A strong transition from learning to read in third grade to reading to learn in fourth grade is critical to success in adulthood; without it, children risk negative long-term outcomes that could follow them for life. The foundation for this transition is built along the birth to eight continuum, and ensuring a strong foundation along that continuum can lead to success in academics, career, community, and society.

This foundation is built from positive adult-child interactions; strong instruction in literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development; and timely interventions to prevent or remediate gaps. This foundation is well-recognized in research and academia. However, when policymakers discuss legislation on the third grade transition, thoughtful analysis of this complete foundation (and when readiness for third grade first falls out of reach) is critically absent.

Many students in Detroit are not ready for kindergarten or fourth grade, the checkpoint and milestone at the middle and end of the birth to eight continuum, respectively. While we know that high-quality early care and education (at home or elsewhere) is the key to kindergarten readiness, especially for low-income children, Detroit has not made this a priority. A convoluted facilities process, shallow talent pool, and burdensome finance and administration requirements—not to mention a lack of quality parental development support—block meaningful improvements.

Then, upon entry into kindergarten and early elementary, teachers, families, and children must begin anew with little understanding of a child’s academic and developmental readiness or even the standards and benchmarks by which that child’s readiness can be judged. Our systems are underdeveloped and disconnected, and our children and our city are paying the price.

To cultivate readiness in Detroit we must ensure that a continuum of high-quality care and education is available to all children, prioritizing support before gaps form.

Local policymakers, advocates, and stakeholders can expand equitable access to this caliber of early education by:

  • Providing streamlined support through the facilities acquisitions process;
  • Investing in talent across the continuum; and
  • Facilitating efficient finance and administration.

We must also bridge the gulf between early learning and early elementary with:

  • Aligned longitudinal data, including a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment;
  • Aligned curriculum, standards, and benchmarks across literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development; and
  • Aligned instruction through teacher preparation, professional development, and intervention.

As residents of Detroit and Michigan it is our fundamental responsibility to ensure that Detroit’s students are ready for each year of education they face. Our children’s—and our city’s—future success depends on it.

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