Looking back at Wisconsin’s history of advocacy for gifted education, it's interesting to put it into context, both nationally and internationally. Much of the history was linked to the research in the field of giftedness.
As early as the 1850’s, Sir Francis Galton worked with a selected group of gifted individuals in England. Early in the twentieth century, Binet developed the first workable intelligence test. Later Terman based his long term study of genius on the Binet test. In 1957 the Russian success of the Sputnik satellite propelled American educational systems to initiate new science, math, and foreign language standards, curriculum, textbooks, and techniques.
The 1972 Marland Report on the Education of the Gifted & Talented formally defined gifted and talented children in the terminology we are familiar with today. One year before that, the U.S. Office of Education concluded that, “Gifted and talented children are in fact deprived and can suffer psychological damage and permanent impairment of their abilities to function well, which is equal to or greater than the similar deprivation suffered by other populations with special needs.”
As early as 1964 the dropout rate among the gifted and talented population was estimated to be three times greater than among normal populations (Gowan). At that time, the U.S. Department of Education incorporated Gifted and Talented data in the Handicapped Section. Why, you may ask? If you compare achievement and potential achievement, the gifted were considered to be handicapped.
In 1993 The U.S. Department of Education published National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent. In this publication, definitions and explanations of programs and services for this population were explained in great detail.
In 2004 A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students came out from the Belin Blank Center of the University of Iowa; edited by Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, et. al., it explicitly detailed the issues related to educating gifted and talented children and youth.
A Nation Empowered: A Ten Year Follow-up to the Important Nation Deceived Report came out in 2014, and further detailed progress in the field of gifted and talented.
The effort to add laws pertaining to gifted and talented education within Wisconsin State Statutes began in 1970 with a study requested by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Leaders within the Wisconsin Association for Educators of the Gifted & Talented (WAEGT) and the Wisconsin Council for Gifted & Talented (WCGT) maintained advocacy efforts until the statute finally became official in 1987, and is known as
[Wisconsin School Law, Chapter 118.35; 118.35(1);118.35(3) Standard (t) S.121.02(1)(t);PI 8.01(2)(t)].
With all of this research, reporting, and advocacy, it is no less important to keep up the effort in the twenty-first century. The future belongs to the current leadership, parents, educators, and business and community leaders to ensure the proper development and support of able learners.
In 2004 Dr. Julia Roberts, a staunch national gifted and talented supporter and leader, wrote a letter in which she defined advocacy and its outcomes like this:
1 Advocate = A Fruit Cake
2 Advocates = Fruit Cake and a Friend
3 Advocates = Troublemakers
5 Advocates = Let’s Have a Meeting
10 Advocates = We’d Better Listen
25 Advocates = Our Dear Friends
50 Advocates = A Powerful Organization
To remain a powerful organization and to advocate powerfully for gifted education, we need many, many advocates. We hope you join us as we continue this worthy effort.
WATG President 2003-2004
Declarations of Gifted Education Week as a public awareness and outreach mechanism began in 1982. This was several years into the campaign to achieve a state statute requiring services for children and youth who are gifted, talented, and creative. (This statute was not created until 1988.)
The earliest records of Gifted Education Week were simply printed press releases from the governor’s office. Eventually a similar declaration was also issued by the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, though today the actual documents are hiding in unknown files in unknown locations. We do know that there were a number of years in the 1990s when the requests for the Gifted Education Week declarations seem to have ended. The practice was revived in the early 2000s and several of those documents have been preserved.
In 2012, WATG’s annual conference was held at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan and Sheboygan’s mayor, Terry Van Akekkem, attended the banquet on Friday. He signed and presented WATG with a similar Gifted Education Week Proclamation for the city of Sheboygan. This is perhaps the only time a city made such a show of support!
Newsletter and board meeting minutes over the years reflect frustration in getting declarations for Gifted Education Week publicized in a timely manner; often they were realized as the fall conference was already underway or even after the conference concluded. Eventually the requests went out earlier so that the WATG Board had the opportunity to distribute the declaration to school districts, compose local press releases, and allow school staff to use the week before and/or after the conference for professional development.
