Guest column: Expanding preschool is first step in education advance

By Michele Corey/Michigan’s Children

Advocates across the state are rejoicing in Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed $65 million expansion ($130 million over two years) for the Great Start Readiness Program– Michigan’s public preschool program for 4-year-olds at-risk of being under-prepared for kindergarten. Credit is due to the Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine for bringing additional public attention to the thousands of eligible children unable to access GSRP; the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan for making GSRP expansion a priority; and legislative and administrative champions for putting comprehensive funding proposals in motion.

This is great news for the additional young children who will be able to access this equity-promoting program, as well as for Michigan’s education community, which is under increased pressure to close gaps in educational outcomes. GSRP has proven to lessen disparities, including reducing the kindergarten readiness gap; improving reading proficiency for third-graders; and getting more young people to high school graduation. In fact, children of color who participated in GSRP were three times more likely to graduate high school on-time than children of color who did not attend GSRP.

At the same time, science has shown us that the most critical time of brain development happens during the first 1,000 days of life when the foundation needed for life-long learning and success is built – before four years of age. For the most challenged youngsters, the achievement gap begins well before children reach preschool, with cognitive disparities emerging as early as nine months of age. To truly reduce the school readiness gap, we must build an early childhood system that recognizes the needed services for Michigan’s most struggling young children beginning before birth. This system includes:

• adequate health care for women of child-bearing age;

• adequate prenatal care for pregnant women;

• evidence-based home visiting programs for the most challenged families with infants and toddlers;

• high quality child care for low-income working families;

• services to identify and support developmental needs; and

• two years of preschool to ensure that all kids are kindergarten ready.

Increasing investments for young children prenatally through age 3, coupled with full funding of the GSRP expansion, is the most effective way to prevent the school readiness gap from even emerging.

But to comprehensively address disparities that begin early and continue throughout young people’s educational careers, we can’t stop there. Once children begin school, we must ensure that necessary supports await them in K-12 to ensure their success. Snyder is taking another courageous step by seeking to overhaul Michigan’s education finance system. The proposed Public Education Finance Act would operationalize his concept of education at “any time, any place, any way, any pace”; some components of the draft plan will help reduce disparities in student success such as funding learning opportunities beyond the traditional school hours or school year.

However, the current plan fails to capitalize on already existing strategies that have proven to reduce the achievement gap – before kindergarten and throughout a student’s K-12 career. The research is clear that children and youth who attend high-quality extended learning programs (before- and after-school and summer learning opportunities) are more likely to succeed in school, particularly students of color and from low-income families, effectively narrowing the achievement gap. Research shows that students who participate in after-school programs improve in key areas that foster school success including social and emotional development, increased interest and engagement in school, and avoidance of risky behaviors in addition to making academic gains in reading and math. Additionally, more than half of the achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities – another effective, evaluated equity-promoting strategy.

To reduce the academic achievement gap, proven strategies must be prioritized and adequately funded to ensure kids and their families receive the support they need to succeed. The first crucial step: fully fund the GSRP expansion. To make sure that we see the best return on that investment and to continue down the path toward educational equity, we also need smarter investments throughout the cradle-to-career continuum.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

