In 1957, when Sputnik took the world by storm, the Ford Foundation was several years into a project for talented students based on early college entrance. An evaluation of that program from the Fund for the Advancement of Education read: “There are those who argue that it is psychologically unsound and politically undemocratic for one child to proceed faster or to have a richer academic diet than another…. But what is too often ignored is the greatest risk of all—the risk of adhering stubbornly to a clearly imperfect set of practices which are frustrating the development of young talent at a time in history when this nation urgently needs to develop its human resources to the full.”
The authors argued that focusing on the most able students is critical in a democracy for nurturing a cadre of capable leaders, among other advantages. The resulting infusion of attention and resources to talented youths through the National Defense Education Act led to a boom of innovation and scientific productivity in the U.S.