A Great Start to preschool expansion

More than 21,000 additional Michigan 4-year-olds have enrolled in free, high-quality preschool in the past two years, the result of the biggest preschool expansion in the nation.

There are also thousands more children who are now in full-day preschool instead of half-day, and are getting free transportation to the schools – two factors that had kept many low-income families from taking advantage of the program in the past.

The impact of the $130 million expansion is a major victory for business, education and political leaders who have argued that childhood education is a worthwhile investment for Michigan, as well as a potential game-changer for tens of thousands of children from families of limited income who will be better prepared for the critical early years of school.

A 2012 Bridge investigation, “Michigan’s forgotten 4-year-olds,” found that almost 30,000 4-year-olds who qualified for free, high-quality preschool weren’t in classrooms because of inadequate state funding, logistical hurdles and poor coordination of services.

In May 2013, at the urging of Gov. Risk Snyder, the Michigan Legislature increased funding for the state’s preschool program for low- and moderate-income families, called the Great Start Readiness Program, by $65 million. The Legislature added another $65 million in 2014 to the program, in which children learn from teachers with an early childhood speciality certification.

The results:

  • More than 37,000 4-year-olds are enrolled in GSRP this year, according to the Michigan Department of Education and an analysis by Bridge. That’s a 61 percent increase in two years.
  • Over the first two years of the expansion, more than 21,000 additional 4-year-olds have had access to free, high-quality preschool. Seven thousand additional children were served in the first year of the program, and this school year, that number has ballooned to 14,000.
  • The total number of children affected by the expansion is actually greater than 21,000. About one-third of GSRP students were enrolled in full-day preschool programs two years ago; now, over half (54 percent) are in class full day, effectively doubling the instructional hours available to help prepare the 4-year-olds for kindergarten. Some children couldn’t attend GSRP in the past because their parent could not take time off from work to pick them up after a half day of school.
  • Thousands of 4-year-olds now have access to transportation to and from the programs – eliminating another roadblock many low-income families faced to enrollment – after $10 million was designated for transportation in the current state budget. Before the expansion, few districts provided transportation.
  • The percentage of GSRP student in classrooms of private providers (such as churches, YMCA’s and day care centers) has jumped from 8 percent to about 29 percent in two years, coming close to the legislature’s goal of 30 percent.
  • The number of “slots” – the funding equivalent of a seat in a half-day preschool program – has increased by 32,000. That’s more than double the pre-expansion figure.

‘A lifetime of difference’

Data from the Michigan Department of Education quantifies the preschool gains resulting from the two-year, $130-million investment in GSRP. The number of low- and moderate-income children in GSRP classrooms increased from about 23,000 in the 2012-13 school year, before the increased state investment, to about 30,000 in 2013-14 to 37,000 in 2014-15.

Those enrollment increases don’t necessarily tell the entire story; while GSRP is funded by the state in half-day slots, more children are enrolled in the state-funded preschool for a full school day, using two slots.

The average classroom time for GSRP students is now over five hours, an increase of 30 percent in two years.

More than 1,000 additional 4-year-olds were in GSRP classrooms in Oakland County in the spring of 2014 compared with the spring of 2012, a 75 percent increase in just two years. Washtenaw County increased enrollment by 53 percent; Jackson County, 68 percent; Kalamazoo County, 74 percent. Wayne County’s enrollment is up 20 percent, and Kent County, 17 percent.

“We’ve gone from just under 500 slots to 2,094 slots,” said Krista Carambula, director of early childhood programs for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, the intermediate school district for the county. “More than 50 percent (of GSRP students) are in full-day programming, Carambula said. “Parents appreciate the full-day option.”

More important than the convenience is the additional learning taking place. Numerous studies show that low-income children and children of color are more likely to enter kindergarten academically behind their white, more affluent peers, a gap that often widens in later grades, making these student groups less likely to succeed academically.

