Pamela R. Clinkenbeard,
Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, UW-Whitewater
Many of us are diligently trying to keep track of the changing landscape regarding voting procedures for the Nov. 3 election. Absentee voting, early in-person voting, and voting at your local polling place on Nov. 3 are all possibilities. The purpose of this short article is twofold: (1) to share two official websites that you can use to double-check the process in your own area and (if you vote absentee) to track the progress of your ballot; and (2) to draw attention to “down-ballot” races, including local school referenda. (See the My Vote Wisconsin link https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/ for details of what’s actually on your own ballot.)
What does this have to do with gifted education, you might ask? At least three connections come to mind. Local school referenda can have a direct impact on funding for advanced learners. If there is more funding available in general, then support services for gifted and talented students are less likely to be seen as a “frill.” Paying attention to congressional races reminds us to communicate with our U.S. representatives. Several of Wisconsin’s congresspersons have been very supportive of gifted education at the federal level, and your WATG board and government action committee members have worked hard to keep up communication with them, but it can help enormously if actual constituents contact their own congressperson requesting attention to advanced learners. Finally, state Senate and Assembly races are critical because so much that affects the day-to-day life of schools, students, and teachers comes down to decisions made by the state legislature, especially in this extra-challenging environment. Do you know how your own state legislators feel about gifted education? Do they serve on any education-related committees or on the Joint Finance Committee that largely determines public school funding?
What’s On My Ballot
My own ballot, in addition to the five choices for president/vice-president (plus write-in) that all Wisconsin voters will have, includes races (some uncontested) for my U.S. Congressperson, my state Senator and state Assembly representative, and a number of county offices (District Attorney, Clerk, Treasurer, Register of Deeds). It also contains two funding referenda for my local school district -- one to exceed revenue limits and one to issue bonds for building construction and facility upgrades.
https://elections.wi.gov/ - Wisconsin Elections Commission
General information including deadlines for registration and absentee voting, articles on voting accessibility and security, and results from past elections. Note: given recent news about the U.S. Post Office, many sources suggest that published deadlines are too optimistic, and that earlier is better if you intend to mail in an absentee ballot.
https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/ - My Vote Wisconsin
This is a personalized site where you can see if you're registered, request an absentee ballot (or see if you've already requested one), see what actually appears on your ballot, etc. You can even track the progress of your absentee ballot after you mail it or turn it in at your municipal clerk’s office. (You can also find your municipal clerk.)
As we approach the election, I urge you to vote and make your voice count.
Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, Ph.D.
In late June, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released its fall back-to-school guidance document, Education Forward, and it includes a section on Gifted and Talented students. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sspw/pdf/Education_Forward_web.pdf The full 87-page document offers guidance to school districts about the return to schooling in late August. Topics include ideas for scheduling, physical layout of classrooms, school operations, other health and safety issues, and how to handle inequities in learning that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
Most sections of the document contain suggested action steps for districts and schools, steps that are organized by Review, Prepare, and Implement. “Review” refers to tasks that should have been at least underway by the end of the 2019-2020 school year. “Prepare” is for action that should be taken now, before the beginning of the upcoming fall session. “Implement” refers to tasks for the 2020-2021 school year.
The second half of the document is devoted to instructional programming, with a substantial section on Teaching and Learning in general and also a section on school libraries. The document then focuses on three groups of students: special education, English learners, and gifted and talented. Each of these sections is also organized around suggested Review, Prepare, and Implement action items.
The Gifted and Talented section (pages 77-79) refers readers to the general guidance under Teaching and Learning, but also contains actions that are specific to GT students and related Wisconsin statutes and administrative rules. For example, a Review task at the school building level is “Conduct a review of the services provided to high-ability/high-potential students during the school building closing to determine who needs to be evaluated for identification and what extensions were provided.” A recommended district-level Prepare task for this summer is “Conduct, when possible, any suggested identification processes for high-ability/ high-potential students so grouping and subject-based or grade-based acceleration decisions can be made.”
The Implement suggestions for the upcoming school year are all at the school building level, and there are links to several GT resources that are on the DPI website. For example, one suggestion in the Implement section is “Collect and use data to guide instruction for students with gifts and talents.” It contains a link to a document on how to pre-assess students at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of a unit of instruction.