Gifted personnel also created ways to share information, teaching ideas, and thoughtful pieces about gifted students with their colleagues. I can speak of a couple of things that we did in the Janesville Schools.For example, when WATG had pens and pencils created with the logo and website, we would buy enough to put a few in each of the teachers’ lounges. This was pricey enough, considering there were 18 buildings in our district! But it got conversations started around gifted students and gifted education, so it was worth it.
Another creative idea, (which cost nothing but time and a little paper), was to print “myth busters” about gifted kids, or inspirational quotes from the great authors and researchers in gifted education on colorful paper and tape them on the inside of toilet stall doors. Restaurants advertised there; why not us, we thought?
Another idea we tried was to wrap small gift boxes with these same quotes and fill them with small candies, also for the teachers’ lounges.
I share these ideas with you to inspire you to think of ways to celebrate gifted education in your schools. All of you are so creative, and technology is so much more sophisticated nowadays. There is no limit to how you can share information and inspiration.
It is just as important today to keep the need for free, appropriate, systematic, and continuous appropriate programming for our gifted and talented students a part of the conversation within public education. If services for gifted children are not provided in public schools, then only those families wealthy enough to send their children to special schools, camps, clubs, and classes will be able to satisfy the needs of their children. Let’s work together to celebrate gifted education every single day. If you’ve got some great ideas, please share them with us at watg.org. We’ll be glad to share them with others.
Ruth Robinson, Past President of WATG
Project STREAM, Support, Training & Resources for Educating Able Minorities, was a project funded by federal Javits Grant money and supported by the University of Wisconsin Extension & the Department of Public Instruction. The grant was authored and administered by Dr. Donna Rae Clasen at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. It ran from the late 1980s until 2002. During that time, hundreds of middle and high school students spent a week on campus. The ultimate goal was to increase the graduation rates of minority students and then have them enter and complete a university or technical college degree program.
Over a dozen years, hundreds of students from Beloit, Delevan, Racine, Milwaukee,and Waukesha visited the Whitewater campus at least once each semester in between their summer week-long institutes on campus. In addition, teachers from the region taught the workshops and developed relationships with the students. Currently an effort is underway to locate these former students (now in their 40s) who participated for their reflections on their experiences. Anyone with connections to these districts and their former students is asked to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following excerpt from a STREAM brochure summarizes the overview of the project:
Successful collaborative efforts are driven by common goals. It is equally important that all in the partnership endorse the basic assumptions underlying the project endeavors. The STREAM collaboration rests on eight basic assumptions:
1. Abilities and talents are distributed equally without regard to race, gender, nationality or ethnicity.
2. Multiple intelligences exist. In identifying highly able young people, effort should be expanded to determine the ways in which an individual is intelligent.
3. Early identification of talents and abilities is critical. Identification prior to middle school is desirable. Many decisions affecting academic and personal orientation are made during middle school.
4. Systematic and continuous attention to students is required. A nurturing but challenging environment is required every step of the way.
5. Affective components are as important as the academic components. STREAM focuses on developing self-esteem and a sense of competence in both psychosocial and academic areas.
6. Parents and families must be involved in the education of their children.
7. Universities need to link with minority students, their teachers and their parents when students are at an early age.
8. Systems operate in interaction. Changing the status quo requires changes educationally, socially, politically, and in family patterns of behavior.”
As we look at the eight basic assumptions of Project STREAM, we are reminded that these assumptions remain imperative in gifted education today. Thank you to the many who furthered this project through teaching and participation. We hope to learn even more about the impact of this program on the lives of those involved.