Giving vulnerable children better access to preschool means “they’re more prepared to enter kindergarten with a solid foundation,” Carambula said.

Vicksburg Community Schools in Kalamazoo County went from two half-day classes to three full-day classes since the funding increase, one at each of the district’s elementary schools. The school probably could have filled another classroom this year, and families are already signing up for GSRP classes that start in September.

“We have a huge need for this program and services,” said Vicksburg Superintendent Charles Glaes. “In order for our kids to be college-ready, they need to come in ready to learn in kindergarten. We know that early intervention is critical, (and) this program makes a lifetime of difference for these kids.”

Schools in five intermediate school districts decreased the total number of 4-year-olds in GSRP classrooms over the past two years. But this was because the schools switched to full-day preschool (using two slots) from half-day.

The two-year student data is being hailed by business, education and political leaders who fought for the additional funding on the belief that better early education will, over time, improve the state’s economy. The Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan, a coalition of business and community leaders, unveiled a plan to expand GSRP in May 2012.

How one community benefited

“The Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan is thrilled not only about the funding for GSRP expansion, but the commitment of OGS (state Office of Great Start, within the Department of Education) and local ISDs to identify and enroll as many eligible 4-year-olds as possible,” said Paula Cunningham, president and CEO of Capitol National Bank and co-chair of the CLCM.

Cunningham noted that enrollment exploded despite eligibility for the program being tightened from 300 percent of the federal poverty line to 250 percent. Under the new guidelines, a Michigan family qualifies for GSRP with an annual income of $59,625 or less.

See if you qualify.

