Teacher challenges Board's covert attempt to privatize early childhood education

[Editors note: The following is the prepared statement of Chicago pre-school teacher and Substance staff reporter Kati Gilson for the Board of Education's meeting of August 22, 2012. The precise words Ms. Gilson said to the seven Board members and Jean-Claude Brizard will be seen on CAN TV Saturday].

Good morning, my name is Kati Gilson. I am national board certified and have masters in both early childhood and administration. I am concerned because preschools inside CPS are going to now have to compete in a "competitive bidding" process for funding with Charters, Home Day Care, Social Service agencies, Church programs, etc. I think the parents, teachers and community members need to know about this.

I was told that Charters were apparently informed well in advance that this was coming in order to prepare applications. CPS principals found out this summer that they have to apply and compete in order for their preschool classrooms to remain open for 2013-14. The intent to apply application is due at the beginning of September. The actual application, which is 40 pages long, is due in November. Will an overburdened principal dealing with a new school day, new evaluation system, etc. really get a competitive bid together by November? Many principals are so overwhelmed with all the new requirements that early childhood is probably the last thing on their mind because they know their teachers keep them informed. Those in the know think this is a plan to wipe out Preschool for All in CPS, especially in poorer neighborhood schools.

Having worked inside both daycare and CPS preschool systems, the quality cannot be compared. The daycare and social agency models of preschools are not as good, primarily because of high teacher turnover due to low pay and terrible working conditions. Turnover is very problematic for this age group in particular. This is really going to impact quality, drive down teacher's wages, and worsen the hodge-podge of schooling "choices" parents have to wade through in order to obtain schooling for their children. It will create a direct feed into charter's elementary programs, just as preschools in neighborhood schools helps feed into the elementary.

It may also mean many fewer slots for working parents, as most of the social service agencies are also funded in ways that won't allow people much above the poverty line to use the services. (In CPS we prioritize poor families, but can open slots to anyone after our priority list is met.) Rahm announced this with the big news that he's found $10 million more dollars to increase the number of children served by pre-k. The question is WHY would Rahm be inclined to promote this new system? Obviously, it’s a direct attack on our union that bypasses the bargaining table. (I'd also love to see the budget breakdown that proves this is an actual increase and not just a moving around of monies, but that's a different story.)

CPS has a history of providing quality preschool education through Head Start, Preschool for All (formerly State Pre-K), Child Parent Centers and tuition based preschools. However, CPS has eroded the programs over the past 18 years by eliminating nurses, social workers, parent coordinators and as of June, educational coaches. The CPS early childhood department has provided quality ongoing professional development in all curricular areas. There used to be screening and assessment teams so the teachers could actually spend time teaching instead of spending the first month giving the ESI-R and the last month giving the KRT. On top of that there is the ongoing assessment which covers 50 checkpoints, all requiring an observation, for each child, three times during the school year. Students that used to received breakfast, lunch and snack now only get universal breakfast and no rest time is allowed in all day programs. On top of that preschool funding is put into school discretionary funds which often never make it to the preschool programs they are supposed to support.

Your experienced teachers will continue to supply a quality program for the children. I pity the new teachers who will be thrown into this mess with no training in assessment, curriculum and no support. Mr. Brizzard, in your letter dated 8/20/12 you stated, in reference to the budget, and I quote: “Regardless of any adjustments, our commitments in this budget remain unchanged, including: Protecting investments in early childhood education and full day kindergarten.” I don’t see how forcing principals to compete with each other for funding protects the investment in early childhood education. It looks to me like another way to give our inner city, minority students the shaft.

- (From the horse's mouth) (This is where you'll find the application process, scoring rubrics, etc. Unbelievable!)


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