WATG President 2003-2004
Parents, Educators, & Kids (P.E.K.) Day: The Inspiration for Children’s Programming and the Teen Conferences
Over the years, WATG has always been interested in programming for gifted children.The first planned event for children included parent, educator, and adult activities, and began in 1980. This event was billed as the P.E.K. Day (Parents, Educators, & Kids). The day was planned cooperatively by officers of the Wisconsin Council for Gifted & Talented (WCGT) and the Wisconsin Association of Educators of the Gifted & Talented (WAEGT). Additionally, the local school district, closest University of Wisconsin campus, and often the regional technical school participated in the planning and event. These events were held on a Saturday. Sometimes they were in conjunction with the WCGT Conference; sometimes they were held on a Saturday in the spring closest to the WAEGT Conference. Sessions were planned so that age groups could be grouped together, from elementary to middle school aged students.
Beginning in 1988, the P.E.K. Days became the Children’s Programs. At this time, the annual conference began on Thursday evening prior to the full-day Friday-Saturday Conference. The Children’s Programs then ran all day, both on Friday and Saturday. This allowed more parents and teachers with school-aged children to attend without additional arrangements for child care. The Children’s Programs were discontinued after the 2000 conferences. There was no programming for students of any age from 2001-2007.
In 2008, parents and educators encouraged WATG to premiere a Teen Conference. This was also a way to enhance attendance at the fall conferences. The Children's Programs had focused on elementary age students, and the Teen Conferences would focus on older students. Thus began a new tradition.
The period of time between 1985 and 2000 marked the inception and implementation of State Standard (t) in Wisconsin law. All of the programming during this time frame was aimed at children, and was sparked by the enthusiasm generated by Standard (t). These years also coincided with the federally funded Project STREAM (Support, Training, Resources for Educating Able Minorities) through the University of WIsconsin- Whitewater. This Javits Grant was authored and directed by Dr. Donna Rae Clasen.
A project has recently begun to locate any of the hundreds of Project STREAM middle school students, and the teachers and counselors who participated in the graduate level coursework that was offered through that early Javits grant. It would be great to follow up with this population of students, now in their 40s. It would be especially great to celebrate with them during the fiftieth annual fall conference of WATG in 2023. Any assistance is appreciated!
Register for this year's Teen Conference.
Ruth Robinson, Past President (2003-2004)
An article in the Stevens Point Journal of November 1990 reported that registration for the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented (WCGT) Conference “was at 748 people, which included 90 children.” This was an astonishing number of registrants! However, keep in mind that 1990 was within two years of State Standard (t) having been added to the state statutes. Mr. Grover, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Wisconsin at the time, was advocating for greater implementation of programs for special education students, and especially for gifted and talented students. Initially, funding requests were stated as a percentage of state funds earmarked for special education under the category of gifted and talented. This would have ensured a constant, specific funding line for districts.
At the same time, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire pledged to assist in managing the 1991 WCGT Conference for a comprehensive fee of $7,500, which meant they would take over all logistics of the conference. This complicated fee structures but showed a remarkable level of support from the University System.
In either 1990 or 1991, Governor Tommy Thompson announced in his State of the State Address that he would recommend that the State waive these present (20) Standards if school districts had not yet managed to meet them. Through the early 1990s, the Department of Public Instruction sent teams out to districts in a Standards Review Process, which produced a compliance report. That report carried the threat of reduced state aid to districts not meeting the standards. Standard (t), mandating gifted and talented identification and programming, is the twentieth standard, and was barely three years old before this threat appeared. It remains a statute. However, I believe standards reviews have not occurred for many years.
The lessons learned from the state statute fight from fifteen years ago, with the continued pressure to maintain services, is one for practitioners at the district level to remember today. As much as possible, practices need to be specified within a school district’s Board of Education Policies. In that way, the practices, procedures and beliefs will be on record, no matter who is on the staff at any given time. Be sure to include policies on early entrance, grade advancement, grading, post-secondary credits, or any other options that may benefit gifted and talented children and youth.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) has a storehouse of sample policies in every category. If your district is a member of this association, it is possible to get copies of policies adopted by other Wisconsin districts so you do not have to start from scratch. It’s also possible to see policies in related areas that your district may not yet have in place.
