Tackling the achievement gap

Opinion: Editorials

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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.

Reader Comments

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Leah Shapiro from Forest Park  

Posted: May 28th, 2013 11:10 AM

I have been an ECE professional for over 40 years and have 3 grown children. There is empirical research that brain development begins in utero and is then impacted by environmental f E.I. services for children 0 to 3 are federally mandated. Parents and children need support and therapeutic intervention. Lack of education and opportunity creates a challenging environment to raise children. Let's stop testing them and provide appropriate interventions so that they can develop to their fullest

Oak Park Jose  

Posted: May 11th, 2013 7:00 PM

General intelligence as measured by IQ is highly heritable. The settled science puts parental IQ at about 0.6 predictive of the tots IQ. Also, IQ is highly predictive of acedemic success. So making these interventions at birth is a fools errand. The intervention must be made nine months before that by picking better parents.


Posted: May 3rd, 2013 10:26 PM

I agree with Speedway regarding the low middle class being replaced by the lower class. I'd imagine that for a number of parents, it'll serve as nothing more than a free way to off load their kids for a while, as they do whatever they do. Is that going to change the cultural value of the child growing up in the same house hold? I highly doubt it. IT starts at home, as VA so aptly put it.

4 Freedom  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 9:29 PM

How arrogant that these people feel they are more intelligent than the minority and can use force (government) to take what we righteously earned. A person should be able to spend their resources how they see fit. What if at this point in time, I felt it was best to help my mother. Is she less important? To me, no. What if the tax would have been invested to later help millions. The people of this gang are worse than theives because they claim to be good. Now they celebrate the looting here.


Posted: May 2nd, 2013 5:55 PM

I also know several people who are fleeing this high-tax community. "Been There" has a valid pt regarding the parks, but it's this "Collaboration" thing that, imo, perfectly sums up the insanity: these people honestly believe that they have the wisdom/insight to "fix" the unsolvable. How? Just a little more tinkering and, presto, we have the perfect society/community! But I know that several of the people pushing this program have/had plenty of "challenges" raising their own kids!?!

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 4:15 PM

Do you wonder that the lower middle class is being squeezed out of OP. The opportunities for lower class are rising and it is a benefit to them to come here, there is a lot of public help to afford it. Which creates the need for more services which increases the taxes. Seems like a never ending spiral. Truthfully, I'm not sure of the answer but there has to be more cost control.

Been there  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:45 PM

I agree, Speedway, we do spend excessively here. I know several families who have left, pulling kids out of school, because it's become too expensive to live here. IMHO, we are getting our money's worth from the police and teachers. But the playgrounds and parks did not all need to be redone, and I think this pre-school program tips the scale. I am skeptical of the high price tag and impassioned but vague descriptions of what it will really do.

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:45 PM

To answer your questions though, I do think there is duplication of services...or more like too many cooks spoiling the broth? I'd rather see one entity take over...but that's not going to happen soon. I think running good public schools isn't cheap and our expanding research about brain development points to a very long period of need for kids.

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:36 PM

Speedway, we nearly didn't get the help we needed because our Oak Park pediatrician didn't have the right info. Then I had to rely on the help of a couple very kind people to point me to the right intake person for the state program. There's a lot of paperwork. Now, once we actually got in touch with care-providers it's been nothing but awesome and we've seen dramatic improvement. There needs to be improved communication, coordination, easier access...it takes dollars, but isn't strictly about $

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:27 PM

To PP, something you said hit home. That you are using the services and had a difficult time with the maze of services. I am a lot older than you and I remember when there were few services and fewer still that were publicly funded. Yet today we need public funding to get through this maze of services available to make sure every child gets what he deserves. Don't you think there is a lot of duplication of services. Do you think we should inc. taxes to fund this or cut from school budget oth

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:16 PM

Keep in mind, Been There, that kids age into elementary district jurisdiction at age 3 so any pre-K testing/services come under their domain. Kids literally get handed off from EI to District 97 anyway. That's a pretty big spectrum of kids to handle. Plus, I'm not sure I buy that K-3 is some magical time in a child's life where they need to develop future academic skills. It really starts much earlier laying down neurological frameworks.We need to be looking at the whole child from birth onward.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 3:15 PM

When I think about it something Violet said made me think, "excessive". That's what I'm feeling about OP in general and to a large degree about OP kids and their parents. I try to be a good neighbor and OPer but the excessive demands to constantly help are wearing me more than a little thin. I hear constantly more; teachers, police, crossing guards, teachers aids, playground equipment. We have all day Kindergarten, and now we need government paid day care. It's endless and I am tired of it.

