Early learning summit in June could impact Michigan’s children

Changes in our basic attitudes don’t happen very often, but when they do, they can hit like a ton of bricks.

Take the realization that young children learn quickest and best ‒ by far ‒ from birth to around age 5. That has led to the creation of pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs all over the country, some private and some publicly funded.

That, in turn, has led to big increases in funding for public early childhood programs, especially here in Michigan, which now leads the nation in increasing public support for our Great Start Readiness Program, which is aimed at poor and vulnerable four-year-olds.

Now comes a global summit on the well-being of children. to be held at Central Michigan University June 3-5. The “Early Childhood: Shifting Mindsets” gathering will bring together experts from across Michigan, the United States and international organizations to “examine critical issues, exchange ideas, build bridges, and shape solutions to improve outcomes for children and families.”

Up for discussion are the science of infant development; how scientific research is affecting early systems of child care, education and support; and key policy issues, including how Michigan is developing policy through public, private, philanthropic and community-based strategies.

The two and a half-day summit is being designed and hosted by students, faculty and staff at CMU’s College of Education and Human Services in Mt. Pleasant.

“We see CMU as a catalyst to bring diverse groups together and formulate an action plan,” says Dale Pehrsson, dean of the college.

The opening session June 3 will be keynoted by Dr. Joshua Sparrow, director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Sparrow will also take part in an opening panel: “Change the Questions, Change the World: Childhood Today & Propositions for Tomorrow.” His fellow panelists will include Eileen Graf, director of research at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, and Joelle-Jude Fontaine, program officer at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Graf has won considerable notice for her “Thirty Million Words Initiative,” which encourages parents to talk to their children in a way that helps build their vocabularies, brains and futures.

Michigan policy shapers will come together there on June 5 in a panel to discuss key policy issues and the way Michigan’s public, private and philanthropic organizations have responded.

Included among them will be Susan Broman, head of the Office of Head Start in the Michigan Department of Education; Matt Gillard, CEO of Michigan’s Children; Traverse City’s Doug Luciani, co-chair of the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan; and Peter Pratt, president of Public Sector Consultants. I’ll be moderating a similar panel later that morning.

As Dean Pehrsson put it: “The forum will promote sustainable partnerships to solve complex issues along the shifting landscape that’s challenging Michigan’s children and families, including access to high-quality early learning, the health and well-being of children under five, family stress and poverty in Michigan.”

Although developing early childhood policy has been under intense discussion in the research community for decades and in Lansing for the past 10 years, the CMU gathering is the first I know of to consider the entire spectrum of early childhood issues in an on-campus environment open to the public.

Registration fee is $300, with an “Early Bird” rate of $230 until May 1. The complete summit agenda and slate of speakers is available here.

I encourage anybody to sign up who has an interest in learning how childhood policy and programs have a direct effect on our state’s future prosperity – especially if you think you might get involved.

