Keep it simple

State superintendent to struggling schools: Choose your partners wisely

PHOTO: Youtube
Michigan state superintendent Brian Whiston reads to students during a recent school visit.

The world is full of do-gooders, many of whom want to make a difference in the lives of struggling students. But Michigan’s top school official had this advice for schools: Think before accepting the help.

It’s a lesson state Superintendent Brian Whiston said he learned during visits last year to 38 schools that had been targeted for closure after years of low performance. Most of those schools — with the exception of a charter school that was closed by its authorizer — were given a chance to stay open after the state signed “partnership agreements” with the nine districts involved.  

When the state visited those nine districts “what we did see is there were a lot of community partners who had brought in programs into the schools and the schools were in such dire shape, they took any help they could get,” Whiston said. “And while that’s appreciated, it sometimes worked against them.”

Whiston instead urged those schools — and others looking to improve — to be “laser-focused and not bring the flavor of the month.” Under the partnership agreements, the schools have 18 months to meet some improvement targets and three years to meet others.

For their part, he said, community groups have an obligation to focus, as well. Rather than offering what they think might work in a school, they should say, “I’m going to come in and sit down with the school district and say, ‘what does the data say’? And ‘what are your goals and what can we do to align to that’?”

The superintendent’s remarks came during a panel on poverty, racial equity and education at the Michigan League for Public Policy’s annual policy forum, which was held in a Lansing hotel on Wednesday.  

Panelists, who also included Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation (a Chalkbeat supporter), and Marijata Daniel-Echols, the director of the Center for Health Equity Practice at the Michigan Public Health Institute, discussed ways to improve education for children who are living in poverty.

Proposed solutions included expanding quality preschool and after-school programs, and panelists discussed more equitable ways to fund schools in Michigan that would give those serving children with greater needs extra resources.

Much of the discussion was livestreamed. Watch it here:

 

Early investment

Foundations put $50 million behind effort to improve lives of young Detroit children

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The heads of the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations, Rip Rapson and La June Montgomery announce a $50 million investment to support the new Hope Starts Here framework.

The two major foundations behind the creation of a ten-year plan to improve the lives of Detroit’s youngest children are putting up $50 million to help put the plan into action.

As they unveiled the new Hope Starts Here framework Friday morning, the Kellogg and Kresge foundations announced they would each spend $25 million in the next few years to improve the health and education of children aged birth to 8 in the city.

The money will go toward upgrading early childhood education centers, including a new Kresge-funded comprehensive child care center that the foundation says it hopes to break ground on next year at a location that has not yet been identified.

Other foundation dollars will go toward a just-launched centralized data system that will keep track of a range of statistics on the health and welfare of young children, and more training and support for early childhood educators.

The announcement at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History drew dozens of parents, educators and community leaders. Among them was Detroit Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti who said one of the major impediments to improving conditions for young children has been divisions between the various government and nonprofit entities that run schools, daycares and health facilities for young kids.

Vitti said the district would do its part to “to break down the walls of territorialism that has prevented this work from happening” in the past.

Watch the video of of the announcement here.

Detroit's future

In a city where 60 percent of young children live in poverty, a ten-year plan aims to improve conditions for kids

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat

A coalition of community groups led by two major foundations has a plan to change the fortunes of Detroit’s youngest citizens.

The Hope Starts Here early childhood partnership is a ten-year effort to tackle a list of bleak statistics about young children in Detroit:

  • More than 60% of Detroit’s children 0-5 live in poverty — more than in any of the country’s 50 largest cities;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too early, compared to nine percent nationally;
  • 13% of Detroit babies are born too small, compared to eight percent nationally;
  • Detroit has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country;
  • Nearly 30,000 of eligible young Detroiters have no access to high-quality early learning or child care options.
  • That translates to learning problems later on, including the 86.5% of Detroit third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Hope Starts Here spells out a plan to change that. While it doesn’t identify specific new funding sources or propose a dramatic restructuring of current programs, the effort led by the Kresge Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, names six “imperatives” to improving children’s lives.

Among them: Promoting the health, development and wellbeing of Detroit children; supporting their parents and caregivers; increasing the overall quality of early childhood programs and improving coordination between organizations that work with young kids. The framework calls for more funding to support these efforts through the combined investments of governments, philanthropic organizations and corporations.

Read the full framework here: