As my daughter edges closer to her third birthday, back-to-school takes on a new meaning for me. Too soon, I will be among the ranks of mothers filled with wonder and worry-like a coach on the sidelines-about my child's academic journey. Preschool is just the beginning.
My family is fortunate to be able to consider private and public options for early childhood education. Until recently, this was not the case for families with few resources. But a new law signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in late July opens the door to free preschool for low- and middle-income families. Beginning this year, state-funded preschools expect 10,000 more children at a cost of $45 million, and by 2010, politicians envision close to 200,000 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled.
This is a promising step toward universal preschool, and a milestone for progressive legislators, particularly state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, who 20 years ago sponsored the bill that launched the current state-funded preschool program for low-income children. The law also puts meat on the bones of research, which for decades has asserted that preschools expand a child's opportunities.
At one time, universal preschool seemed like it was only a dream. Today, it's real.
As this school year begins, imagine possibilities for city and suburban schools to start the year on a positive note.
What if kids who are not able to keep up in class had access to teachers or tutors who would help them catch up? What if every kid who needed eyeglasses got them and all kids were steered toward healthy eating habits and exercise?
What if parents who make a habit of telling off teachers channeled that energy into making sure their child's homework gets done? What if those parents worked with their children's teachers?
What if children were safe from drugs, guns and other weapons in school?
What if new teachers had gifted mentors to guide them?
What if unmotivated teachers rededicated themselves to teaching?
What if every principal was able to wear the many hats-educator, coach, inspirational speaker and facilities manager-it takes to do the job well?
What if, in the wake of ongoing scandals at city hall, Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan did not succumb to the pressure of positive spin and set realistic expectations for test-score growth?
And what if Gov. Blagojevich set aside a campaign promise and fanciful notion to sell the lottery and, along with state lawmakers, figured out a practical way to fix school funding?
No one knows what the coming year holds for public school students. Are these impossible dreams? If you think so, you may be giving up on our kids and our future.
Catalyst Chicago is a monthly newsmagazine published by the Community Renewal Society that covers the progress, problems and politics of school reform in Chicago Public Schools. Editor Veronica Anderson can be reached at (312) 673-3847 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.