Improving School Readiness
Providing high quality early learning experiences can ensure that young children have the social and cognitive skills they need to start school prepared and will help prevent an achievement gap that emerges as young as nine months of age.
The Birth through Third Grade Continuum
Supporting young children and their families beginning at birth, through early childhood, and as they transition into the elementary school years can ensure that children and family continually receive the high quality services they need to prevent the achievement gap.
The children of Michigan will be our future scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, parents, laborers, artists and elected officials. Ensuring all young children have a healthy start in life is essential to Michigan’s economy. Scientists have proven that by the time children reach school age, between 80 and 90 percent of the intellectual and emotional wiring of their brains has been set for life. Despite the evidence that children’s earliest experiences affect the very architecture of their brains, too many young children face difficulties that may affect their long-term well-being and success – particularly children of color, children from low-income families, and children shouldering other challenging circumstances. To ensure that Michigan’s young children are prepared to be the workers of tomorrow, a strong early childhood system that supports all young children from birth through third grade is essential.
Increasingly the American public is also recognizing that investing in our youngest residents pays off, not only in the increased health and well-being of young children, but also in the economic vitality of our state. Studies by leading economists now confirm that every dollar spent toward high quality early care and education creates jobs, enables parents to earn while their children learn, and builds a foundation for sustained economic security. Most importantly, research has also shown that the best use of public taxpayer dollars is to invest in high quality early childhood education as a critical and effective mechanism to reduce the achievement gap that is evident as early as nine months of age and can continue to grow throughout a child’s educational career if not prevented and mitigated early.
Thus, Michigan must have a strong early childhood system that supports what the brain research tells us about these critically important years, what economists have proven is a prudent use of taxpayer dollars, and what studies have shown can prevent and mitigate the achievement gap. Michigan’s early childhood system must ensure that children are born healthy and are developmentally on track; support parents to be their children’s first and best teachers; provide high quality early learning experiences; and support young children and their families beginning at birth, through early childhood, and as they transition into the elementary school years. Below are some critical components of the early childhood system that Michigan’s Children has identified as opportunities where your advocacy on behalf of the state’s most challenged young children and their families is essential.
Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services
Brain science shows that children’s earliest experiences affect the very architecture of their brains – whether in a positive or negative way. Similarly, experiences of abuse and neglect can rewire a child’s brain, making it more challenging for young children to learn the healthy social, emotional, and literary skills needed to succeed in school and in life. With child poverty on the rise in Michigan, particularly challenged families often need additional help in providing consistent support to their kids. Unfortunately, Michigan’s policy and budget decisions in the past decade have proven to make it more difficult for families to make ends meet and to maintain safe and stable home environments. Since 2005, Michigan has seen the child poverty rate increase by 34 percent; and even more detrimental is the 41 percent increase in children living in families investigated for child maltreatment. And too often, investigated cases often involved Michigan’s youngest residents.
While increased state funding has been provided for improvements in the state’s foster care and child protective services system, as required by a settlement agreement stemming from a lawsuit by the national Children’s Rights organization, child abuse and neglect prevention funding has not kept pace.
Evidence-based Home Visiting
In voluntary home visiting programs, trained professionals work with low-income families to promote early learning, support healthy development and prevent child abuse. Studies show that evidence-based home visiting programs increase children’s literacy and high school graduation rates, increase the amount parents read to their children, improve positive birth outcomes, increase the likelihood that families have a primary care provider, and cut child abuse in at-risk families by as much as a half.
While the quality and efficacy of home visiting programs can vary greatly, Michigan has made a concerted effort to focus on programs that research has shown provide the greatest outcomes for Michigan’s most challenged families with young children. Additionally, federal dollars through the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program has assisted Michigan in building its home visiting infrastructure and has infused services in eight of Michigan’s most challenged counties. And while home visiting services are well represented across our state, limited funding has resulted in only a fraction of eligible families with young children actually receiving services. While federal dollars play a critical role in addressing the needs of infant and toddlers, Michigan must increase state support for voluntary home visiting services.
Visit the Michigan Department of Community Health website to learn more about Michigan’s home visiting system.
Early On Early Intervention
Early On provides early intervention services to families with infants and toddlers from birth to 36 months of age with developmental delays or who have diagnosed physical or mental conditions that could lead to such delay. It has been well established that early intervention is an effective way to impact a child’s development by preventing or reducing problems that can effect children at a later age and even into adulthood. Early On specializes in evaluating and treating children that are not developing at the same rate as other children – including physical, mental, communication, adaptive, social or emotional development. Families with children who are identified as eligible for Early On services receive Individualized Family Service Plans that are developed with an Early On coordinator that identifies the appropriate intervention services needed based on the child’s delay. These services are intended to be provided in the most natural environment possible that’s typical for a similar aged child without a delay – whether in the child’s home or in a community-based setting like a child care center.
Early On service coordination is funded through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C. Most states supplement this federal coordination funding with state resources for service delivery. Unfortunately in Michigan, funding for direct services for infants and toddlers has been insufficient to serve young children who are eligible.
High Quality Child Care
As research confirms, where and how children spend their days will determine much about their success in school and in life, particularly for young children when the brain is rapidly developing. Access to high quality child care can ensure that young children are building the foundational base they need to learn soft skills, develop basic literacy, and protect against poverty-related risk factors while reducing the equity gap. For school-aged children, access to high quality after-school programming is essential for children who are struggling in school by allowing them to access supports during out-of-school time to stay academically on-track. Ensuring the Child Development and Care (CDC) program — Michigan’s child care subsidy program — promotes access to high quality child care settings that support children’s learning and development while parents work is essential.
Michigan’s CDC program currently faces many challenges that make it increasingly difficult for low-income working families to access high quality child care. Some challenges include Michigan’s hourly reimbursement rate, extremely low reimbursement rate, and the current cap on the number of reimbursable hours.
Read Michigan’s Children’s comments to the Michigan Department of Education’s FY2016-FY2018 Child Care Development Fund state plan.
Read our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication on the child care quality improvement efforts that Michigan is looking to tackle through the state’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant award.
High Quality Preschool
High quality preschool programs provide young children with the skills they need to succeed in school, can reduce the school readiness gap, and save taxpayer dollars. The Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) is Michigan’s publicly funded preschool program for four-year-olds at-risk of beginning kindergarten underprepared. The most recent evaluation of GSRP found that GSRP graduates were more likely to be kindergarten ready, more likely to pass the fourth grade MEAP, less likely to be held back a grade, and more likely to graduate on time. Children of color who attended GSRP were nearly three times more likely to graduate on time or be at higher levels of achievement after 13 years of schooling than their peers who did not attend – demonstrating a clear connection to reducing the achievement gap. And, the cost-savings of high quality preschool programs like GSRP are significant, with Michigan saving $1.1 billion in 2009 alone due to investments made in GSRP over the previous 25 years as a result of savings on welfare, the criminal justice system, special education and other social expenses.
The focus on expanding the GSRP, coupled with federal Head Start funding, aims to make Michigan a “no-wait” state for four-year-old preschool. Unfortunately, our state continues to underserve the most challenged three-year-olds who would also benefit from a high quality preschool experience.
Read our Issues for Michigan’s Children publication to learn how high quality preschool programming can help reduce the achievement gap.