Monday, May 21, 2007

Research Partnership on Gifted Education

The Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa, and the Davidson Institute for Talent Development just announced that they would be working together to research highly gifted children. Some of the proposed projects actually look at the questions we've been talking about on this blog, namely, the problem of measuring potential.

As Nicholas Colangelo of the University of Iowa points out in the press release, there is very little research in this area. Decades ago, Louis Terman started a longitudinal study of children who'd scored very high on IQ tests. Like many researchers in this field, Terman assumed he was tracking the future movers and shakers of this country. Certainly, most of his subjects did very well in life. But his study missed some of the highest achievers from that age group (i.e., people you would have heard of, Nobel Prize winners, etc.). Similarly, the Glamour Top Ten College Women contest has missed almost every high-achieving woman you would have heard of who's lived in the United States over the past five decades. You can look at high-achievers and try to trace back to things that made them great. But it is very, very difficult to look at a group of kids and figure out who has the most potential to advance the culture, science, the economy, or what have you.

I liken this to magazine diet stories (stay with me here). You can read dozens of success stories in any given publication. But last year, Redbook tried an interesting experiment of following three women as they attempted to lose weight over a 12 month period. The women had access to nutritionists, trainers, etc. Only one of the three lost more than a few pounds. Why did she succeed where the others failed? Similar columns in Shape and other magazines have encountered this exact same problem. You can screen hundreds of applicants, but it is very difficult to measure motivation, gumption, discipline, drive -- whatever you want to call it. Some people simply will not let themselves fail, be it at becoming healthier or doing scientific research. It's hard to move the needle in any field. People who do tend to have that certain moxie.

Hopefully this research will, long-term, help supply the answers. Colangelo states that he thinks the Davidson Fellows in particular will show up more on the radar screen in future years than Terman's kids, because their awards are based on actual accomplishments, not just a test score. I think there's something to that. Hopefully this blog will be able to report on lots of research updates over the next few years.

By the way, thanks for all your kind wishes on the baby! We're all doing great.


Anonymous said...

Davidson Fellows, perhaps. Davidson Youth? Doubtful. The Davidson Institute has bizarre acceptance criteria for the latter that are indefensible scientifically (hard IQ test thresholds set at levels where the tests aren't reliable; they screen more for conformity and discourage the iconoclast mindset that often accompanies risk taking and success). Oh, and their acceptance qualifications seem to change every year....

Anonymous said...

My prediction: they won't ever be able to predict who will turn out to move and shake. Moving and shaking is an organic thingy. Life is churn, and you never know who is going to be boosted to the top of the churn. The question shouldn't be: how can we get kids/people to achieve/accomplish, and who should we target? It should be something more like: how do we inspire as many people as possible to engage? What opportunities can we provide, and when, and in what ways so that the most people get engaged at a time that is right for them?

I hate to be dismissive. Maybe they'll find their magic nut, but these kinds of studies freak me out. You'd think smart people could be more creative in their approach to the Big Questions.

Anonymous said...

I believe that if a child possesses high intelligence in combination with high motivation and is then provided a challenging education, the probability that they will succeed is great!
I have heard (many times) that an I.Q. of 125 is sufficient for almost any occupation. I believe that motivation is very important and an area where parents fail their children by refusing to set rules and providing every luxury possible. A challenging education is where our society has failed. This includes the responsibility to provide a higher level education to those who can handle it.