Peter Rosentein

PETER ROSENTEIN

I’m Peter Rosentein. I’m executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Gifted and talented children uh really are a broad spectrum of children. Uh, we have academically talented children, artistically talented, and gift—gifts and talents um show themselves at different times in children’s lives. Uh, we some children that are very precocious in early age, we have others that may not uh show their gifts until they’re in 4th grade, 5th grade or high school for that matter. It depends on interest and challenges. They come from every socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic background so you really don’t know. Um, we judge them in a combination of ways um and we look at children uh for possible potential, for actual achievement, for interest, and I think that gifted children—today we have an understanding that because of the way the brain functions and the way children grow up um we have to look at children and challenge them in different ways even to find their potential. So they really cut across the board in every area of society and in every area of endeavor.

The National Association for Gifted Children is and advocacy organization. Uh, we’ve been in existence for 47 years. Uh some people think I’m pretty old but I’ve only been there 11 years now. And I really believe that the mission of the association is to make the public and educators aware of the unique and special needs of gifted and talented children. Uh, we understand that schools have a responsibility to challenge every child to reach his or her full potential, to provide them with exciting things to do that will create that challenge. But we also understand that children are different. There are different ability levels that children have. And our role and our mission is to make the public understand that there are special needs that gifted and talented children have. Those needs range from uh coun—counseling they may need because of a hard time dealing with their peers. They’re so far ahead of them, to advanced music and art, uh to advanced algebra, to advanced science. Each child is different. Each child learns differently and uh—so the mission of our association is to make people understand that, to see that these children have the same opportunities to reach their full potential as every other child in our school system.

The National Association for Gifted Children was started uh in 1954. It was started by a group of individuals that saw these special needs of gifted and talented children. Uh, they decided that they needed a national organization--uh it began in Ohio—to bring these special needs to the attention of the public. Uh, they began a research journal, “Gifted Child Quarterly” which um we have today. Um, over the years there’s been changes, there’s been ups and downs in the um strength of the association. Uh, the Federal initiatives in gifted and talented have never gone very far. Um at the height of the Federal initiatives there were—there was $10 million spent on purely research. Uh, we’re now back down to $6.5 million and if you compare that to the needs of children with disabilities where the government alone spends $7 billion uh you see what the need of the organization is and why it’s so important. So it began as a small group. What we have done over the years is—where it began as teachers, we’ve now expanded the organization to include parents, to include coordinators, community representatives who understand the need that—for these children to be allowed to be challenged. Um, we’re understanding in a more global economy, which is very different from what was in 1954 that if our youngsters at the top level aren’t challenged, we’re not going to be able to compete in a global economy. We need those creative ideas. We need the next uh scientists, the next Mozart, the next Beethoven. Uh, in these programs today we’re seeing the youngster who’s going to discover the cure for Aids, who’s going to discover the cure for cancer. These are not in any way to denigrate any other child. Um part of the problem that the association has always had deals with the labeling of a child, gifted or talented. I always tell parents that pretend your child were called ‘The Green Child.’ The label simply identifies a need. It’s not a gold star. And one of the things that our association has been so strong about is letting um legislatures and others understand that when we label a child in school for whatever we’re labeling them—English as a second language, bilingual, um a lower socioeconomic child who happens to be in a Title I school—we’re in no way saying anything derogatory about a child or another child, what we’re indicating is this child needs some special help one way or the other. And so that really I think is where this association began and moved into and continues to try and explain to the public that this—this is what they have to understand about all children.

The National Association for Gifted Children uh has a national office in Washington, DC. Uh, we have a small staff of about ten. We’ve just actually uh increased that by two. Uh, we function as most national associations do. We have affiliates in every state. Uh, we work with those affiliates to try and promote uh an understanding of gifted education. One of the interesting things that all education associations is that most of your work has to be focused on the state and local level. Only 6 percent of the education dollars in this nation come from the Federal government. Ninety-four percent come from state and local governments. So the strength has to be in your affiliates and in your state and local levels. That’s where real change takes place. The national association tries to change the climate in which that change can take place. Uh, we try and make it possible through uh media, through press, through um work with the Federal government legislators and with the Department of Education to allow the climate to exist where parents and teachers on a local level can ensure that they get the programs that they need for their children.

