Speaking For Kids

Starting Today a Step Ahead or a Step Behind

September 8, 2015 – Yesterday I walked across the Mackinac Bridge with my family, the Governor and tens of thousands of other people in celebration of the end of summer.  It was the first time that we had ever made the walk and participated in the throng of humanity that makes it, many year after year.   This was truly an awesome experience, making us all feel a little prouder of our state, for sure.  However, as we started across the bridge in the rain, it was obvious that some of us would have an easier time of it than others.  There were people pushing strollers that slipped on the wet concrete and got stuck on the metal grates, there were people with canes, limps and other indications that the long walk would be a struggle for them.

With my three kids, all very healthy, we had a pretty easy time of it, but there were clearly people who were better prepared than we were.  Sometimes we, and those going at a faster pace than we were, found ourselves frustrated by the extra time needed by the folks who couldn’t go as quickly or who needed some extra help by the many National Guard members who were there to make sure that everyone who started across would make it to the finish.

Today marks the first day of school for most students in Michigan.  The bridge walk made me think a lot about the summer learning graphic illustrating the different impact of the summer months that serves to increase the learning gaps between poorer kids and their more affluent peers.  In the summer, kids who have expanded learning opportunities through family travels, summer enrichment programs and specific assistance to build literacy and numeracy skills or catch up where they have fallen behind, continue to progress educationally.  Kids who don’t have any of those things actually fall behind over those months, starting school today even further behind than they were when they left in June.

So, in the case of the bridge walk, those who made it across the fastest would be like the kids who start school today having gotten those 6,000 hours of extra learning by the 6th grade – through literacy and other enriching activities with family members able to spend that time with them; and through extra learning time during the school year and in the summer in quality expanded learning opportunities.    Those who moved more slowly needed that additional time and assistance to be able to complete the trip.  Many students are starting school today who have not been afforded that time or assistance, and are beginning the school year further behind than they left it.

Michigan’s Children is testifying before the State Board today about investments that are necessary if Michigan really wants to become a top ten state for education, reiterating the pieces we’ve been talking about through our August Issues edition, Making Michigan a Top 10 Education State by Shrinking the Learning Gap and our Bridge commentary.  One of those necessary investments is in expanded learning – before-and after school programs, summer learning programs and other opportunities to bolster the learning that goes on during the typical school day and year.

The most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities need to have better access to learning in the summer.  There are amazing programs across the state that serve to close those gaps.  Evaluation of a small summer learning investment that Michigan made a few years ago showed stark differences between the typical educational loss for students without those summer experiences, and the significant academic gain for the students who participated.  Funding that supports those programs has not been included in state budgets for several years, and high quality programs are not accessible through the state for families who cannot afford to pay for them.

Let this be the last first day of school where we allow students to start further behind than when they left.  Let’s commit this year to investing in expanded learning through the school year and in the summer, allowing everyone to begin in September a step ahead.

– Michele Corey

Want To Stop Kicking Kids Out of School? Start Earlier

August 21, 2015 – Renewed attention has been placed on the disproportionality in school suspension and expulsion rates, and efforts here in Michigan and nationally to reduce suspension and expulsion continue to take shape.  The White House is leading a national push to rethink school discipline with a focus not only on general discipline practices but also as part of their My Brother’s Keeper efforts to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.  These conversations, thankfully, have included the need to better understand the role of trauma, as schools are demonstrating that providing trauma-informed training to teachers and school personnel is a highly effective way to reduce inappropriate school discipline.  Research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has played a clear role in these efforts as more and more is known about how to properly identify children who have experienced trauma and to best support them.

However, much more needs to be done to put what we know into practice in schools in Michigan, particularly since traumatic experiences that are exhibited through difficult school behaviors begin far before kindergarten.  With the increased focus on ACEs, attention is being placed on how to prevent and mitigate adverse experiences in early childhood.  Critically important in this discussion is a recent report by Child Trends that sheds light on how prevention efforts can and should focus on better supporting families with young children to prevent bullying behavior – clearly tied to later school discipline issues.

