Consider an education program so effective that its impact can be measured 19 years later, so well-studied that it can be backed up with decades of scientific evidence on children's improved skills in math and reading, and so impressive to policymakers that it continues to be championed around the country 40 years after its launch.
These are the superlatives that come with Chicago's Child Parent Centers. So you might figure they're flourishing as part of the Chicago Public Schools' early childhood programs, right? Not so. Their numbers are dwindling. In the mid-1980s, there were at least 25 CPCs serving more than 1,500 children. By 2006, there were 13. Today, 11 are still open, according to the Promising Practices Network. Enrollment in 2009, as reported by the Chicago Public Schools, is down to 670, less than half of what it once was. It now represents just 2 percent of the system's total preschool enrollment.
The distressing story of the CPCs needs to be told. In this series, we have examined Illinois's early childhood framework and its Preschool for All program, as well as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's record in Chicago. Both offer helpful lessons for structuring and funding early childhood programs. But the CPCs offer some of the strongest lessons of all, and their closures send a warning about how difficult it can be to sustain the programs that have been shown to do the most good. It's a shame that even in an environment brimming with early childhood advocates, the CPCs haven't been able to gain ground. And it begs the question: If Chicago can't make this happen, who can?