Early childhood literacy

Detroit residents will receive hundreds of books to help babies and toddlers start getting ready for school

PHOTO: Creative Commons
Residents in the Munger Elementary School neighborhood will receive hundreds of books over the next three years to build better reading skills in youngsters.

Families in one Detroit neighborhood will soon be flooded with books for their youngest children.

As part of a new program that will be officially announced Tuesday at Munger Elementary School on Detroit’s west side, 100 families will receive as many as 100 books each over the next three years to read to their babies and toddlers.

“We’re trying to get at the issue of language development in babies,” said Maura Corrigan, the former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court who has become involved in children’s literacy. “If you wait until three or four years old to start, you’re waiting too long.”

The effort to bring a program called Raising a Reader to families in the neighborhood near Munger is part of a state-wide push to help more children learn to read before a new state law takes effect in 2020 that will force schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level. This year, fewer than 10 percent of Detroit students met that grade-level threshold.

Experts say part of the reason that low-income children struggle to read is because their vocabularies are more limited. Research shows that poor children hear 30 million fewer words by their fourth birthday than their more affluent peers.

Corrigan said she became interested in early childhood literacy while working at a conservative Washington think tank called the American Enterprise Institute.

“I saw that other cities were doing things that Detroit wasn’t,” she said. “There are cities that have linked up hospital systems with schools [to connect children with education from birth] and are doing a better job. I wanted that for Detroit.”

Corrigan helped connect some 15 local organizations to bring Raising a Reader to Detroit. Philanthropists Paul and Amy Blavin are contributing $15,000 to fund a pilot of the program that will serve 100 children for three years, Corrigan said.

A social service organization called Brilliant Detroit is contributing support.

The program, which will send families home with weekly backpacks full of books and provide them with guidance for how to engage children in discussions about them, will focus initially on families tied to Munger, including children who live nearby and those who have older siblings in the school.

“We’ll be working on providing a pipeline of ready kids” to the school, said Raising A Reader’s Erica Wood. “As they matriculate into pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, they’ll be ready to learn.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”