Note that in Wisconsin, the main state “model” for instruction of students with gifts and talents is the general Equitable Multi-Level System of Supports (MLSS) model (many districts may refer to this model with the term Response to Instruction, RtI). In other words, GT students are included in a model that will “match support to needs,” whether the students need interventions to help them learn or whether they need additional challenges (and some students will need both in different areas). For more information on the MLSS model, which has equity and culturally responsive practice at its core, see https://dpi.wi.gov/rti. For more information on gifted and talented education in Wisconsin, explore the links at https://dpi.wi.gov/gifted. Clicking on the “Toolkit for Gifted Education” link will take you to information and practical suggestions for programming in a way that is consistent with the MLSS/RtI model.
Final comment: how can you use this document to advocate for gifted and talented students? Whether you are an educator, a parent, a school board or community member, or a gifted student yourself, you can make sure that programming for GT/advanced learners is not left out of the back-to-school conversation. Share the Education Forward document, send others the three pages that are specifically targeted to gifted education, and ask questions about how the needs of ALL students will be met as we face the challenges ahead.
Did you know that there is no Wisconsin legislation that requires pre-service teachers (education majors) to have a specific course in gifted education? I remember when I was in college, my only conversation about gifted students occurred (for about 10 minutes) in my REQUIRED Special Education class. That was 40 years ago! I’m sad to say that nothing has changed about that requirement (or lack thereof) in all this time! Education students are fortunate when they have an instructor who knows the importance of specifically training their classes on the needs of gifted children.
We are fortunate to have some staff at higher education schools in Wisconsin that are turning this problem around and working to create change for our gifted students! I would like to highlight them for you to show our gratitude!
Dr. Uzeyir Ogurlu from UW-Stevens Point is new to the WATG Board of Directors. He has national and international research experience that he can bring to the work of WATG. With a deep background in gifted education, it is important to him to make sure his students are getting the current information they need. “Dr. O” invited WATG to talk with his students about the “state of gifted education in Wisconsin” during his January term class and again this week for his spring term class. From first hand experience, I can tell you that these college students were amazed that they were given no prior information about gifted students, and they are willing to go the extra mile to get more information now that they know there is a need.
Dr. Jen Collins, director of the UW-Platteville School of Education, brought a van load of their education students to the WATG fall conference last year. She went above and beyond in graciously accepting our invitation to bring students, and UWP financially supported the students’ registration fees. WATG board members were able to spend a day with these students and share a wealth of information and resources with them.
Dr. Scott Peters and Dr. Pamela Clinkenbeard from UW-Whitewater have continuously gone above and beyond for gifted students, not only in Wisconsin, but also nationally and internationally. Both have served on the WATG Board of Directors. Dr. Clinkenbeard is currently an advisory member, and is helping to push funding and legislation for gifted education right here in Wisconsin. Dr. Peters is working with the WATG Acceleration Team, writing a comprehensive state report on acceleration practice and policies in the state. In addition, UW-Whitewater is working on a fully-online gifted and talented licensure program that could start this fall if there is enough interest.
It is imperative that we educate our pre-service and in-service teachers about the needs of gifted students. We cannot just expect them to “know” how to program for, and meet the needs of our students if they are not taught why and how to do it appropriately. WATG is grateful to these instructors for making sure that gifted education is promoted under their watch.
Are you wondering what you can do to help? Reach out to your representatives and let them know that specific legislation for educating our pre-service teachers on the needs of gifted students is an important piece in creating the BIG change we need in Wisconsin. Teachers and administration cannot adequately support gifted students if they do not know how. Let’s teach them!
Past President, WATG
I hope it’s not too late to tell you that our October conference attendees rock!
The emails you sent to your legislators before our October Gifted Education briefing in Madison really made a difference. The room was standing room only! As one staffer told us, “There are multiple meetings going on today. If a constituent asks us to attend a briefing like this, then this meeting takes precedence over the others.”
So, what can you do now to keep the momentum going?
Make sure you know who your representatives are in Madison. We have some activities going on right now that may have us asking you to contact your legislators again soon.
While you’re at it, make sure you know who your reps are in DC, too. WATG leaders will be in DC in March, and we will be scheduling meetings with the office of every congressional representative from Wisconsin.