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Wed, 01/28/2015 - 12:10am
Such enthusiasm for spending more money and not a word about program (spending) accountability, nothing changes. Mr. French seems so caught up in the ‘good intentions’ of the enthusiasts that he fails to show any interest in how the program/spending results are measured. Same old education system, success is bestowed on the pre-school program before there is any mention of results, any effort is made to validate the kids learning.
Cindy DeNardis
Wed, 01/28/2015 - 8:25am
It's hard to listen to your comments when you know nothing about the Program. I've worked in the Great Start Preschool Program since it's inception. It's a great quality program that has needed more money for years. If you have a great program and never add money, it diminishes the expectations and the costs that go up. Everything goes up in cost and if it's a good program, you want to add more children. Please do some homework before you speak up. Thank you!
Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:38pm
Cindy, How do yo know if the program is working, what do you look at to tell if a child is responding to the program? What are the expectations, how do we meausre them? I have read claims how this will increase the number of college graduates, is that an expectation and how will you meausre it? The program is spending milliions and millions of other people's money, how do you verify we are getting value for the money of those whose never had preschool or that their children never had the preschool? If you can't answer those questions than it seems you are more about you want it to work that you can actually see that it works.
Sat, 01/31/2015 - 12:01pm
I too am concerned about the accountability to quality for moneys distributed. While clearly there continues to be increased funding for GSRP spots, sadly many programs are allowed to self assess and submit their own scores on program assessments. Continuing to grant funds to programs who are allowed to self assess and self report scores prevents some quality programs from additionally available funds. Assuming some programs will just always produce quality without a truly objective assessment on a very regular basis may contribute to the ongoing spending without the gains in results one might expect.
Wed, 01/28/2015 - 8:54am
The state of Michigan has done more than one study about the effectiveness of the GSRP program, prior to the expansion. Part of the impetus for expansion. Early childhood has plenty of data to justify the investment. In Michigan the program components are based on evidence of quality - from staff qualifications and curriculum to parent involvement.
Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:42pm
Christine, All you have talked about is why we should spend on the program, how do we verify that what is being done is delivery the results that are expected? What do you expect to see from the children after the first year in the program, and for each succeeding year? The program sounds good, but why are so many avoiding talking about verifying how it is being implemented is providing the calimed results?
Wed, 01/28/2015 - 9:12am
Duane: this program is working. Not only are thousands of kids getting a better start, they're catching up, academically, to where they ought to be.All the research shows that kids starting out at the right academic level become better students turning into more productive adults. The results are there; coming in every year showing great progress by preschoolers socially and academically.
Thu, 01/29/2015 - 2:48pm
Matt, All you have talked about is what others are doing. Why are you unwilling or unable to talk about what to use to verify that those implementing (spending Michigan money) are being as effective? We have heard all my life why we should be spending more and more on education in MIchigan and yet all we hear about is how the results have been disappointing. The tax dollars being spent on this new program is being spend by the same system so why are you so sure it will be suddenly spent smarter and actually deliver the expected results? What is so wrong with verifying practices and performance?
Fri, 01/30/2015 - 1:06pm
How do you verify kids are learning at age 3-4? Testing does not work as well at their age because it simply isn't practical. Plus, academics aren't the real focus. Instead, you are often laying the foundation (behavioral, social, etc.) for the kids so they know how to function in school and they improve as they get older. If they are behind earlier this state will start planning for more prison beds in future years. Spending does matter, and it is cheaper at the early ages than with middle and high school kids. Studies (Perry preschool is one) show that dollars invested at an earlier age save money later on with education costs, levels of employment and tax receipts, incarceration costs, etc. So there is a real return. Remember, more money spent will usually (not always) lead to better results. Otherwise, some of your local districts in Oakland county (Birmingham, B. Hills, Troy, Novi) wouldn't get more money to spend than many of their neighboring districts and many of your private schools (Country Day, Cranbrook, Liggett) and universities (Ivy) wouldn't charge as much as they do.
Fri, 01/30/2015 - 5:53pm
Mick, If you don't have an expectation of change why spend the moeny time? What is the purpose of the program? what are the changes/results/progress is the program trying to achieve/deliver? If you can't describe them then there is no reason to start the program. If can describe them, in any way you feel comfortable then verification/perfriormance metrics can be created. Spending with no defined purpose can create more problems than benefits. Why are people so afraid of describing in some detail what they want the spending to change and what the ex[ect the changes to look like. The reality with a well defined purpose and expactations it is easier to draw in other and to focus efforts and make positive change then leaving it to random chance by spending millions and millions of other people's money. What do you expect the knowledge and skills that each child should gain by entering this program? You talk about behavior change and yet you fail to describe what that behavior would look like, and if a teacher doesn't know what it looks like how are we suppose expect them to teach it? The reason it is harder and harder to get money from people is because those who spend it aren't willing or able to demonstrate success they can only claim it and never let other measure it. Money not well spent, meausrable results, is money wasted that could have done good elsewhere.
