The achievement gap begins at birth. That is the simple truth.
A child born into a family with scarce financial resources, limited history of educational attainment, and/or a less stable family structure falls behind from its first days no matter how much that baby is treasured and loved.
Last week, Oak Park, Illinois officially recognized the roots of this problem and our three largest governmental bodies plus a plucky not-for-profit pledged their efforts and our tax dollars in a determined, pathfinding effort to do something about it.
We could not be more proud of our hometowns.
Over these decades of discussion about the gap, we have listened as the high school has rightly said too many students enter its doors too far behind. We have watched as the elementary and middle schools have gradually acknowledged that the gap can be tracked backward into middle school and grade school. And in recent years, research has piled up proving that educational and social deficits start in the very first years and must be addressed from the beginning.
Now, with this really stunning effort, Oak Park is taking up this challenge with a five-year pledge to the Collaboration for Early Childhood.
Already 10 years old, the Collaboration moves into this new project with a wealth of connections to our village's extremely varied child care providers. From the storefront daycares to the church basement nursery schools, from the home-based daycare providers to the grandmas and aunts watching out for a child, the Collaboration has worked effectively to connect and improve these programs.
With a much larger and guaranteed funding base, the Collaboration will now become exponentially more ambitious as it reaches out directly to families of at-risk babies and toddlers and seeks to engage moms and dads in a range of services to benefit their child.
At the joint meeting of the Oak Park village board, the District 97 elementary school board and the OPRF school board last week, there was enthusiasm and emotion as the joint agreement was approved. This was a long time coming and, despite our frequent declarations of impatience at the slow pace, in the end this is a better agreement with a stronger chance of success and a more profound buy-in by all the taxing bodies because of the process.
We are disappointed that Dietra Millard and Sharon Patchak-Layman of the high school board could not sign onto this historic pact. But we prefer to focus on the five school board members who saw the promise and accepted the risk.
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