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Math Institutes for the Super-Gifted?

The journal Science has an interesting item about a proposal, included in the $410 million budget measure approved by Congress last month, apparently aimed at identifying and cultivating supreme mathematical talent at the K-12 level.

The article (subscription required) says that a $3 million earmark for the National Science Foundation was included in the spending plan with the potential to create a new institute serving "profoundly gifted" students in math. The spending was supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, according to the story.

How would that money create a new institute for gifted children? The story says a proposal has been submitted to create several new research centers within a larger, existing program of mathematical research institutes within NSF. Those institutes are housed within NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences. Seven current research centers are part of the program, and they focus on exploring "the frontiers of science," as the Science story puts it.

The NSF plans to supplement those existing research centers with six new institutes, which would be awarded grants based on competitive bids, the article says. Those institutes would be funded at $3 million to $5 million a year. One grant applicant, according to the story, was a team of researchers from the University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins University, and the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, in Reno, Nevada. The group's proposal is to create a National Institute for Mathematical Research, which would focus on developing "prospective mathematicians" rather than university-level researchers, the story says.

Advocates for gifted students have long said there are not enough resources in traditional public schools to meet their needs. Many states and districts have supported math and science academies aimed at serving those children, though some say that even those centers may not do enough to challenge students operating at the very highest academic level. The new NSF funding seems to be targeted toward those pupils, in particular.

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