Sat, 01/31/2015 - 8:21am
I am a teacher in this program. We do assess the children 3 times a year with something called COR. This assesses all areas of the child's development. We also have several other assessments we use. When a child is entered in Michigan schools, they are given an ID. Children in the GSRP program are tracked for several years (2nd or 3rd grade). They use this data to analyze how the children are performing as compared to their peers who may not have been entered into the program. I can say that the children who left my classroom are performing in the average to above average category. None of them were in the bottom 30% of test scores. Children who were at risk in the Kindergarten who did not receive a preschool education aren't performing as well. The data shows this consistently. Does that answer your question sufficiently?also there was a report released that 51% of children in this country are now living in poverty. If we don't help them, it is only going to get worse!
Sat, 01/31/2015 - 5:43pm
Marlene, Why won't anyone share what those COR things being tracked are? It seems those 'in the know' seem to be avoiding helping the uninformed to better understand what is being tracked, how they are being tracked, why they are being tracked, and how they are being used. The numbers you offer are interesting, but simply claiming they are good sounds without trusting the public to make thier own judgements. I notice you focused on those in poverty, doesn't this work for those not in poverty?
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 3:24pm
Duane, I believe this is what you are looking for. As an Early Childhood Educator I can attest that these are the gains we see with all children who participate in high quality early childhood programs. Please remember that GSRP preschool has a targeted audience of students who are not income eligible for Head Start preschool, but have lower income levels that make private tuition based pre-school difficult for families to afford. As tax payers, we are providing equal opportunity for GSRP students. Additionally, due to the demographics of the target audience for GSRP, you will see data and evidence that reflects how this program addresses poverty indicators. That is the purpose of the program and it is entirely appropriate to track that data. Summary of Great Start Readiness Program Evaluation Findings 1995-2011 from Michigan.gov Kindergarten teachers consistently rated GSRP graduates as more advanced in imagination and creativity, demonstrating initiative, retaining learning, completing assignments and as having good attendance (Florian, et al., 1997). Second grade teachers rated GSRP graduates higher on being ready to learn, able to retain learning, maintaining good attendance and having an interest in school (Xiang & Schweinhart, 2002). A higher percentage of 4th grade GSRP graduates passed the MEAP compared to non-GSRP students (Xiang & Schweinhart, 2002). GSRP boys took more 7th grade math courses than non-GSRP boys (Malofeeva et al., 2007). GSRP children of color took more 8th grade math courses (Malofeeva et al., 2007). Significantly fewer GSRP participants were retained in grade than non-GSRP students between 2nd and 12th grades (36.5% versus 49.2% in 12th grade) (HighScope, 2011). Significantly fewer GSRP children of color were retained for two or more grades than their non-GSRP counterparts by the 12th grade (14.3% versus 28.1% in 12th grade) (HighScope, 2011). More GSRP students graduated on time from high school than nonGSRP participants (58.3% versus 43.0%) (HighScope, 2011). More GSRP children of color graduated on time from high school than non-GSRP participants (59.7% vs. 36.5%) (HighScope, 2011). The findings provide evidence of both the short- and longterm impact of GSRP attendance on student outcomes. source: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/GSRP_Evaluation_397470_7.pdf And you seem like a fellow who appreciates multiple source of information, I have provided you with multiple links including articles from Bridge, should you desire additional information regarding the value to tax payers of high quality early education programs please visit these sites: http://bridgemi.com/2012/06/study-on-michigan-early-childhood-efforts-pr... http://www.smartbeginnings.org/Portals/5/PDFs/Research/ICW_EarlyChildhoo... The COR is an observation survey used by trained early childhood educators to evaluate growth in the 6 developmental domains: 1. Sense of Self, 2. Social Relations, 3. Creative Representation, 4. Movement, 5. Communication and Language, 6. Exploration and Early Logic Here is your link to information on the COR: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/GSRP_Evaluation_397470_7.pdf I hope you have the opportunity to not only visit, but volunteer in a local early childhood center. Seeing is believing, and now you know what you should be seeing.
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 4:43pm
Chris, Thank you for the information. I have to apologize I won’t be able to use the internet links as my access to the internet is slow and available in short time blocks of about 10-15 minutes. I have to copy comments and read them off line. Much of what you have presented is interesting, but it is not what I am asking for. I would be interested in how the information you provided such as “being ready to learn, able to retain learning,” are measured. That wil help me better understand what is meant by this indicators. I am interested in what the expected changes or achievements or areas of changes or achievement are. The six development domains seem to be more of what I am interested in along with more specifics about each domain and how it is measured (reference results, baseline expectations, benchmark criteria). I ask for this because I simply haven’t heard anything about how the pre-school system is to work. I only hear about the long-term impact. I am uncomfortable with only talking long-term for two reasons, I have yet to see a program work ideally when first install and forever after so I wonder how we can ensure the system is working effectively, second I have heard these type of claims by our educational system/’experts’ all my life and yet we still seem to have unsatisfactory results. The data about graduation and future performances are interesting, but they can (should) be significantly influenced by the education being provided in the subsequent programs for each year of schooling. I have seen too many situations where early on influence is either under cut or overcome by later programs and cultures.