21st January 2014
It’s no secret that when it comes to education, America gets a D-minus. In the most recent global tests – scored on a 1,000-point scale – the U.S. scored a 481 in math, 497 in science, and 498 in reading comprehension. In comparison, international averages were 494, 501, and 496, and the U.S. lags well behind the world’s leaders, a list which includes some of the usual suspects like China, Japan and the Netherlands, but also has Latvia, Slovenia and Vietnam.
Why is the world’s largest economy so bad at teaching its children? One growing school of thought is that the U.S. education system, in its laudable quest to make sure the worst students reach minimal standards, is cheating its best pupils.
“Gifted children are a precious human-capital resource,” said David Lubinski, a professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, in a recent news release. They are the “future creators of modern culture and leaders in business, health care, law, the professoriate, and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].” With fellow researcher Camilla Benbow, Lubinski’s team at Vanderbilt is tracking some of our country’s best and brightest. His project, known as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), although something of a misnomer, since it tests verbal abilities as well, began in 1971 at Julian Stanley’s lab at Johns Hopkins. From there it moved to Iowa State in 1986, and then again to Vanderbilt in 1998, where it has been ever since.