The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board is set to review a task force report on early childhood programs and how well they prepare children for kindergarten.

The 19-member District 65 Early Childhood Task Force reviewed test results, demographic data, research studies on academic achievement, student recruitment processes, professional development programs, and procedures for transition to kindergarten and Early Head Start home visits. They also conducted five focus groups with parents, teachers and community members.

The report includes the following findings:

  • Most 3-year olds and 4-year olds enrolled in District 65 programs met or exceeded widely-held standards, especially if they attended over longer periods.
  • Early literacy skills have changed little since 2014, with kindergarten readiness declining slightly over the past five years
  • Racial opportunity gaps exist starting from early childhood, with kindergarten readiness for Asian, black and Latinx students lower than that for white students
  • Math is an area most in need of improvement in ages 0-3 years and 3-5 years.
  • Overall, students who attended a preschool program other than a D65 program were more likely to meet kindergarten-readiness benchmarks than those from D65 programs. Those students, however, tend to be from higher-income families.
  • Black students and students eligible for free/reduced lunch who attend D65 programs demonstrate better kindergarten readiness relative to black and free/reduced lunch students who attend other programs.
  • White students were more likely to reach kindergarten readiness relative to peers of color in the same programs regardless of their pre-kindergarten experience.
  • Among preschool programs, students attending Montessori schools were the most likely to meet kindergarten readiness benchmarks.

The report also included the results of the “5Essentials,” a survey conducted annually by the University of Chicago that aims to predict a school’s success.

Of the three Essentials reported for early childhood education, District 65 scored below average in two — Effective Leaders and Collaborative Teachers – and average in one – Involved Families.

An early childhood needs assessment indicated that 95 percent of incoming kindergartners to D65 have some type of pre-kindergarten experience, with black and Latinx students more likely to attend a D65 program while white students are more likely to attend private preschool.

Head Start, Early Head Start and Preschool for All (District 65 programs) account for 21 percent of the childcare capacity in the Evanston/Skokie community. Other licensed childcare providers account for 62 percent of the childcare capacity. The remaining 17 percent is accounted for by license-exempt childcare centers and licensed childcare homes.

The report includes recommendations to:

  • Develop a comprehensive, strategic plan for the district’s early childhood programs
  • Better integrate early childhood programs into the district’s organization structure
  • Reconfigure existing funding to best align with program priorities
  • Examine hiring and staffing policies for early childhood personnel, reflecting a concern by the focus groups to hire more black and Latinx teachers
  • Build partnerships with other early childhood providers and community stakeholders
  • Develop a comprehensive evaluation plan for JEH programs
  • Strengthen relationships with parents and families

The task met three times over the course of the school year. Membership included representatives of several Evanston preschools, community members, District 65 administrators and school board members, and outside experts in early childhood education.

The regular meeting of the school board will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Hill Education Center, 1500 McDaniel Ave.

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