Task force proposes more screening for school readiness

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Draft recommendations from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Early Childhood Task Force, distributed at Tuesday’s Illinois Early Learning Council meeting, offer a preview of Emanuel’s likely plans for improving early childhood education in the city.

Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said at the meeting that the task force recommendations are aimed to support the state’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge bid. (A link to the draft recommendations is below, at the end of this story.)

Among them: a set of “universal assessments and screening tools” that would be used among the range of Chicago’s child care and preschool programs, to measure what students need to know to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.

The recommendations, which are not yet final, also lay out plans to work toward the goal of screening all children in the city for risk factors and refer the most at-risk children to the services they need. The screening efforts will be coordinated by “local outreach and engagement collaboratives,” which line up with CPS’ elementary school networks.

What’s more, the city may also pilot a program to funnel children from high-quality early childhood programs directly into magnet schools. A similar “birth to college pipeline” project, a partnership between the Educare Center and University of Chicago Charter Schools, is already up and running. In this partnership, infants’ parents are offered a chance to reserve a charter school spot ahead of time.

A key focus of the task force’s work has been building stronger ties between, and common standards for, child care programs and preschools.

As was announced previously, the task force recommendations call for the city to require preschool and child care programs’ participation in a quality rating system.

They touch on a number of other goals, including:

*Increasing the reporting of statistics that affect children’s well-being, such as pregnancy outcomes, mental health indicators, and family and community risk factors

*“Developing a collaborative plan” for allocating the $9 million in early childhood funding that Chicago is eligible for under a state early childhood facilities bill.

*Using a “common identifier” to track each child’s interactions with the early childhood, school, and health systems.

However, details of the proposals are unclear. “It’s premature to comment since the document is still a draft,” city spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said in a statement. “The Task Force is still in the process of shaping the recommendations and soliciting feedback from members and education leaders. The final version of the may change as a result of their input.”
 
She added: “In May, Mayor Emanuel charged the Early Childhood Task Force with reviewing the way early childhood (education) was being delivered throughout communities in Chicago in order to integrate consistent approaches to standards, curriculum and levels of quality for each and every one of our children, especially those most at-risk.”