You can find all of your elected officials here.
If you’re with me so far, I have one more request.
We need to know who our supporters of gifted education are, in which legislative districts they live, and that they are willing to send a message to their elected official(s). This is especially helpful when your representative is on a key committee.
If you are willing to contact your legislators in support of gifted education initiatives that may come along, please complete the form here.
We’ll ask for your name, home address and email address, but we won’t share it with anyone. We just need to be able to contact you if your representative needs to be contacted. And when the time comes, we’ll provide you with a template message so you don’t have to start from scratch.
It will take ALL of us – parents; educators and administrators from K-12 and higher education; mental health providers; school board members; community members; and even our students – if we are to be successful. Join us now!
Lalitha Murali, WATG Board
As a WATG Board member, I sent out an email to my Senators and Representatives about the importance of Gifted Education and allocating proper funds to the program. I also invited them to attend our WATG meeting on October 8, 2019. I was surprised to receive an immediate response from Rep. Knodl saying that he is planning to attend the WATG meeting in Madison. He also mentioned that he would be happy to meet with me. I was delighted to hear that from him.
As promised, he came to my classroom last week and patiently listened to me. I advocated for gifted education and expressed my concern that Wisconsin is not getting enough funding and we are receiving lesser funding when compared to other states. We discussed about GT funding and GT programs in general. I was able to showcase our students’ success because of the GT program and he was very impressed. I also reiterated that by participating in GT grant programs, my students were able to achieve greater results.
Mr. Knodl promised me that he will look into this matter and will come back and share more details. I even made it in his weekly newsletter! What an exciting day for a public school GT Teacher!
If you were at our conference last month, if you read your email, if you saw our Facebook posts - you know that on October 8, WATG leaders presented at the state capitol.
And if you were at our conference, you were asked, encouraged, cajoled into sending an email to your legislators, personally asking them to attend this briefing hosted by Rep. Warren Petryk’s office.
Your emails sent a message! Legislators and aides from both parties filled the room, and most of them stayed for the entire hour and a half. We could tell from the questions asked that this session drew new attention to gifted education. And we were specifically told that, with many meetings going on at any given time at the capitol, a request from a constituent to attend a given meeting makes a big difference.
What can you do next?
WATG leaders will continue to have meetings with individual legislative offices, including one as soon as next month. If your legislator needs more information and would like to meet with WATG representatives, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the invitation of Rep. Petryk’s office, members of WATG’ s board will be presenting in Madison next week. We want to get as many legislators in attendance as possible! You can help us accomplish this by copying and pasting the following, updating the relevant items, and sending it to your state Senator and Representative. Your legislators can be found by entering your HOME address at this link: https://legis.wisconsin.gov/
Dear (Senator or Representative name),
As a resident of (fill in complete HOME address) I would like to request that you attend the briefing listed below on October 8th. This is an issue that is very close to me as (a parent of a gifted child, an educator of gifted individuals, insert your own).
Thank you for your time,
(your info here)
Representative Warren Petryk Invites you to a presentation by the:
Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted
October 8th, 2019
10:30 – 11:30
415 NorthWest, State Capitol
This presentation is an opportunity for members and staff to learn about the current status of gifted students and talent development in the state, including statutory/regulatory information, new survey data and maps from almost every school district in the state, and implications for economic and workforce development. Wisconsin statute 118.35 requires school districts to identify learners and provide them with appropriate services. The mission of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (watg.org) is to educate stakeholders and to advocate for the needs of the state's gifted and talented learners from every income and cultural group. The state-wide membership of WATG includes educators, school administrators, parents, business leaders, and higher education representatives.
The meeting will feature a presentation from WATG board members and a representative student. A Q&A will be included.
Handouts will be provided
On August 5, Deb Kucek and Jackie Drummer, Past Presidents of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted, presented at the Wisconsin Public Education Network Summit in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Their topic was Excellence With Equity: A Talent Development Perspective on Gifted Education. As a result of this presentation, several important networking opportunities evolved.
One of the participants in the Summit workshop was Dan Rossmiller, the lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association for School Boards, who took copious notes and asked insightful questions about gifted students and gifted education. Mr. Rossmiller’s knowledge will be very helpful as WATG moves forward with legislative actions.
