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How i3 came to Minnesota

45 years after Child-Parent Centers began in Chicago, more communitites get a chance to put a proven model to work

SKIP FERRIS HAS SPENT most of his career in Virginia, Minnesota, an Iron Range city with a high school graduation rate at 90 percent, well above the state average. For the past eight years, from Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency headquarters in an old schoolhouse downtown, Ferris has directed Head Start programs at 30 sites across three counties.

Three of those sites are in Virginia, a few blocks from Ferris’s office. Every day, 65 children attend preschool in cheerful rooms reclaimed from the basement of Roosevelt School, which otherwise houses grades 4–12. When the children leave Head Start, most of them start kindergarten at Parkview Learning Center, a K–3 school on the edge of town.

Skip Ferris
Skip Ferris, directs Head Start programs in Virginia,
Minnesota, where parents and teachers already work closely
Photo by Gayla Marty

This spring, Ferris and the teachers and staff in Virginia’s three Head Start classrooms met with University researchers to begin the process of documenting their work with children and their families. With support from a major grant, they are part of a study that will implement the Child-Parent Center (CPC) model to test the early-education program in a new setting.

“We knew about the CPC model because of the research we did for Virginia’s early-education plan—we called it a business plan,” says Ferris. The plan was finished in 2009 but never fully implemented.

Last fall, Ferris seized the chance to jump-start Virginia’s stalled effort. Arthur Reynolds, a professor in the Institute of Child Development, called to invite Ferris to be part of a proposal for a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.

With the grant in place, Virginia joins St. Paul, Milwaukee, Chicago, Evanston/Skokie, and Normal, Illinois as sites implementing, invigorating, and evaluating the venerable CPC model in very different settings over five years.

“It’s a real natural thing for us,” says Ferris. “We see how this project will take us where we want to go.”

In the beginning, parents

The Child-Parent Center Education Program started on the west side of Chicago, not long after Head Start. Area superintendent Lorraine Sullivan worked with schools and families to identify an innovative approach to increase children’s attendance and literacy skills. The CPC plan developed in 1966 led to the board of education allocating federal Title I funds to preschool for the first time. CPCs included not only strong preschool academics but a strong emphasis on parent involvement and sustained services through the transition into kindergarten and through third grade.

Arthur Reynolds was working as an evaluator for the Chicago Public Schools in the 1980s, conducting mandated annual evaluations for federally funded programs, when the CPCs caught his attention.

“It was already a renowned program based on those evaluations,” he says. In 1985, Reynolds worked with the CPC founders to start a longitudinal study of 1,500 children born around 1980 to track their progress into kindergarten, then first and second grade. When he entered a doctoral program, the Chicago Longitudinal Study became his dissertation. He kept working on the study as a researcher at Northern Illinois University.

He also met Judy Temple, a new assistant professor working in the economics of human capital and education.

“Arthur had been following these children, mostly studying test scores and grade retention,” says Temple. “When the children got older, a lot of more interesting economic outcomes started to appear.”

Not only were their dropout rates significantly lower, but after high school, they had lower crime rates and higher income. Temple began to conduct cost-benefit analyses. The first comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, published in 2002, draw national attention and allowed the CPC to join the High Scope/Perry (MI) and Abecedarian (NC) studies demonstrating big returns on investment in early education.

In spite of the evidence, budget cuts kept taking a toll on the CPCs in Chicago. Head Start programs, established nationally, also struggled.

Driven to make a difference

By that time, Reynolds was working on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin. He and Temple had married and were working 100 miles apart. In 2005, they came to the University of Minnesota, drawn by the opportunity to form the Human Capital Research Collaborative between the U and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Reynolds joined the faculty of the top-ranked Institute of Child Development in CEHD and Temple joined the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, known for its strength in research and outreach, with a joint appointment in applied economics.

Art Rolnick, then vice president for research at the Fed, remembers his first conversation with Reynolds.

“I was interested in prenatal to age five, reading a lot on brain development,” says Rolnick. “Reynolds was the one who really educated me on how to prevent fade-out by providing an effective transition from pre-K into kindergarten. Then Judy is an economist. We were on the same page right away.”

In 2009, Reynolds was invited to serve as one of three cochairs for the Access and Finance Committee of Governor Pawlenty’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.* Another cochair was Skip Ferris from Virginia. They served together through the end of 2010.

“You felt like you were out of breath after a conversation with Arthur,” says Ferris with a laugh. “He sees all the connections—the big picture.”

Ferris gave Reynolds a copy of Virginia’s business plan for early education. Reynolds talked about the Chicago Longitudinal Study and what it showed about components of the CPC.

Art Rolnick, Judy Temple, and Arthur Reynolds
Art Rolnick, Judy Temple, and Arthur Reynolds (above) in Minnesota and Barbara Bowman
(right) in Chicago are leading the Child-Parent Centers expansion. Photos by (l) Greg Helgeson, (r) Erikson Institute

In 2011, a second major cost-benefit analysis for the CPC was published, once again documenting the model’s effectiveness. When the call for proposals for Investing in Innovation grants came out, Reynolds, Rolnick, and Temple decided to apply.

Private-sector Support

Strong support from national and local community foundations surpassed the required private-sector match. Major donors are listed here. Fund-raising to further sustain and expand the model continues.

Celebrate Children Foundation | Doris Duke Charitable Foundation | Elizabeth Biedler Tisdahl Foundation | Evanston Community Foundation | Finnegan Family Foundation | Foundation for Child Development | Foundation65 | Francis Beidler Foundation | Greater Twin Cities United Way | J. B. and M. K. Pritzker Family Foundation | Joyce Foundation | Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation | McKnight Foundation | Northwestern University | Robert R. McCormick Foundation | Saint Paul Foundation | Target Corporation | W. K. Kellogg Foundation

Reynolds also contacted Barbara Bowman, chief early education officer for the Chicago Public Schools and a cofounder of Erikson Institute. Bowman knows the history of the CPCs well and met Reynolds about 10 years ago, when he was trying to convince the school district to reenergize the CPCs. She agreed to be a co-principal investigator.

The grant required matching funds, so the team began to identify local sponsors as well as school districts interested in the chance to try the CPC model.

Reynolds called Virginia and told Ferris he wanted to include a Head Start program.

“It’s easier when much of what you need is already in place,” says Reynolds. Virginia is in a strong position because its program already includes key components of the CPC model.

When news of the grant broke in the wake of two other federal grants, the scramble began—to confirm sites, assemble the research team, and get ready to document the progress of four-year-olds at the 30 sites in six cities. What the schools learn and build could become sustainable for future classes.

In Virginia, the Head Start teachers will complete more evaluations than normal this year. The staff at Parkview will begin to prepare for the following year, enhancing support for the kindergarteners in transition from Head Start.

“I’m excited to be part of this,” says Ferris, who is starting to get queries from other interested communities.

In Chicago, Bowman is preparing to support the CPCs expansion from 10 to 15 sites. She gives credit to Reynolds’ persistence.

“Arthur hammers on the door!” she laughs. “It’s the only way. He’s made a professional life work of this, and it is important.”

Read more about the i3 grant to expand the Child-Parent Center model and about the trifecta of early-education grants.

*Now the Early Learning Council

Story by Gayla Marty | Spring / Summer 2012

This article first appeared in Connect, the magazine of the College of Education and Human Development.
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