The Plan for Early Learning and Development in Michigan

Prepared in cooperation with Public Sector Consultants

Executive Summary

Early childhood matters, and Michigan isn’t doing enough to support young children.

Early childhood matters. Experts are able to quantify what parents and families already know. Children are learning from the moment they are born. Children’s brains develop very quickly in their early years, and this development is not hardwired. It is dramatically affected by children’s environment.

Michigan has numerous programs and services designed to set our youngest Michiganders on a path to success. Unfortunately, these programs and services are often uncoordinated, difficult to find, and all too frequently, they fail to serve children and families well.

In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder took bold steps by calling for an integrated, coordinated system of early learning and development in Michigan, and creating the Office of Great Start (OGS), located in the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). The creation of this office included a charge to lead efforts to coordinate and integrate Michigan’s investments in children from before birth through age 8.

There are sound policy reasons for focusing public resources on Michigan’s youngest children. Too many children arrive at kindergarten inadequately prepared, leading to greater future expenses in areas such as special education and grade repetition. Increasing public investment in younger children, particularly children whose families are unable to provide for some needs, offers an opportunity to leverage scarce public resources for great public good.

In order to realize Governor Snyder’s vision of being one of the best states in the country to raise a child, OGS and its partners must implement a coordinated system and track progress toward the following outcomes:

1. Children are born healthy.

2. Children are healthy, thriving, and developmentally on track from birth to third grade.

3. Children are developmentally ready to succeed in school at time of school entry.

4. Children are prepared to succeed in fourth grade and beyond by reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

This report reflects the voices of nearly 1,400 Michiganders.

In 2012, the Michigan Legislature required the Office of Great Start to create a comprehensive state plan for early learning and development. To meet this requirement, OGS has spent the past year engaging stakeholders across the state about ways to improve Michigan’s early childhood system. Outreach included 48 interviews with policymakers, service providers, and advocates at the state and local levels; three focus groups with parents of young children; and nearly 1,300 online survey responses from early childhood educators, administrators, service providers, and parents and grandparents of young children.

What did Michiganders say? Some parts of the system are working well. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of early childhood. There are more efforts to coordinate, collaborate, and ensure program quality. And many participants mentioned specific programs that are working well for children and families. But there is work to be done.

Parents need more information on early learning and development and more support in their role as their children’s first teachers. And access to high-quality programs must be expanded. Certainly there are bright spots, but coordination, collaboration, and quality need to improve across the entire system.

Participants also offered advice on how to improve the system, and their ideas are woven throughout the vision and recommendations in this report. For example, many participants stressed the importance of parent voice in this effort, and the need for improved coordination among state, regional, and local service providers. They also urged the system to be keenly aware of local needs and allow for local flexibility in meeting outcomes when possible.

There are common principles that must guide every early childhood effort in Michigan.

In every conversation with stakeholders about early childhood, the values that people hold dear were evident. For Michigan’s system-building effort to succeed, all partners must incorporate these principles into their work:

  • Children and families are the highest priority.
  • Parents and communities must have a voice in building and operating the system.
  • The children with the greatest need must be served first.
  • Invest early.
  • Quality matters.
  • Efficiencies must be identified and implemented.
  • Opportunities to coordinate and collaborate must be identified and implemented.

OGS and its partners must focus on six high-leverage areas to improve opportunities and outcomes for Michigan’s young children.

Redesigning a system that serves over one million children a year, invests $9.4 billion annually, and includes 89 programs and services is a multi-year, multi-pronged effort. These recommendations outline a plan for achieving the four early childhood outcomes through a persistent focus on six high-leverage areas. By focusing on these high-impact areas, OGS and its partners will leverage resources for change in the most efficient manner possible.

1. Build Leadership within the System

  • Ensure high-level administration commitment and accountability.
  • Clarify the role of the Office of Great Start.
  • Formalize early childhood leadership and collaboration among MDE, DCH, and DHS.
  • Create an advisory body for OGS to ensure more meaningful state, local, and parent input.
  • Identify and share best practices in local early childhood leadership, including exemplary Great Start Collaboratives (GSCs) and Parent Coalitions (GSPCs).

2. Support Parents’ Critical Role in Their Children’s Early Learning and Development

  • Seek input from parents regarding their needs for information and parenting education, and strategies to increase parent involvement in their children’s early learning and development.
  • Strengthen a network for disseminating information to parents and families of young children.
  • Expand and coordinate strategies to reach and connect with eligible families and children.
  • Provide training and technical assistance on effective approaches for parenting education and strategies to increase parent involvement.

3. Assure Quality and Accountability

  • Develop measures of system and program effectiveness tied to the four early childhood outcomes.
  • Develop a coordinated early childhood data system.
  • Support continuous quality improvement through training and technical assistance.
  • Enforce program effectiveness measures.
  • Require transparency.
  • Disseminate information to parents and families.
  • Use data to direct investments.
  • Ensure early childhood service provider quality.

4. Ensure Coordination and Collaboration

  • Foster system coordination and collaboration.
  • Demonstrate collaboration by example.
  • Promote local collaboration.
  • Promote local flexibility.

5. Use Funding Efficiently to Maximize Impact

  • Fund quality.
  • Focus first on children with highest needs.
  • Support common priorities through collaborative funding strategies.
  • Blend and braid funding.
  • Engage philanthropic partners.

6. Expand Access to Quality Programs

  • Expand and enhance GSRP.
  • Improve coordination between GSRP and Head Start.
  • Increase access to developmental screening and early intervention.
  • Increase access to and capacity of Early On®.
  • Increase access to evidence-based mental health promotion, prevention, and intervention services.
  • Redesign the child care subsidy to ensure access to high-quality providers.
  • Increase access to home visiting programs.
  • Expand evidence-based medical home initiatives.
  • Expand access to Pathways to Potential.
  • Improve access to transportation.

Building a strong early childhood system that achieves outcomes for children requires support from a range of partners.

The real success of this plan will be measured in its ability to achieve a meaningful impact on the lives of young Michiganders. Implementing this plan will require partners from all corners of the state to come together and invest in the strategies that nearly 1,400 stakeholders envisioned during the drafting of this report. Everyone—parents, community members, policymakers, advocates, service providers, staff at DCH, DHS, and ECIC, and elected officials— has an essential role in building this system.

Only by working together, through coordinated and intentional investment, can we ensure that every Michigan child is born healthy, developmentally on track from birth through third grade, ready to succeed in school when they arrive, and reading proficiently by third grade.

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