Detroit Kids Are Not Ready for Kindergarten or Fourth Grade

At the end of the 2015-2016 school year in Detroit, only 14% of third graders in public schools were proficient in third grade English Language Arts (ELA).12 The 86% who were not prepared for fourth grade work are unlikely to ever catch up to their peers.3

This gap did not appear in third grade: it started growing before these children entered kindergarten in 2012. It’s likely that many of Detroit’s most vulnerable children enter kindergarten between one and two years behind, unprepared cognitively or developmentally to learn at the level required for success.45 We don’t know exactly how many Detroit kindergarteners fall into this group, though, because Michigan neither funds nor requires a kindergarten readiness assessment designed to help teachers determine gaps or deficiencies in student preparedness.6 Further, the lack of coordination or alignment across the kindergarten transition impedes communication about the needs and progress of each student.

While we don’t know exactly how many Detroit children aren’t ready for kindergarten, we do know that a lack of kindergarten readiness for one Detroit child can cost society at large more than $96,500 over a lifetime, to say nothing about costs incurred to the child and his or her family directly.7 This long-term cost starts with increased likelihood of behavior and social problems, grade retention, and high school dropout and stretches to poor employment, financial, wellbeing, relationship, criminal justice, health, and mortality outcomes.8 Both kindergarten and third grade readiness help to mitigate these lifelong negative outcomes.

Gaps that appear in kindergarten tend to persist throughout children’s lives. Thus, if we want to reap the enormous potential benefits of closing income-based achievement gaps, we need to equalize resources available to young children even before they begin traditional elementary school.

▶ Economic Policy Institute9

  1. Michigan Department of Education Center for Educational Performance and Information. (2016).

  2. The ELA M-STEP is not a direct measure of a student’s reading proficiency, but rather their proficiency across all English Language Arts measures. There is no statewide direct measure of reading proficiency, but M-STEP provides a close approximation.

  3. Hernandez, D. J. (2011). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

  4. Burchinal, M., McCartney, K., Steinberg, L., Crosnoe, R., Friedman, S. L., McLoyd, V., & Pianta, R. (2011). Examining the Black–White achievement gap among low‐income children using the NICHD study of early child care and youth development. Child Development, 82(5), 1404-1420; Dickinson, D. K. (2011). Teachers’ language practices and academic outcomes of preschool children. Science, 333(6045), 964-967.

  5. Loeb, S., & Bassok, D. (2007). Early childhood and the achievement gap. Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy, 517-534.

  6. Kindergarten readiness assessments are observational tools used to assess kindergarteners early in the school year on their learning and development across language, literacy, numeracy, cognitive development, social-emotional development, and motor skills.

  7. Chase, R. & Diaz, J. (2012). Cost savings of school readiness per additional at-risk child in Detroit and Michigan. Wilder Research.

  8. Fiester, L. (2010). Early warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters. KIDS COUNT Special Report. Annie E. Casey Foundation.

  9. Bivens, J., Garcia, E., Gould, E., Weiss, E., & Wilson, V. (2016). It’s time for an ambitious national investment in America’s children. Economic Policy Institute.

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