This is perhaps the best lesson I ever learned as a coordinator -- make sure that policies about gifted education are in place, because we all know no one stays in a position indefinitely. The work and time invested will pay dividends well into the future. It is difficult for state legislatures to remove existing statutes, and it is equally difficult for Boards of Education to eliminate policies without feedback and repeated readings of the proposals. Planning now secures quality programming for gifted and talented students in the future.
Ruth Robinson, WATG President 2003-04
Did you ever think that anyone outside of Wisconsin paid attention to WATG or its predecessors? In fact, at the 1990 Annual Conference two representatives were welcomed from the USSR (do you remember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?) This was just a year before they changed their name to the Russian Federation.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time was Bert Grover. He was a big man with a big personality and an infectious laugh. Somewhere in his travels he had met these diplomats. The event was mentioned in the November 1990 edition of Education Forward, where there was a photo of Mr. Grover shaking hands with the diplomats. Here is the photo’s caption: “The world has changed a great deal in the past year, and education will play an increasingly vital role as more emphasis is placed on international cooperation and exchange. State Superintendent Herbert Grover was part of that process on October 12, 1990 when he greeted Dr. Vladimir Shadrikov, the Vice Minister of the State Committee of Public Education for the Soviet Union. Pictured with Shadrikov & Grover is Dr. Vasily Tsaryov, director of the Foreign Office Academy of Pedagogical Science. The three traveled to Portage to view the Muir Elementary early childhood program and mainstreaming efforts, and then to UW- Stevens Point to attend the fall conference of the Wisconsin Council of Talented & Gifted.”
The world has changed a great deal in the past years! It seems true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though we live in a global society to a degree not fully imagined in 1990, we continue to need educational standards, and critical and creative thinking skills. Gifted Education and pedagogical approaches have been important and will always be important.
Ruth Robinson, WATG Past President 2003-2004
The quest to collect, archive, and document the evolution of advocacy groups for gifted education has been ongoing for decades. This month the urgency is reinforced by the loss of another of Wisconsin’s pioneers in the field. On March 18, 2021 Dr. Donna Rae Clasen, Processor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, passed away peacefully in her home at the age of 89.
There will be a more extensive memorial to her contribution to gifted education in a future edition of this blog. It is extensive, stretching from the early 1970’s to current days. Within the collection of WATG newsletters, the following paragraphs were found, with questions about gifted education in Wisconsin. We’re hoping to still answer some of these questions in 2021. The lines quoted were printed in the October 1992 newsletter of the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented. This was the year before the merging of the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented (WCGT) and the Wisconsin Association of Educators of Gifted and Talented (WAEGT) to form the current Wisconsin Association for Talented & Gifted (WATG).
“Our Historian, Bobbie Kinsinger and our Executive Secretary, Audrey Burkes, have been busy gathering and organizing memorabilia of the Wisconsin Council for the Gifted & Talented... Now we would like to ask for additional historical material. If you still have printed material...dating back to WCGT’s origins in the mid 1970’s, the office would be pleased to have it. We are especially looking for conference brochures, programs or photographs.” Do You Remember When?
Do you remember things that have happened ...regarding the early years of WCGT -- funny things, strange things, touching things? Do you remember the time years ago when the board had to take up a collection among themselves in order to put on the conference? Do you remember sitting on the floor of someone’s living room doing WCGT business? Do you remember a speaker or workshop that was especially memorable?”
Almost thirty years later, these questions remain valid and perhaps more ugent, because as pioneers age, collections are lost or destroyed and memories fade. The year 2023 will mark the 50th Anniversary Conference of our association. It remains a goal to have resolution to these questions and this process by that time. If you have connections with any of the early board members, activists, DPI personnel or local leaders, please contact them and share the information with the current Board. Our stories become our history.
Ruth Robinson, WATG Past President 2003-2004
“Your past success is a foundation into future success.” “The present defines the future.”
The second statement is attributed to Lailah Gifty Akita Gharnian, Founder of the Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation
These Gifted Meanderings attempt to document major accomplishments and influences on the advocacy for “systematic, appropriate programming for those gifted, talented, and creative.” Those words were shared so often in my career that they are etched permanently in my memory.