The National Association for Gifted Children functions as the advocate for the needs of the children that we represent. Uh according to the Federal government, we’re now talking about three million children that fall into the category of gifted and talented. Those are the children that need something a little more then they could get in a regular classroom. Uh we play a role as an advocate uh through dealing with the media, through dealing with the Congress, through dealing with the Department of Education. It’s our role in a—as a national office to go up to Capital Hill and convince them that there needs to be some funding for gifted and talented programming. One of the interesting um things that we did in the past year—uh, and when I say we I’m talking about that National Association for Gifted Children—is convince a lot of legislators to change their mind on a perception they once had. For many years it was considered elitist to deal with gifted and talented programming. Um where this came from I’m not quite sure. Though, in the 1860’s DaTokeville said that we are a middling nation. That we’re a nation that is afraid to stray to far from the center, that we think and still often confuse the equal opportunity with equal outcome. And out role is to go and explain to both the public and the member of Congress that equal opportunity may have a different outcome. And actually, equal opportunity for challenging education doesn’t necessarily mean the same education at the same time for each child. Uh we had a very interesting incident this year with a member of Congress who—we spoke to him and he talked about this need for public education be equal for all. And we said, “Well, where do your kids go to school?” And he said, “Well—oh, my children go to private school.” And we said, “Why?” And he said, “Because they actually needed more then they could get.” We said, “Well, isn’t that elitist?” And he looked at us and said, “What’s elitist, is not providing for the needs of every child in the public schools.” That is elitist if you don’t provide for that need because then only those who come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, only their children will get what they really need. And in this country, we want to guarantee that every child, no matter what their current socioeconomic status is, gets what they need in school. And he turned around and he said, “You know what, you’re absolutely right. I never thought of it that way.” And that’s a big part of the role of advocacy that we play in the national organization.

One of the missions of the National Association for Gifted Children is to provide continued education for teachers and educators and in some respects parents about what the needs of gifted children are. Um to do that we run an annual conference each year. Um that conference has grown steadily over the years. Uh our annual conferences now attract approximately 4,000 teachers and educators. In order to set a conference like that up uh we actually work year to year—uh, the minute one conference ends, we’re beginning the process of starting the next one and planning for it. To pick a site for a conference of that size, you need to plan a minimum of five years in advance. So we guarantee—uh, we know where we’re going to be holding our conference five years out. Uh we work with local arrangements committees in each of the conference sites that we choose. The role of the national office and my role is to negotiate the contracts for the hotels, to set prices, um to negotiate meeting space, to set up all the outside needs that we may have. We have to hire a bus company to take people on trips. If we have to plan meals and menus uh we plan the program. The National Association for Gifted Children has 14 divisions. Uh those are in the areas of the arts, in creativity, early childhood, research, and evaluation. We ask for our members and those outside of the association to submit proposals to speak at a conference. Uh all of our speakers are people interested in our field with particular knowledge to impart, other teachers are the professionals. Uh we often get approximately 700 or 750 proposals to speak at our conference. Those get dwindled down to about 330 that get accepted. Uh we work with our divisions and our national office to—to bring those into a manageable uh size so that attendees at our conference have the widest possible range of things that they can attend and listen too. Um it is a huge undertaking, it is a large part of what our national staff does. It also, in our organization—and this is countered to many others—but the uh National Association for Gifted Children is funded without any Federal grants and without foundation grants. Our entire income comes from membership and from what we make on our conferences. So the advocacy and the work we do is very much funded by what we can make on those uh conferences that we run. So it’s an important part of our budget. It’s an important part of getting the word out to the public. Uh we also then focus around the media during our conferences. Uh we try to make sure that enough people on the outside understand what we’re doing. We focus on a particular state that we come into and hope that our conference being in a particular state will benefit all the children of that state by trying to help their teachers understand better curriculum uh, areas such as differentiation, areas such as curri—curriculum compacting, various programs. One of the things that we’re very clear about is that we don’t espouse any one way to teach a child but we think that teachers have to understand that there are multiple ways to get the same point across and that children learn differently. Some children are visual learners, others are uh—only learn by hearing the sound or hearing something spoken to them, others learn by writing about it. And teachers have to understand and what we try and help our—our teachers do at these conferences—and they are continuing education conferences—is to begin to better understand the way children learn so they can match the way they teach to the needs of their child in their classroom rather then the other way around and trying to get the child to begin to learn the way the teacher likes to teach. And that’s a very big difference.

