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75% of Illinois Children Aren’t Prepared for Kindergarten; Blaming Parents Isn’t a Solution

Following the recent release of a report from the Illinois State Board of Education that indicates that approximately 75 percent of Illinois children begin kindergarten without age-appropriate language, math and socio-emotional skills, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board highlighted the critical role parents play in adequately preparing their children for educational success. Indeed, 90 percent of a child’s brain has developed by the age of five, and parents are largely responsible for the progress their children make by the time they enter school.

However, the editorial board missed the chance to spark a more meaningful conversation about how we can ensure that every child in Illinois enters kindergarten poised for success. “Pinging” parents for failing to prepare their children for school without acknowledging the barriers that exist for many to do so is not a viable solution, because this is a problem caused by factors far more complex than parents unwilling to play an active role in their children’s early education.

The reality is that, regardless of how much parents want to help their children thrive in their first years of life, many simply do not have the resources to do so. More than 40 percent of babies and toddlers in Illinois live in low-income households (defined as family income below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level); in these families reading to a child may be a luxury amidst the daily struggle to avoid homelessness and keep food on the table.

As a result, any conversation about increasing school readiness early in childhood must consider how to help whole families succeed. High quality early childhood education programs are essential to achieving this goal, but so, too, are strategies to provide parents with a strong foundation in the skills needed to be effective teachers for their children. That is in addition to offering resources for finding safe and stable housing and opportunities to increase their economic capacity, such as continuing education and employment readiness training. By empowering parents, we reach children, and can help create home environments that best support children’s development before they enter school.

While this could be considered nothing more than “tout[ing] programs to spend money the state doesn’t have,” we argue that it is an investment Illinois cannot afford not to make. If we are unwilling to invest in our children’s futures, what does that say about us?

Laura Zumdahl, President & CEO, New Moms
Kelly Lambrinatos, Co-Founder & Executive Director, VOCEL