One of the major guidelines for this process was the Pyramid Model used for the Wisconsin Integrated Gifted Education Model. This is a three-dimensional model outlining programming options, support functions, and support roles, all resting on a base of a sound regular programming. The base established the premise that all students develop to their fullest potential. Our emphasis is always on all!
You may not be aware that this model was borrowed and should be credited to June Cox (M.Ed.) from the University of Illinois while she was Executive Director of the Gifted Students Institute in Fort Worth, Texas. It was included in a study funded by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation over the years 1981-1984. Implementing the results of that study resulted in the Pyramid Model used in Wisconsin and throughout the country. Remember that Wisconsin was the last state in the union to adopt statutes requiring services for gifted students in 1987.
During one of Dr. Robert Clasen’s classes or Conference sessions for TAG Coordinators, he added a suggested distribution of Coordinator’s time in service of the levels. He suggested percentages of the coordinator’s time that should be spent at each of the three levels of the Pyramid:
Considering every gifted position I ever held was roughly 50% of my job description, this became complicated! I worked in the Albany, Evansville, and Janesville Districts. No one ever thought gifted should be a full-time job, whether the district population was 500, 1,500 or 10,000 students.
The model provided a firm and comprehensive approach for districts to build programming, especially in the early years through the late 1980s and all the 1990s. Somewhere in the early 2000s, the Department of Public Instruction introduced the Response to Intervention framework for Special Education Services. Coincidentally, the first images were also that of a pyramid! With a little help from a more tech-savvy colleague, we flipped both so that the bases met in the center to form a sort of bell curve model. Several versions of this concept emerged around the state.
Today you will find updated and improved versions of the combined Gifted/RtI Model in the recently published books by Dr. Scott Peters, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty, and past WATG Board Member. Therefore, my friends, it is up to you as the current generation of advocates and leaders to carry the banner for appropriate services forward into the 21st Century, and to document your progress as you go. Proceed!
Printed with permission from Dr. Scott Peters
Technology has grown and changed exponentially over the past years -- this is quite an understatement! As WATG and other organizations approach fifty years of organized advocacy for gifted education, historical documents provide insights and appreciation for those who began the process.
Many of WATG’s early letters and memos from the 1970’s were crafted in longhand and then typed, presumably by a secretary (if the author had the good fortune to have access to one). Interestingly, some were copied with carbon paper, as evidenced by multiple addresses appearing on their office copy. Phone calls were one-on-one conversations, and letters were sent via the United States Postal Service.
In the 1980’s we had some of our first virtual learning opportunities! However, the programs were broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television on Saturdays across the state. Dr. Robert Clasen and Dr. Donna Rae Clasen organized and recorded the programs, and produced booklets of readings and resource information manuals to accompany each series. There were weekly discussions on Mondays throughout the state on the Educational Teleconference Network (ETN). Participants needed to go to specific sites in order to participate. Coursework was available for credit, but it may have been Continuing Education Credits, which no longer exist. Who remembers?
There were five separate series of twelve sessions each with all of the accompanying readings, assignments, and projects. Series included guest lectures and articles from national giants in gifted education such as:
During all of these years, paper newsletters were composed, printed, and mailed to members each month. These newsletters were the standard communication mode for organizations at the time. They were also a major expense for the organization’s operation.
During these years, WATG’s Annual Conferences provided vital professional development for teachers, administrators, and parents. Conference planning also provided an opportunity for Board Members to have extended face-to-face meetings to strategize and plan. For the first 30 years or so, WATG sponsored fall and spring conferences. The spring conferences were usually smaller in scope. but were also vital for additional face-to-face Board Meeting time. Eventually, school budget restrictions, and multiple duties assigned to coordinators made leaving one’s district more difficult. As attendance dwindled, the spring conferences were eliminated in the early 2000’s.