The registration system at a conference of regis—registering 4,000 members is not an easy task. Um we actually plan it all in house and we don’t hire out anyone else to do it. Um part of the problem when teachers come to conferences, they often don’t actually send in their registration form. Um in most public schools the form goes from the teacher filling it out, to the finance office of the district where it can often sit for a month or two before it gets sent in. So what is so crucial about our conference is to make that individual classroom teacher comfortable when they show up at the conference, to feel that things are going smoothly. So even though they weren’t sure what happened in their own district, when they get here it’s important that they’re comfortable. Uh we hire staff from the local convention bureaus. We hire local staff uh to assist our national staff and try and make registration a comfortable process. Uh we don’t control the hotel. They do their registration. We do try to make sure that people actually getting their tickets and their lunch tickets and their packets, get a comfortable welcome to the conference. Because in most cases that’s the first time they see you and it sets the tone for what the rest of the five days are going to be that they’re spending with us in NAGC. We consider ourselves the hosts. And as any good host is going to do, you’re trying to make your guests comfortable.

Um I believe that the leaders in education today have to take a broader picture of the students we’re educating. Um the United States is clearly a melting pot. We have children from hundreds of nations; we have children in individual school districts speaking 68 languages. We have children from different ethnicities and cultures and different backgrounds. The United States is changing. By the year 2020, the majority population in our country will be Latino. We have to understand that with that education has to begin to change. We also have to stop using slogans that don’t directly apply to most of our children. Um the Department of Education for years has used a slogan that says all children can learn. What they always forget is that a second part of that slogan, and that is those children can learn but they learn at different speeds, in different ways, and in different depths. We have to begin to include that entire slogan. We have to begin to understand as educators that we are here to serve children. They are not here so that we can earn our salaries. We’re here so that we can serve their individual needs. And in a changing world, in a changing society, in a technological world, in a world that has become so global, that what we do in one small city in Mississippi may clearly affect what happens in a town in Russia. We have to teach differently and we have to, as educators, make sure that our educators, number one, are respected. In this country we for far too long have not looked at teachers as the professionals that they are. We have expected people to go into teaching as they did many years ago. The entire teaching profession has changed. Um when I went to school, most of the teachers were women. They went into the profession for two reasons. One is, it was a second job and a second income. But the brilliant women that went into teaching, when I went to school, went in because they couldn’t get other jobs. They weren’t allowed to be lawyers, and doctors, and scientists. But what’s happened today is that since all those other careers have opened to women—we know that 50 percent of our medical school students are women, we know that more then 50 percent of our law school students are women. Who’s left to be our teachers? How do we attract the kind of dedicated, bright people that we did years ago into the teaching field? In the next five years, we need 2 ½ million new teachers. Our teaching profession is aging. How do we attract young, intelligent, exciting people into the field of teaching? And this is something we’re going to have to look at as a nation. We’re going to have to develop policies as a nation to say, “Our teachers are professionals.” We’re going to pay them well. We’re going to re-train them on a regular basis. We’re going to give them opportunities to keep up with technology. And we’re going to make life possible for them so that they can have a classroom where they enjoy being and their students will enjoy coming too. And that’s a big ‘C-change’ for this nation. And I think, though, we are one of the few civilized western nations that has no Federal education policy in this country. We uh—someone used a wonderful phrase recently that said, “Most probably the last mom and pop business in our country are our schools.” We have about 110,000 schools and chances are the same doesn’t happen in any one of them. We have a nation now where you can graduate high school in Mississippi and you can graduation high school in California and what you’ve learned is completely different. We are even so bad that in the field of gifted education, we have youngsters labeled gifted in northern New Jersey and then their parents move to southern New Jersey and they’re no longer labeled gifted. Their needs didn’t go away so we’ve got to begin to look at how we deal with our professionals, our schools, our children, and we’ve got to stop being afraid that national testing and national scope of education is a bad thing. It’s really not. We have to guarantee that every child—and we have to guarantee to business on an international scale, that if a child comes in with a high school diploma, they know a certain set of things. We’re not talking values and values are still for parents to deal with and local communities. We’re talking some basic knowledge that we’ve got to guarantee our business community and the international business community that our students know. And that really will only be done when we begin to accept that national levels of education are not a terrible thing.

