Early Years

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Low-income children who attended a federally funded preschool in the Chicago public schools performed better academically through elementary school than their peers who didn't participate in the program, the latest results in an ongoing study show.

The focus of the research project, conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Chicago schools, is the Chicago-Parent Center and Expansion Program.

Established in 1967 and underwritten by the U.S. Department of Education, the centers provide services to about 5,300 disadvantaged children and families each year. Unlike Head Start, the program runs from preschool to 3rd grade. But like Head Start, which also receives federal funding, comprehensive services, such as education and family support, are emphasized.

During the study, which began in 1987 and is paid for by the National Institutes of Health, researchers have followed 1,200 mostly black children from preschool through 8th grade. On average, the preschool participants performed five months higher on reading and math tests in 8th grade than the students who didn't participate.

Students who attended the preschool were also less likely to be held back a grade or to be placed in special education.

Those who stayed in the program for five or six years scored one year higher in reading. They also had a 33 percent lower rate of school-reported delinquency at ages 13 and 14.

Based on the study's findings, comprehensive early-childhood programs like the child-parent centers and Head Start should be high funding priorities for states and the federal government, said Arthur Reynolds, the director of the study and a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty.

Three Michigan-based foundations are working together to improve child care in the state. The $5.1 million initiative, called Joining Forces: Caring Communities for Children, is being financed by the Frey Foundation of Grand Rapids, the Skillman Foundation of Detroit, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek.

The foundations will collaborate with the state's Family Independence Agency to train child-care operators and increase the number of licensed child-care facilities.

So far, 10 community organizations, including school districts and child-care councils, have been chosen to participate. Each grantee will draft a five-year plan and receive up to $100,000 for the first year.

--LINDA JACOBSON [email protected]

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