Child poverty, reading skills in spotlight at Naperville event
Sun Staff October 13, 2011 9:36AM
Updated: November 16, 2011 3:31PM
In third and fourth grades, children make an important transition in their education, from learning to read to reading to learn, according to area educational leaders.
Students who don’t hit that mark are far more likely to struggle academically. Now, recent data about DuPage, Kane and suburban Cook County students has local community leaders concerned about disparities in reading ability and other indicators of success.
In DuPage County, the proportion of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the 2010 ISAT third-grade reading assessment was as high as 90 percent in Indian Prairie School District 204 and Naperville School District 203 and as low as 45 percent in West Chicago.
In Kane County, that number ranged from as high as 88 percent in St. Charles, to 67 percent in Elgin School District U-46 to as low as 42 percent in Aurora-East.
At a symposium Thursday at DePaul University Naperville convened by Voices for Illinois Children, a child advocacy organization, educators, elected officials, parents, community groups and child development experts came together to call for smart investments in children and to develop local strategies for helping ensure children and families have the resources they need to put children on track for success right from the start.
U.S. Judy Biggert (R-Hinsdale), whose district includes Naperville, highlighted the importance of the work.
“As anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows, the keys to a quality education go far beyond the ABCs of basic reading, writing and arithmetic,” she said. “Bright students struggle every day to reach their full potential because they don’t have the interpersonal and communication skills needed to excel in an academic environment.”
Biggert has introduced legislation in Congress that she believes will strengthen social and emotional learning in schools across the country. She said that better communication skills has been proven to improve academic progress and reduce behavioral problems such as bullying.
“We know by now that investing in the whole child — through enriching early learning experiences, physical and mental health supports and strong families and communities — builds a foundation for success in school and throughout the rest of life,” said Kathy Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children. “By the end of third grade, students need to be able to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Reading achievement for these children is one very important predictor of high school graduation rates, future earnings potential and other indicators of success.”
Ryg referenced the Illinois Kids Count 2011 data book produced by Voices for Illinois Children, which focuses on the multiple factors that affect school success and the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of young children.
Entitled “Great at Eight,” the report also explores the challenges of investing in the “whole child,” from birth to age 8.
“This is a challenge for everyone in our community to rally around,” said Jeanna Capito, executive director of Positive Parenting DuPage. “We need to come together around our children and help link families to resources that meet their needs. At Positive, we work with all organizations touching the lives of families of young children to reach parents with strategies for supporting their babies’ healthy development. We partner throughout the community to create support for all families in order to prevent problems down the road, ultimately to make children ‘great at eight.’”
Child poverty was also on leaders’ minds, as they acknowledged that not only can poverty pose a significant barrier to success, but area child poverty rates have been on the rise. In Kane County, the child poverty rate rose by 3.6 percent to 15.3 percent between 2006 and 2010. In DuPage County, the child poverty rate rose by 3.2 percent to 8.6 percent between 2006 and 2010.
“When we see the numbers of kids living in poverty go up, it’s time for a gut check: is there an ‘acceptable’ number of kids we can allow to suffer?” Ryg said. “Because they’re not only hurting today, they’re likely to still be hurting 20 years from now.”
Samuel J. Meisels, who was recently named to Chicago’s new Early Learning Executive Council by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and who is president of Erikson Institute, spoke about the importance of investing in children’s earliest years.
“The research is clear,” he said. “Time and again, the data prove that giving children access to quality early childhood programs not only works to boost their academic success, it’s incredibly cost-effective as well.”
This year’s Illinois Kids Count report highlights five major challenges to children’s learning:
Reading achievement among Illinois children at the beginning of fourth grade has improved only modestly since 2003, and wide disparities remain among racial-ethnic groups and between low-income students and other students.
In fall 2009, children from low-income families represented 45 percent of enrollment in Illinois public schools, up from 37 percent a decade earlier.
Children who grow up in poverty have more limited early learning opportunities and are less likely to do well in school. The recession has led to a sharp rise in child poverty nationwide.
School readiness is affected by children’s health, as well as by the families and communities in which they live. Low-income children are more likely to have chronic health problems and developmental delays and suffer from trauma due to exposure to violence.
The state fiscal crisis threatens to further erode investments in early childhood education and care, health insurance coverage, children’s mental health services, family supports and other essential programs and services. For example, participation in state-funded pre-K programs increased 70 percent between FY 2003 and FY 2009, but has declined in the past two years as a result of budget cuts and delayed payments to preschool providers.
“Not just locally, but throughout the state, the efforts we’ve made to better support kids during critical developmental years are being erased,” Ryg said. “The recession may be squeezing budgets, but it’s also putting even more children and families in need of positive supports. We can’t afford to jeopardize children’s well-being by failing to invest in proven programs.”
For a look at the Illinois Kids Count report, visit www.voices4kids.org.