I believe that the National Association for Gifted Children is continuing to grow. I think that one of the things that will make us stronger is having more parents involved. Uh I personally was very involved with um the Children with Disabilities Act when it passed through Congress. Uh I directed the White House conference on handicapped individuals implementation unit for the Carter administration. What made a difference for students with disabilities and ensuring that their needs are beginning to be met, was parents insisted on it. In the field of gifted, too often parents are only concerned until they get their child into a program. The minute they get their child into a program that they like, they tend to walk away and say, “Well, I’ve now done my job.” They come back when that program disappears for lack of funding two years later and what they haven’t been willing to do is keep this fight going for future parents and future children. In the case of children with disabilities, those parents new that they were fighting for their children’s lives and they were fighting for the lives of children yet to be born. In the area of gifted education, it becomes a little too personal and parents don’t realize they’re fighting for future generations of children with gifts and talents. It’s only when they do, when they remain committed and—and involved, that we will see the Federal view of the needs of these children really change and that we will be able to institutionalize programs for gifted children along with every other educational program in our schools. It’ll no longer be that add, it’ll no longer be seen as elitist, but it will be seen as part of a appropriate program to meet the needs of just another population in our public schools.

One of the things that for years has disturbed me about the way we handle education funding in this country is that we tend to compete one group of children against another. We tend to constantly say that dollars don’t make a difference in education when the reality is dollars do make a big difference. Uh in all the international studies that we’ve recently participated in, 4th, 8th, and 12th grade, where American students have done so poorly compared to their peers in other countries. When we looked at certain areas of the country, certain children did better. This was not a racial issue. This was socioeconomic. When you look at Chicago public schools—and they spend about $6,000 per student—and you go to the suburbs in Chicago, in Evanston and others, and they’re spending $14,000 per students, why are we surprised that the students in Evanston are doing better? Why are we surprised that those students have computers, as many as they need, have trained teachers who go to special classes, have the equipment and the ability to after-school programs for their children to provide more enrichment for every student in the school. Not just those who are gifted and talented. We have to begin as a nation to understand the education if we’re to make it a total priority, has to be funded appropriately. We aren’t doing that. And what we do is make children with disabilities compete with children with gifts and talents compete with children from lower socioeconomic districts compete with children who need bilingual education. And we keep saying if we take—if we give to one group we’re taking away from another. We are living in a time where thankfully we have seen the greatest prosperity the world has ever seen. We have a nation that is trying to figure out what to do with its trillion-dollar surplus. We have 50 states in this nation that each one of them has a surplus. Isn’t time we began to say, “If not now, when do we appropriately fund education?” Is it important to give a few dollars back to an individual or is a more important collectively as a society to say, “We’re going to spend this money on our children.” One thing we have to remember, less then 20 percent of adults in this nation have children in the public schools. That means 80 percent of the adults in this country are peripherally involved with the schools not personally involved. And that seniors and single people and people who’s children have grown up an dare no longer in the schools—uh, even if they don’t like to be called seniors yet—um we have to realize that it’s only 20 percent of this country that are parents. Well, it’s not fair to put the burden on those 20 percent. Funding for education is a national responsibility and it’s time that the Federal government stepped up to the plate to do that. When I said the Federal government provides only 6 percent of all education funding, they actually only provide 2 percent of the entire Federal budget for education. Well in my eyes, that’s a not a priority. Priorities require much bigger funding labels. So I really think that’s what we have to begin to look at in this nation. We have to spend the money; we’ll get the results. It’s not spending the money just on anything, but we can target it and we can demand from our teachers and from our students’ excellence. But we have to be willing to match that with providing excellent teachers, excellent schools, excellent curriculum, and excellent opportunities.

I receive tremendous benefits by being associated with the National Association for Gifted Children. Uh my career began in New York City where I graduated college. And I taught public school for three years in Harlem and then I left teaching and went into government, uh went into the non-profit field. Um the opportunity for me to come back and be involved in teaching again, uh to be involved with students, to be involved in a national perspective has been tremendous. I’ve gotten the chance to meet, first of all, some of the most incredible children I would have never had the chance to meet. I’ve gotten to meet wonderful, dedicated teachers who tell me, “We know we want more money, but whatever it is we’re doing this. We care about it. We care about these kids.” I’ve got the chance to see incredible programs out there and to know that everything is possible. So it has expanded my horizons dramatically. It’s made me think differently. It’s made me realize that we really can do something for every child out there. It’s given me the opportunity to see that and to see it firsthand. It’s been a tremendous experience and I’ve been with the association now for 11 years. I’ve seen the association grow. I’ve—and have enough of an ego to feel that I’ve had a part in that growth and that my background coming to this association has been uh something that’s helped the association to grow and at the same time they’ve helped me to grow as a person and to—and to understand a lot of things.