With the advent of conference calls, monthly Board Meetings were conducted using new technology. Board Members were scattered across the state, it was finally possible to connect easily in new and exciting ways without traveling. While muting options were eventually available, sometimes evening conversations were difficult in households full of kids, dogs, dinner dishes, etc. Personally, I know I dozed off once or twice, hoping I was muted at the time!
With the advent of email, connections were fast and easy. The possibilities seemed endless. Listservs distributed news and ideas. Technology (when it worked!) was indeed a blessing. Computers and the Internet obviously expanded possibilities greatly. In 2002, I remember being so impressed when a member produced a PowerPoint of the mission, goals, and definitions of gifted education in Wisconsin on a three by five ‘floppy disk” that could be played on a loop in the lobby during Conference Registration.
In the early 2000’s WATG’s newsletter went online via a much-expanded and interactive website. Registrations, fee payments, and communications could now happen online, and instantaneously! Communication possibilities were once again expanded.
During this 21st century, student and educator coursework has changed dramatically; teaching has also changed dramatically. Students now have their own laptops or I-pads, usually provided by school districts. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw more virtual learning at all levels than ever anticipated. The educational scene has changed dramatically with the help of technology.
So many things that had to be produced and collected on paper are now available electronically, and with much more efficiency. Collaboration in real time is possible. Of course there are new issues to resolve, but technology marches on. Think about just going from impossibly slow dialup Internet connections, to wifi, to 5G!
In the history of WATG, there are more events that have evolved and changed our organization over the years; this history will be shared at another time.
Going forward into the 21st Century, it would be wise, I believe, for WATG to continue to have a technological archive of the website, newsletters, articles, and blogs. We are looking for ways to digitize and preserve our past. Current Board Members and interns who are digital natives should take over from digital immigrants like me! We certainly welcome their expertise.
Ruth Robinson, Past President, WATG
Starting a new year usually makes us all a little nostalgic. Granted, most of 2020 is best forgotten; however, some positives resulted. Technology allowed conferences to happen, virtual applications encouraged distant family members to see and speak to each other and helped friends keep in touch. Nostalgia reigned. Nostalgia crept into memories of past gatherings in better times and gives us hope for returning to those ‘in person’ events.
As a historian for WATG, I began thinking about the connection between nostalgia and advocacy for gifted children. There is hope for the future in remembering the past.
As I continued to sift and sort through historical records, I found my original request for help in documenting our organization’s history. That request originated in the spring of 2001! Now, twenty years later, the historical journey continues. All of these stories matter as they connect us to one another, to our past and to what is yet to come.
Here is a bit of historical perspective: The National Association for GIfted Children (NAGC) was founded in 1954. NAGC began requesting historical information about the affiliate state members in 2001 as they were approaching their 50th Anniversary in 2004. Looking forward, NAGC is approaching 70 years of existence in 2024, and WATG will celebrate 50 years of existence in 2023. Things have certainly changed, and we continue to celebrate the evolution of our organizations.
Over the years, WATG has shifted and adjusted to changing times, and has benefited from the persistent work of hundreds of advocates. Parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, counselors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, professors, business and medical leaders have dedicated countless hours of talent in the service of gifted children, and we thank them.
One of those advocates was Wisconsin’s current Governor Tony Evers. Governor Evers began his career in education as a classroom teacher in 1976, and later became interested in gifted education. His name is on many of the early documents of the Wisconsin Association of Educators of Gifted and Talented (WAEGT) and the Wisconsin Council for the Gifted and Talented (WCGT) beginning in the 1980’s. He served as a principal, superintendent, and CESA Administrator (Oshkosh) before moving to the State Department of Public Instruction as Deputy Superintendent from 2001-2009, and State Superintendent from 2009 to 2017.
Countless other volunteers have offered their time and talents over the years, and we are grateful for their passion. Though the “medium” has definitely changed, our message remains the same. Watch this column, Gifted Meanderings, for how technology use within the organization has changed over the decades. Some of the early connections will seem quaint and more than a little funny compared to Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet and Facebook Chat! Certainly nostalgia may fuse the past with the present...