Early childhood education in Chicago will receive a boost following new initiatives unveiled Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The goal, said Emanuel, is to provide quality programs for the most at-risk children and to increase transparency and accountability of the city and individual programs.
“We must provide children in every neighborhood with the tools they need to excel in school and succeed in the workforce, and that includes providing excellent early childhood education,” Emanuel said. “These reforms will help parents find opportunities for their children and better prepare our students for the rigors of elementary, middle and high school classrooms.”
These implementations follow recommendations the mayor received from a taskforce he commissioned in July to study ways to improve early childhood programs.
The Early Childhood Task Force includes members from city agencies, early learning advocacy groups, and direct service providers. The task force engaged over 60 early childhood experts across the city and state with the goal of transforming early childhood education into world-class programs.
And the city plans to implement several programs in an effort to position itself at the forefront of local and national “Race to the Top,” the mayor added.
Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education competition designed to spur reforms in state and local district K-12 education. It is funded by the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009. States were awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based standards for teachers and principals, complying with nationwide standards, promoting charter schools, and computerization.
Among the reforms the city plans to roll out are:
*Unveil a Quality Rating Improvement System for all city-funded early childhood programs beginning July 1, 2012. The 5-star rating system will allow parents to assess all programs objectively while incentivizing quality and guidelines for improvement for early childhood educators. The rating system will be finalized by July 1, 2012, providing parents with guidelines for choosing programs for the children in the upcoming school year.
*Launch an Interactive Early Childhood Web Portalas a one-stop-shop to help parents find programs, assess program quality based on the QRIS star rating, understand their child’s eligibility for programs, and provide an interactive platform for parents to provide input regarding programs. The portal will be fully operational by July 2012, in time for parents to use as a resource for the next school year.
By investing more in early childhood education Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a Chicago non-profit education organization, explained that ultimately it would give children a leg up in their developmental stages as they begin school.
“We are thrilled that the city of Chicago is leading the way in producing high-quality education for all its children and that the Mayor agrees that we must invest in children’s learning beginning at birth,” she said. “These investments represent a crucial step toward helping more children achieve their full potential and strengthening our city’s future by producing a more educated workforce and a stronger economy.”