Been there  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 2:46 PM

Violet has hit the nail on the head. Our experience has been that 3rd grade is when a kid's path starts to be set. Some are directed into gifted services, some are advised to seek the ADHD diagnosis, etc. First and second grade are absolutely critical years for a child to master the basics of reading and math and to develop a desire for learning. That's where the resources are needed. Instead of building another bureaucracy (Collaboration), I'd rather see that $ spent on teacher's aides in K-3.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:58 PM

Jane, I don't have kids. I don't have to be a carpenter to know when a chair is broken, do I? I don't subscribe to that theory that parents give birth as Enlightened Beings. I mean, how many parents beat their kids to death, lock them in closets or cages? Animals give birth--it takes zero intelligence. Do you disagree with any of my observations? Preschool Parent: That's great about early intervention but it doesn't explain what to do when the academic divide occurs, which is in the third grade

Jane from Oak Park  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:43 PM

Violet, I am curious. With all of your expertise in parenting, how did your kids turn out?

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:41 PM

Violet, I agree with some of what you're saying and I disagree with some of it. I think it's about balance. But, in the end, it's about what is right for each family. I'm sure most of the critics of ECC aren't going to have their minds changed. That's fine. My larger point was that this taxpayer funding of early childhood services is very important (even life-changing) for some families. As the saying goes, "your mileage may vary."

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:24 PM

The excessive emphasis on competitive sports among yuppie parents is another bad influence that I think conscious parents would want to avoid. I see these poor little 6-year-olds with parents screaming from the sidelines during T-ball games. Shut the eff up! So an earlier push on academics is not only developmentally inappropriate, it kills one's joy of authentic learning.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:22 PM

Living plant-based diets, holistic health, etc. Unfortunately, today there are way too many indulgent, insecure adults who do not protect their children from the negative influences of the Internet (and thus allow unlimited and unsupervised access to everything, which is irresponsible), substance abuse, overweening ambition (giving children the message that they are human doings instead of beings, put here to glorify THEIR egos), overscheduling children (not permitting kids to have free time)

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 1:18 PM

@Preschool Parent: And why do you suppose that there is this need all of a sudden--even with more involved parents? I think that public school has jumped the shark. Conscious parents should network and create their own system via homeschooling. With all the AWOL parents, it's risky to expose one's children to those who do not share similar values. For me that would be a simple lifestyle (no conspicuous consumption and materialism), holistic practices: CONT.

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 12:07 PM

It does begin at home, Violet. But part of the early childhood process is directly aimed at the parents--that's my experience, at least. And even for households like mine with involved, educated parents, sometimes the children still need help that goes beyond what Head Start offers. Different programs are right for different at-risk kids and the public needs help finding what services are the right fit. Regardless of parental influence, we need a network in place.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 11:41 AM

The achievement gap begins at HOME. We already have a program for at-risk preschoolers--it's called Head Start. But the problem is that you cannot mandate that parents help with homework in 3rd grade. You cannot see into that home when the child is allowed to play video games instead of reading for pleasure. You don't know if the parents barely grunt at the child due to absorption in their tiny screen worlds....

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 10:53 AM

JMG, as someone with a child in the state's Early Intervention program...I can tell you that just because services exist doesn't mean parents know about them, can access them easily, or have the info they need. The whole process on nearly every level is a nightmare of confusion that needs simplified. We'll see if the Collab can help...but families deserve better. Yes, services are there...now let's make sure everybody gets them who needs them.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 9:58 AM

Recently, there were either comments or perhaps an article in the WJ regarding the need for tutoring for D200 students in Honors or AP courses. One parent stated he couldn't afford a private tutor for his child in an honors program. I guess there will never be an even playing field in the schools of OP. I'm afraid whatever we do it may help but will never close the gap.


Posted: May 2nd, 2013 9:56 AM

So they are coordinators, not service providers. These programs already exist without the ECC being added to the mix. I do not agree with this additional layer and I think proponents attempt to mislead the public. A few months ago you were leading people to believe that this effort would result in free pre-school for all students. Why are you selling so hard?

Preschool parent  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 9:01 AM

Let's not forget that "at-risk" also includes kids who aren't poor or from less-educated families. Any family can have a child with a speech or motor delay who needs help before kindergarten. The state's Early Intervention program, private organizations, and the elementary districts need better coordination to help kids with delays "catch up" to be ready for the high expectations in today's classrooms.

Kay from River Forest  

Posted: May 2nd, 2013 8:10 AM

While I strongly believe that the components of school success begin at birth, I am concerned that Dist 200 tax dollars are being spent so very far away from their core mission. For OPRF to justify it's decision, they have maintained that they will see better prepared students. This is based on assumptions--that the 3 year old will then stay in OP for the next 15 years or that the students who are inadequately prepared for OPRF come directly from OP/Dist 97.

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