As the Child Trends report indicates, young children are developing social skills in those early years, and early aggressive behavior is a potential indicator of anti-social behavior later.  Michigan’s Children and others have been concerned about recent data on the extent of expulsion from early childhood education settings.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education put out a joint policy statement on reducing suspension and expulsion rates in those settings.  Clearly kicking young kids out of child care or preschool is not the way to go, but rather we must identify the root cause of early aggressive behaviors and address those underlying issues.  The brain science that undergirds current focus on preventing the academic achievement gap before kindergarten-entry also points to the need for earlier efforts to mitigate bullying and aggressive behavior, taking advantage of the time when young children’s brains are developing most rapidly and brain structures to promote pro-social behavior can be built.

How does that happen?  With a focus on the family and ensuring that parents have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teachers.  ACEs experienced in those early years – like child maltreatment, witnessing domestic violence, or having a parent with mental health challenges – shape early experiences and potentially long-term outcomes in ways that may result in aggressive behavior.  Since parents serve as role models to their children, what they do leaves a lasting impression on what young children perceive as appropriate or inappropriate behavior.  For families identified as having unstable or unsafe home environments, providing intensive family-focused supports that promote positive parenting while addressing the root causes of violence or maltreatment – like mental health or substance abuse issues – are essential to not only ensure family stability but also to reduce behaviors leading to bullying and school discipline problems.

Michigan is piloting in several communities efforts to improve trauma-informed practice through the Great Start systems to better recognize early signs of trauma and to intervene more appropriately in early childhood settings.  Connecting the outcomes of this work with local and statewide efforts to reduce bullying, suspensions and expulsions is critical to improving education outcomes to prevent and mitigate trauma so that all Michigan children, youth and families can succeed.

-Mina Hong

Moving Toward the Top

August 20, 2015 – Trying to get better at things is good, particularly trying to get better at things that are in the best interest of children, youth and families in our state. New leadership in the Department of Education has come with new opportunities to get better, and Superintendent Whiston has already shown that he is committed to setting goals and working with others to achieve them. In a state where we ranked 37th of the 50 states in education in the last National Kids Count Data Book, this is essential. The Superintendent and the State Board of Education are spending some time over the next couple of months getting feedback about what it would really take to move Michigan to a top 10 education state.

Michigan’s Children is weighing in on that conversation with what we’ve talked about consistently for years – a focus on shrinking achievement gaps by investing in what works for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Six specific areas rise to the top, each with a myriad of strategies that can and must be forwarded:

Take responsibility for early strategies beyond pre-school by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximizing federal investment in Early On and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Support parents’ role in their children’s literacy by expanding initial efforts to help parents in their role of first and best teachers and to help them reach their own educational and career goals by better investments in Adult Education, workforce supports, and family literacy options so that parents can fully support their children’s literacy journeys.

Change school practice related to student and family trauma by providing school personnel the tools they need to recognize and deal with symptoms of trauma in their students and families and evaluating their ability to do so. It also includes building better connections with community partners who can assist.

Close equity gaps by integrating services and expanding learning opportunities. This includes building assurance that state and federal resources for service integration would go to the best models of service and that supporting services needed by children, youth and families would be available throughout the state. It also includes investing in after-school and summer learning at the state level, in addition to maintaining federal investment.

Give young people multiple chances to succeed by promoting attendance through adjustments in school discipline policies and investment in programs beyond the traditional, arbitrary four-years of high school. The effectiveness of these programs is increased when young people themselves are involved in planning and are clearly connected to a pathway leading toward college or career.

And finally, we suggested that the Superintendent and the State Board provide real leadership in this difficult work that often requires the efforts of many areas of expertise and many sectors of work, including the family and community resources. With so many things impacting a child’s ability to succeed in school and life – many of which are not within the walls of a school and the purview of education pedagogy – it is essential to bring efforts together.

As we’ve said many times before, our educational leaders have their work cut out for them, and as public and private partners available to help, we have our work cut out for us as well.

– Michele Corey

© 2019 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Sq, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Levaire