It also suggested a research agenda for the National Science Foundation to “ensure the policy actions are supported by the best available research.” The recommendations are as follows:
“Provide opportunities for excellence. We cannot assume that our Nation’s most talented students will succeed on their own. Instead, we must offer coordinated, proactive, sustained formal and informal interventions to develop their abilities. Students should learn at a pace, depth, and breadth commensurate with their talents and interests and in a fashion that elicits engagement, intellectual curiosity, and creative problem solving -- essential skills for future innovation.”
“Cast a wide net to identify all types of talents and to nurture potential in all demographics of students. To this end, we must develop and implement appropriate talent assessments at multiple grade levels and prepare educators to recognize potential, particularly among those individuals who have not been given adequate opportunities to transform their potential into academic achievement.”
“Foster a supportive ecosystem that nurtures and celebrates excellence and innovative thinking. Parents/guardians, education professionals, peers, and students themselves must work together to create a culture that expects excellence, encourages creativity, and rewards the successes of all students regardless of their race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or geographical locale.”
The Task Force concluded:
“The United States is faced with a clear and profound choice between action and complacency. The Board firmly believes that a coherent, proactive, and sustained effort to identify and develop our Nation’s STEM innovators will help drive future economic prosperity and improve the quality of life for all. Likewise, providing opportunities for all young men and women to reach their potential will serve the dual American ideals of equity and excellence in education.”
The full report may be read here.