Will Oak Park's bet on early childhood ed pay off?

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By Teresa Powell

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This past Sunday was the premiere of America to Me, a documentary film series about race and the achievement gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Since the initial plans first became public, I have been looking forward to seeing it. I was among the 700 area residents of all ages who attended the screening of the first episode at the high school.

In her welcome, Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams pointed out that every student at the high school should feel welcome and feel that the high school belongs to them. As we saw in the first episode, this is not the case for some of our students.

Today's newcomers may not know that Oak Park has been discussing race for more than 50 years and adopted a statement welcoming all back in the 1960s. One of the key areas of concern since that time has been the state of the schools. In the early days, there was even discussion of what a "tipping point" (i.e. too many black students) might mean to schools. For at least the past 40 years there has been concern about an achievement gap between white and black students. 

As a young mother and former teacher, I served on the education committee of the Racial Diversity Task Force in 1983-84. We were asked to evaluate progress in Oak Park since adoption of the village's original diversity statement in the prior decade. How to welcome black students and help them succeed was a key part of the recommendations.

This week I was able to find at the library a follow-up report from 1992 regarding our original recommendations. Little progress had been made to hire staff and teachers to reflect the racial diversity of the student population, although some new groups had formed. These included APPLE [African American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education] at the high school and the Multicultural Center at the elementary level, both of which continue today. Efforts were underway to encourage minority student participation in the enrichment and after-school offerings of the school. Otherwise, not much had changed.

Rather than waiting till children entered school to address these issues, a group of visionary leaders decided to start at the beginning, to "catch" children who need additional help from birth and in the critical preschool years. The payback for this, according to an economist from the University of Chicago who addressed community leaders at the public launch of this program, was $6 for every dollar invested.

Their work led to the Collaboration for Early Childhood Education, whose goal was to help every child have the best opportunity to enter school prepared. They developed a plan and presented it to local governments. All six local governments came together to support this idea. 

The village and both school districts provided a five-year commitment of $500,000 in 2013. Over the last five years, these three governments have received quarterly reports on their efforts. Today the first children participating in this project are entering the early grades in Oak Park. It will be another decade before the full effects of this early intervention are known.

Meanwhile, the broader community has an opportunity to learn more about our local high school by watching America to Me. We can have a wider conversation than ever before about education in Oak Park. I hope you will watch this important documentary series and participate in discussions.

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John Duffy  

Posted: September 6th, 2018 7:04 PM

Theresa--You may want to know that a community driven campaign to hire more teachers of color at OPRFHS was launched last December. The administration with BOARD prompting set out in 2017 to reform the recruitment, hiring, and retention of teachers of color. New hiring protocols tied to racial equity are being prepared and approved. Community input and participation in this process involves an alliance of APPLE, the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE), and Suburban Unity Alliance. The campaign is also sponsored by Oak Park Call to Action which is also leading a parallel campaign in District 97.We welcome your support and involvement. john20duffy07@gmail.com

Kenn Meade  

Posted: September 5th, 2018 6:01 PM

Whatever the reason may be the national, All Students average for SAT Critical Reading hasn't changed materially in recent decades?" true as well for average scores of groups classified by race/ethnicity. Table 1. SAT Critical Reading average selected years 1987 '97 2001 '06 '11 2015 Group 507 505 506 503 497 495 All students 524 526 529 527 528 529 White 457 451 451 454 451 448 Mex-Am 436 454 457 459 452 456 Puerto R 464 466 460 458 451 449 Oth Hisp 479 496 501 510 517 525 Asian/Pac 471 475 481 487 484 481 Amer Ind 428 434 433 434 428 431 Black ______________ SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Chapter 2. SAT mean scores of college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1986-87 through 2010?"11 (Note. 2015 data source: https://www.albert.io/blog/what-is-the-average-sat-score/ Given the effort, time and money expended during the period for which SAT reading averages are shown, it seems reasonable to conclude that we shouldn't expect marked change in average performance in this critically important ability for any subgroup in the foreseeable future

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