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Chicago Child-Parent Centers See a Rebirth

In last week's article about early-childhood programs that include a parent-empowerment focus, I interviewed staffers at a west Chicago child-parent center, which includes outreach to parents as an essential part of its mission.

But the revival of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers is a story of its own. Early education experts will recognize the CPCs, along with Perry Preschool, in Ypsilanti, Mich., and the Abecedarian Project, in Chapel Hill, N.C., as a site of long-term research on preschool effects.

Each of these studies tracked children who participated in the program well into adulthood. Participants in the CPCs, like the children who were enrolled in Perry and Abecedarian, showed long-term positive effects in academic attainment, health, involvement with the justice system, and other areas (more than 1,500 participants have been tracked since 1986; they're now in their 30s. The latest CPC study ran in the journal Science in 2011.) The findings were particularly strong for males, and children of high-school dropouts.

Despite the positive benefits, the CPCs started to close down. Funded through Title I, they were the victims of a loss of commitment from Chicago Public Schools which saw other uses for Title I money, and gentrifying neighborhoods that saw less need for such services, said Arthur J. Reynolds, the director of the CPC research, in an interview. The number of programs in operation dropped from 26 to 10, and all of those were just half-day programs.

But the programs in Chicago are now coming back, thanks to a 2011 federal Investing in Innovation grant for $15 million over 5 years. There are now 16 programs in Chicago, and 10 new programs operating in other cities in the Midwest.

The CPCs operate closely with schools and represent an early-childhood education program that can be more easily implemented in today's environment. To promote curriculum alignment, the CPC leaders work closely with the principals of the schools where the programs are housed. Family members of CPC children are encouraged to get involved in the classroom, and are also provided resources to help them find jobs or link them to social services.

Reynolds is understandably excited about this work, because he sees the CPCs as a program that can be put into operation more easily than some other preschool programs. He says Chicago was the "top of innovation" in preschool. With the grant, he says, all those well-studied benefits have the potential to be widely disseminated.

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