Another outcome of the Summit included an emerging partnership with Kim Kaukl, Director and lobbyist for the Wisconsin Rural Schools Association (WiRSA). Discussion with Mr. Kaukl provided valuable insight into how best to communicate with rural districts regarding gifted education and gifted students. WATG continually seeks partnerships with other associations/organizations in order to reach underserved populations. The WiRSA will share information about WATG and our fall conference in its newsletter, and has welcomed WATG to its fall conference, also in October of this year. Plans are being made to present at the WiRSA conference next year.
All in all, August has been a very good month for advocating and networking for the needs of gifted kids across Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s gifted funding remains stable in the current budget. That’s both good news and bad news.
The good news is that the funding for the Gifted and Talented competitive grant program wasn’t removed from the biennial budget this summer; the bad news is that none of the increases proposed by WATG or the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission (p. 9) or the Governor (p. 419) made it through the budget approval process.
For the past several years, Wisconsin’s only state funding for gifted education has been the competitive grant program that awards up to $237,200 per year (in the past, a maximum of $30,000 per applicant) to those who have enough support, time and knowledge within their districts to write and submit a grant. With over 400 school districts in the state, the grant funding doesn’t go very far.
WATG’s leaders and members of the Government Action Committee have been meeting with legislators and other decision-makers over the past several months, increasing awareness of the need for greater state funding for Gifted and Talented education.
But WATG’s leadership cannot do the work alone. Your voice is needed if any change is to happen for Wisconsin’s gifted, talented, and advanced learners.
So how can you help?
We need you to help WATG educate about and advocate for the needs of the gifted in Wisconsin.
Click HERE to sign up for the WATG Advocacy Action Network.
I have worked in gifted education in Wisconsin for more than 20 years. In my opinion we have the best chance in a long time, right now, to bring about fundamental change in how the state serves its gifted students. But we will waste this opportunity if we don’t have many voices advocating for change.
Perhaps you’re thinking “Isn’t that why WATG has an advocacy committee?” Yes, to some extent. That committee, now known as the Government Action Committee (GAC), does do a tremendous amount of volunteer work tracking proposed legislation and the state budget, communicating with legislators, and meeting with other education groups around the state. However, LEGISLATORS LISTEN TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS. After all, that’s who elects them.
We have been told that just a few inquiries about an issue can feel like a landslide in a state legislator’s office. Many of them, even members of the Education committees, never hear about gifted children or gifted education. A single conversation or story can make a difference. We have found that most legislators are shocked to see how little Wisconsin spends on gifted education compared to neighboring states, and they often have no idea how many barriers can be put up when families are just trying to get curriculum and instruction that meets the needs of their children. Many of them believe most of the common myths about gifted children and programs (see http://nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students).
What happens next? The Joint Finance Committee has completed its hearings, and we are collecting examples of the written and video testimony submitted to JFC by gifted education advocates (see President Cathy Schmit’s column for more on this!). These examples will be available for you to refer to on the WATG website under the Advocacy link (look under Menu and then Get Involved, or go directly to http://www.watg.org/advocacy). What we need now is for YOU to contact YOUR* state senator and your state Assembly representative to let them know that you support WATG’s request for the current state budget ($2.5 million for the existing grant program, with part of that available to help fund a person at DPI to help process the additional grants), and to let them know why you care about appropriate challenge for gifted, talented, and advanced learners. (WATG is developing additional requests, but the current budget request is the most urgent.)
You can (and probably do) advocate with your own school district for better local services. The state level is where many policy decisions are made that affect your local schools. Please extend your advocacy to the state level by calling or emailing your* state legislators. Your Government Action Committee is more than ready to help you with your message! Send questions/requests to Advocacy@watg.org, and please let us know about your calls or emails so that we can keep track of which legislators have been contacted.
Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of Wisconsin’s gifted students!
Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, Ph.D.
Former president, WATG
Member, Government Action Committee
* Go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and on the right side of the page, you'll see the words, “Who Are My Legislators?” Underneath, there is a space to enter your address. Type in your complete HOME address and click "Find Your Legislators." Their contact information will pop up.
News From the government action committee