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City to launch 5-star rating system for early childhood programs

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits with Lead Teacher ClaudiCattage Alexis Sardbefore announcing an overhaul City’s early childhood educatiprograms an effort serve

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits with Lead Teacher Claudia Cattage and Alexis Sardin before announcing an overhaul of the City’s early childhood education programs, in an effort to serve the most at-risk children in high –quality programs. At the Educare Early Childhood Center 5044 S. Wabash September 28, 2011 I Brian Jackson /Sun-Times

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Updated: December 2, 2011 2:12PM

Choosing a pre-school, daycare or Head Start program for a young child can be a confusing experience for parents, but the city hopes to make it easier with a new five-star rating system unveiled Wednesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is creating the city’s own evaluation system for city-funded early childhood programs to empower parents and position Chicago to capture funds made available through the local and national “Race to the Top” competition.

The five-star rating system will begin on July 1 of next year. An evaluation committee that’s an off-shoot of the Early Childhood Task Force created to advise then-Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel will work with Chicago Public Schools to conduct a yearly evaluation of each city-funded program.

Programs that achieve the highest rating will get the largest share of resources, the mayor said. Those that fall short will be asked to “model themselves after successful programs,” the mayor said.

An interactive early childhood portal on the city’s website will feature the ratings and provide a forum for parents seeking to exchange information about early childhood programs.

The state already has an evaluation system, but city officials promise the city’s version will be stricter.

“What we have had to date is, you get certified and that was the last time we really cared. And it’s wrong,” the mayor told a news conference at the Educare Early Childhood Center, 5044 S. Wabash.

The mayor acknowledged that the challenge of getting kids ready to succeed in school “requires money.” But he argued that money alone won’t fix a “broken” and “helter-skelter” system that creates a “confusing” maze for parents.

“Just getting certified and doing a background check was good enough before. No. Where are you on the basics of teaching a child on learning, learning the alphabet, what the letters are, what the numbers are?” the mayor said.

“And then, each year, you’re gonna get evaluated so a parent, when they enroll, will know whether or not that’s a 2.5-star, a 3-star [or] a 4-star [program]. ... The system is broken. It was working for the bureaucracy and not for the kids or the parents. By creating this uniform educational standard, we are now gonna make sure … you have people there with the training to achieve educationally what the children need [while] making sure that information is not hidden from” parents.

The mayor noted that the Chicago Public Schools are putting 6,000 more kids in full-day kindergarten while other cities and states, including New York and Florida, are moving in the opposite direction.

“No other city, to my knowledge, is not only adding kids, but having a comprehensive educational quality standard for its early childhood education,” he said.

“There’s no doubt resources [are] a question, but it is not the only question. And for too long, people missed the point that the system needs reform to benefit the children, the parents and the choices they’re gonna make.”

Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, said early childhood education needs to “begin at birth so children can build the skills they need for school: vocabulary, math and science for sure, but also persistence, self-control, motivation.”

She added, “The aim here is simple: All children, regardless of birth, should grow up to lead healthy, productive lives. And all of us should reap the rewards of a more educated workforce and a stronger economy.”

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