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Big D
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 9:12am
I'm sorry...this all feels so helpful and humanistic and equalizing...but I can't help think "Why should this expenditure be any more successful than all the other good-money-after-bad educational initiatives our government has squansored?" Like No School Bureaucrat Left Behind, or anything else from the Dept. of Education. This is clearly targeting a minority group, couched carefully in politically correct terms, that have been ravaged by federal programs for 50 years. The logical conclusion of all this is that the government should take the child, at birth (within the "first 1000 days"), out of the bad environment that society has condemned them to, so as to ensure that they will grow up successful. This whole line of reasoning, while it FEELS good, is wrong on so many levels.... Why not address the cause instead of the symptoms? ...because that would be hard, and there's no near term political payback.
Michele Corey
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 12:16pm
Big D, you are right. We are talking about children of color and children from low-income families – the children and families who face many barriers to success that have been created by inequitable public policies and programs. The takeaway from our guest column is that we can actually expand evidence-based public programs and policies that have proven to reduce the unacceptable disparities that we currently see in child outcomes and have proven to return a significant investment on taxpayer dollars. GSRP expansion is one great step to doing so. As for the first 1000 days of life – we know there are many great programs that keep children in their homes that help young families who opt-in to these programs to become their child’s first, best, and most consistent teachers for lifelong success.
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 3:19pm
Michele, How long have we had the Head Start program and how much better are the children succeeding today compared to prior to Head Start? Is it possible that the benefits of this pre-school assured of being built on or could the current system erode those benefits? If we give this program to the current schooling adminisgtrators why should we believe that they will do any better with it than what they have done with K-12 or are you satified with the current K-12 performance? It seems we have people so willing to claim that 'good intentions' will always justify the cost and yet they are never willing to monitor the performance of that spending. Do you simply believe that because it is based on 'good intentions' that we will get fair vsalue for our money or do you believe that those spending that money should be held accountable? I notice accountablity/perfromance metrics are not included in the article, is that because of the limits on space or is it that you don't believe those delivery on this program have any responsiblity for providing fair value for th other people's money you seem comfortable spending? Do you believe that legislation that would provide for these programs should include a description of the expected impact of the programs, metrics to measure program performance, and 'milestones' or perfromance standards that would have to be achieved to sustain these programs?
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 1:43pm
I wonder if those so suppotive of spending a couple of billion dollars over the next 14 or 15 years have a real idea of whatthis program impact will be. Do they see it raising the current gradution rate by 20%, 15%, 10%, 5%, or do they see it improving the learning of those who participate by 20%, 15%, 10%, 5%? I wonder what they really see as the impact of this program (with all of its spending) should be. I wonder how strongly they believe in this program. Would they be willing to include in legislation that if the impact doesn't achieve their expected results in 15 years that the program be closed and all funding ended? Or is this simply an exercise in 'good intentions' with no confidence or commitment to the ultimate impact? Are they just like all the others who have been after other people's money not willing to be accountable and wanting to spend in perpetuity?
Michele Corey
Fri, 03/08/2013 - 1:05pm
Duane, We don't believe good intentions are enough either, which is why we are behind this particular expansion of a proven program. We highlighted a few of the benefits of GSRP like reducing the kindergarten readiness gap, improving reading proficiency for third-graders, and getting more young people to high school graduation. You can learn more about these outcomes on the High Scope website at These outcomes are actually a result of the built-in accountability tools (also known as quality metrics) that GSRP requires like teacher to student ratio, maximum class sizes, teacher credentials, etc. Again, due to these requirements to run GSRP, we do believe this expansion is an essential investment to improve student achievement. We aren't satisfied with the current rate of student success either, particularly for kids from low-income families and kids of color, which is again why we are behind this expansion. As a state, we must recognize that education goes beyond the school doors and focus efforts on connecting the dots between early learning, K-12, and community resources like health, mental health, and family needs. This is what’s going to result in better outcomes in K-12. GSRP expansion is one step towards doing that.
Wed, 03/13/2013 - 2:40pm
Ms. Corey, Thank you for taking the time to respond. You seem to be answering something you wanted to hear rather than what was asked. I am surprised that if what I was asking wasn’t clear that you didn’t question me. You seem to gravitate to some core biases, that ‘kids from low-income families and kids of color’ somehow aren’t as able to learn as others as can by your focusing solely on those groups. By doing that you risk lowering the expectations for those children you seem to want to help. By lowering your expectations for others you lower the expectations others have for themselves. I would offer that rather than focusing on some preconceived notion of what needs to be done you first start by looking for successes and learn how it happens. Recently there was a world renowned pediatric surgeon in the news. He was raised by a poor single illiterate parent, he grew up in a poor section of Detroit, and yet he has been able to go from those poor conditions through a K-12 system that was not a high performing school system to achieve what any school system would be proud of. Do you wonder about his ability to achieve that success or have you considered asking how he achieved it or are you quick to rationalize as he had some super abilities? Have you ever wondered how kids from what you see as disadvantaged backgrounds have succeeded how kids of middle and wealthy backgrounds succeed? Have consider that there may be some similarities and that others could use to succeed or do you only see it as simply spending in support of the classroom? I did go to the site you offered the link to, I only read the section on teachers. I was not able to find anything that addressed my initial questions or my subsequent ones, nor did it offer anything that showed how those who didn’t have that experience were somehow doomed to fail academically as your article seemed to suggests. I openly admit in my career when I was asking for money I learned to demonstrate the return that spending would generate by showing the model of what we would do and how it would work and how it compared to previous successes. Those lessons about spending other peoples money I apply when other people want to spend my money and the money of those around me. Will you describe to me what successful learning looks like and how your approach affects that model? Will your program ensure that all the benefits the students would gain from the pre-K education will not be dissipated by the time those student enter high school let alone graduate? Is the GSRP a plan of 'good intentions' or is it one that has been used in a Michigan school that has consistently proven results that signifantly changed the graduation rates, knowledge and skills levels, and employment status of those who participated in it?
Jon Blakey
Sun, 03/10/2013 - 11:02am
Schools will never be able to consistently overcome the effects of poverty by themselves. This is a myth currently perpetuated by those who want to destroy public education. Overcoming the insidious effects of poverty will necessitate the creation of additional programs that assist their parents in escaping poverty, including job training and actual jobs that allow them to earn a living and support their children's educational endeavors. Creating such programs in today's economic and partisan political climate will be hard as evidenced by the fact that it has not been done in any lasting way over the last forty years. More GSRP programs will need to be created based on actual research from effective preschool interventions, not the well intentioned whims of the teacher assigned to the program. Regular home visits and extensive parent involvement and training must be a key part of the program. Intensive program support in the form of teacher training, monitoring of program implementation, and evaluation of program results (short term and long-term) must be conducted by well trained early childhood experts. Holding the intermediate school districts strictly accountable for providing these supports as they receive of 10-15% of the GSRP money, could assist with this. I am heartened by the proposed increase in GSRP funding and will watch with interest as our politicians show their true colors regarding the education of our most vulnerable children. Thank you for your continued advocacy for children, Ms. Corey.