The summit should be a fascinating experience.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Tue, 04/14/2015 - 9:39am
Oh the irony, not that they would really want to but most likely anyone directly affected by the topic being discussed probably couldn't afford to go to this.
Alison Arnold
Tue, 04/14/2015 - 4:01pm
The summit is a 2 1/2 day program that includes costs to bring speakers to CMU and to convene and feed 300 attendees for 2 1/2 days Registration fees will help defer costs. The forum is not a fundraiser. The College of Education has created a scholarship fund for its students to take part in the summit. This is the first year of the program and we hope that in future years, there may be further sponsorship support. Please contact Alison at: arnol1ab@cmich.edu
Tue, 04/14/2015 - 9:42am
Great push for an important event around a critical issue. Thanks for your leadership Phil, and for the work being done by John Bebow and the team at the Center for Michigan. The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance are with you!
Tue, 04/14/2015 - 9:43am
My wife and I had a combined 60 plus years in public education. Much emphasis is placed on the poor and what is needed to improve their educational opportunities. I agree, but let us not forget the value for all children in their needs pre-natal and ages one to five. A good foundation is absolutely necessary for them to succeed. Spend just one day in a five year olds classroom and you will see what I mean. R.l.
Tue, 04/14/2015 - 3:52pm
As much as I value and recognize the need for the work of 'experts', I believe that the people who have succeeded independent of who or where they were have a treasure trove of practical knowledge and skills [a practical 'expertise] that others could benefit from in developing their personal action plans. Instead of taking Mr. Power’s advice and attending the ‘global summit’ on learning, I will donate to The Center for Michigan to support Bridge posting an 'article' that asks readers about learning, the barriers they have faced, how and why they overcame those barriers, with a summary of ideas that readers offer. I believe so strongly that there would be more value hearing from readers than attending that ‘global summit’ I will donate the amount I estimate it would cost me to follow Mr. Power's advice to Bridge in hopes that they will turn to readers for their insight on the issue of student learning. As a idea start the Bridge consideration of this approach [turning to readers] there are three questions that might be asked; 'what barriers did you overcome?', 'why did you work to overcome them?', and 'how did you overcome them?' for readers to provide their experieinces/answers/observations to. To minimize the burden to the Bridge staff I feel a few readers (I suspect there will be volunteers) adminsiter and summerize the responses for Bridge’s staff consideration as an article.
Eric Sharp
Wed, 04/15/2015 - 12:43pm
Duane, we already know what is needed to give kids a good start in life -- a stable family that has enough money to provide a comfortable and stimulating lifestyle with parents who are motivated to care about their children's future. But as long as we have a society that begrudges head-start and school lunch programs for poor kids while spending countless billions on welfare for oil companies, black budgets for the CIA, inane wars in the Middle East and any business supported by lobbyists who can blow into an elected official's pocket, it ain't going to change much. In nearly 50 years as a reporter I was often blown away by the thinking skills and insights from kids I ran into, especially those under the age of 14. We need to invest a lot more in keeping up the motivation of those youngsters once they reach puberty and insure that those smart enough to benefit from higher education get the chance to do so.
Wed, 04/15/2015 - 10:47pm
Eric, I am not as confident as you in 'conventional wisdom'. I have seen how individuals succeed in spite of what is said to be insurmountable obstacles and fail with just as significant advantages. A very public example is of a man would grew up in Detroit public schools to a single illiterate mother and as a less than stellar student in elementary school, yet became a world renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and his brother had similar academic success. The ‘conventional wisdom’ says that couldn’t happen and yet it did. Don’t you wonder why? Don’t you wonder how? Don’t you think he may have some practical ‘expertise’ others could learn from? Don’t believe there are many others with success akin to his? I believe if not all many Bridge readers are successes that have overcome obstacles to their academic success, I would like hear how and why to see if there is something others could use from them. As important as I see empirical science and the educational ‘experts’ are to the educational system, I also believe (when it’s about people) that there is a practical ‘expertise’ that could be as valuable to the individual student. I believe in the collective wisdom and would like it include more often in community issues.
Thu, 04/16/2015 - 5:10pm
So will these experts be different experts than the experts who have been guiding our efforts for the last few decades? Is it possible that it isn't about any particular experts at all but maybe it's about having parents raising their children in a way so that they are receptive to education? Would it be realistic to think that the experts would admit this?
Mark Higbee
Sun, 04/19/2015 - 12:09pm
Matt, you seem to suggest that "experts" in early childhood have "been guiding" social policy in recent decades. This is not so. To take just two examples, the experts' agreement that adequate diet and health care for children and pregnant women are vitally important has not shaped social policy. Your point that good parenting is a good thing is true and obvious. Nobody disputes it, but there is no clearcut way to way to ensure good parenting for all children. But surely adequate food helps! As will, the experts say, increasing pre-K education! Thank you, Mr. Power, for this informative post.
Sun, 04/19/2015 - 3:06pm
Mark, Are you sure our academic performance has improved that noticably since the current wave of educational 'experts' have taken center stage in guiding our educational system? Do you think the 'experts' are focused on the 'educational system' or on the student learning? What things are the 'experts' saying that have are the barriers to learning? Is it about the 'ducational system', class size, teachers, subject matter, methods of eaching? Are we sure that those are the barriers to learning? Could it be they are so focused on today and the system that they fail to see the more obvious past repeating itself today? I value the educational 'experts', but what if they are overlooking the individual wit their system focus and could that be overshadowing the individual practical successes that others could use as models for their own success? Have you ever paused to recall the kids you went to school with and thought about why some failed and some succeed when all were in similar situations or about those in better situation didn't meet the expected success, have you ever wonder why? For me culture is important, not the ethinic, gender, economic, but the personal cultures. Think of it this way, mark a dot on the center of a page (that is the individual) then around that dot make loops, in each of those loops list who (different people or nature of influence in each loop) has an influence/creates a small personal culture with that person, then reflecting on you own youth place lines under the group or person in each loop and add a line for each level of impact/influence they have, the most influencial has the most underlines. The reason I raise the issue of these small cultural influences is because I believe it is the individual student that decides whether they learn or not and by talking about the (micro) cultures it is about what influences the individual's decisions. Could it be the ones with the most influence determine the individual's choices? Could good parenting lose out to neighborhood friends, could teachers lose out to classmates, could school lose out to the 'micro' cultures? My concern is the best system designed by the best 'experts' can never have a chance if the student doesn't want to learn. What I have found is that when people are involve it is personalizing, dealling with the 'micro' cultures, the program if you want it to work effectively, especially when it comes to learning. I believe to personalize it you need to turn to the 'practical experts', those who have succeeded to learn why and how they succeeded. I hear all the 'expert' focusing on the educational system and little if any about the individual student's role. What have I missed? Did you decide to learn or did the education force you to learn, how?
Mon, 04/20/2015 - 6:00pm
School o yes I drop in occasionally. This was under my graduation picture in our annual. It was a fact and what a way to start out in the work world. That was in 1960 and since my parents did not graduate from high school they were not able to direct me. I hired into general motors’ in 1962 and was able to become an Employee in training in the tin shop. I spent about 13 years at GM and quit mainly due to frustration of not being to do my job due to union rules. I worked at several different jobs the rest of my working days. The last 22 years at a dairy bottling plant as a maintenance man when the plant closed I retired. My wife and I were able to raise 7 children and they were all able to graduate from college with good degrees. I often think about someone like me graduating from high school today with very little math or reading skills it would be very difficult to make a living wage. We did it because we were committed to the family and even though I have no regrets I know with support at a young age it would have made all the difference. I liked the statement my wife made when someone asked her where your kids got their smarts. Her response we had smart relation. I can only hope that we do not lose another generation of kids before we do something about the problem. Sincerely DW
Tue, 04/21/2015 - 12:57am
DW, Your's is a story of success in spite of the system we have. What you were able to do with your children are what others could learn from. More specifically it is the success of your children. I wish there was a forum where we could have the how and why each success such as your children's so they could be shared and others could pick ideas to use for their successes. I believe it is such much about the students and why they choose to learn. It isn't a lost generation, it is lost individuals.