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A Fix for Early Learning in Detroit





Can Detroit turn the tide on poor early childhood education by raising the bar for faltering teachers and caregivers? Excellent Schools Detroit’s new E3 coached-based training hopes to make that happen.
What we know about early brain development is shocking.
A substantive 85 percent of who a child will be – their intellect, personality, and social skills – are developed by age five. Brain research illustrates that early childhood experiences are critical to the developing brain. As the brain forms rapidly in the earliest years of life, the environment in which it develops can either support or inhibit a child’s emotional, social, and intellectual development (Education Commission of the States).
With this data in mind, it makes sense that Michigan should invest rigorously in early childhood education. Governor Snyder has taken a strong stance, directing more money and more attention on early childhood programs. That’s a great start. But corralling children into low-quality programs gets us nothing but low-quality results: students with little opportunity to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
In no place is this troublesome fact more evident than in Detroit. Last year, for the first time, Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD) – the nonprofit organization that initiated the game-changing “scorecard” that rates Detroit schools and is working to boost high school graduation rates and college success – issued an Early Learner Scorecard, based on early learning and care program ratings from Great Start to Quality (an initiative of the Office of Great Start implemented by the Early Childhood Investment Corporation).
The scorecard recommended just 75 programs for Detroit families (out of a total of nearly 1,200 providers licensed in Wayne County and 500 in Detroit). Denise Smith, vice president of early childhood at ESD, says that is not nearly enough quality programs for the 58,000 children, birth to five years old, who live within Wayne County and Detroit proper.
...corralling children into low-quality programs gets us nothing but low-quality results: students with little opportunity to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Clearly, it’s time for a change. Caregivers and educators must be better equipped with tools that will help them provide more engaging learning environments for children during those crucial, formative years.
To address this issue, ESD is launching a new program this spring to raise the standards for early childhood educators.
The Citywide Early Learning (E3) Teacher Training model aims to increase the aptitude of 100 metro Detroit teachers working in programs for children ages birth to eight. Smith says the approach is about closing the achievement gap for Detroit’s early learners. Not through one-time continuing education workshops where teachers might quickly forget what they’ve learned, but, rather, through matching coaches with teachers who are actively engaged in rigorous academic programming and are being supported by modeling and coaching to raise their level of expertise.
“The project is really about reshaping how we support teachers and children throughout Detroit. E3 isn’t another convening about how to close the gap,” says Smith. “It’s a partnership to build a community of practice across all sectors of early learning from preschool through third grade, where we can all learn and grow from each other’s expertise while assuring continuity of learning along that continuum of development.”
Here’s how it works: The program will first select and train 25 coaches, who are bachelor-degreed early childhood professionals with at least three years experience as teachers, directors, or early elementary educators. These coaches are then matched with a minimum of four teachers or childcare providers, and the coaches begin working closely with them to elevate their expertise and boost excellence in classrooms across Detroit.
The program will not only reach early educators in elementary schools and established preschool programs, but also those hard-to-find caregivers and teachers, like those operating home-based daycare centers where so many young families leave their children.

The program will not only reach early educators in elementary schools and established preschool programs, but also those hard-to-find caregivers and teachers, like those operating home-based daycare centers where so many young families leave their children.
Smith says that the majority of programs serving children within Wayne County are home-based. “While these educators are often isolated, we know where they are; all are licensed or regulated by the Bureau of Child and Adult Licensing,” says Smith.  “The key is to engage them while being respectful of their time and by providing options so they are able to run their program, which is often their sole income.” 
Results from Great Start to Quality released last summer showed only one home-based early learning program in Detroit received a five-star rating.
Using scores from Great Start to Quality, E3 is specifically reaching out to programs with less than a three-star rating for teacher trainees.
According to Smith, the process will “bring together a class of coaches and teachers, who can really learn from one another and ideally build a set of best practices that lead to better educational outcomes for all children ages birth to eight.”
Recruitment is already underway. Coaches will be selected on April 7, with coach training starting in mid-May. In return for signing up for this project and giving of their time and expertise, the coaches will receive 90 hours of training valued at $70,000 provided by ESD and TNTP (formerly The New Teachers Project).
Coaches will use their knowledge of child development and early learning readiness standards (such as Early Childhood Standards of Excellence and State Common Core Standards) and their ability as leaders to help teachers develop classroom skills (i.e., modeling skills, delivering clear instructions, etc.) and preparatory skills (i.e., planning, designing center play, etc.).
Teacher and caregiver trainees can apply for the program in April, with selections made in May and training and mentoring starting in late summer. Teachers will set goals and receive guidance around multiple issues, with an eye on cultivating a “children first” culture that emphasizes continuous assessment of outcomes.
The work is inspiring for Smith, a native Detroiter who has been at ESD for 18 months. She says that her children, including her four-year-old niece for whom she is currently guardian, have been affected by the opportunities, or lack of, in Detroit.
If Detroit’s children truly are to have a fair shake at school and life success, it has to start early and be universal and available for all, no matter how much their parents earn or what sort of neighborhood they reside.
“Through work experiences, travel and study, I’ve experienced first-hand the vast difference in the level of service provided based on geography, race, and class,” says Smith. “It’s my belief that children by birthright are not any less capable of learning.”
ESD’s mission is to have Detroit be the first major U.S. city where 90 percent of students graduate from high school, 90 percent go on to post-secondary programs, and 90 percent of enrollees succeed without remediation. And success in high school and college starts with success in the early years.
The payoff for charging forward with this initiative, which has long-term plans to enlist 100 coaches supporting 400 early learning teachers, will be a brighter future for Detroit youth.
Says Smith, “As adults, we simply have not provided them [children] with what they need to flourish – that’s simply intolerable and must change now.”
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