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Building Excellent Futures for Detroit's Early Learners

A letter from Wendy Lewis Jackson, senior program officer of The Kresge Foundation, launching the November 2013 edition of Education Detroit

There is an exciting learning revolution underway in Detroit and, when complete, this transformation will overhaul the way our hometown educates children and supports families. The Kresge Foundation believes there is nothing more central to the endurance of Detroit's revitalization than improving the city's pipeline of high-quality educational opportunities.

We want to ensure that every Detroit student enters kindergarten ready for achievement and graduates from high school prepared for post-secondary education and training. This ambition aligns with the Excellent Schools Detroit citywide education plan, which calls for Detroit, by 2020, to be the first major American city where 90 percent of students graduate from high school, 90 percent enroll in college or a quality post-secondary training program, and 90 percent of enrollees are prepared to succeed without needing remediation.

Through the steadfast commitment of a number of partners who have worked for decades to improve the city's schools, Detroit families now have a wide array of choices to ensure the best educational setting for their children. But even as we acknowledge the real headway that's being made, we must address the unfinished agenda and staggering reality that more than half our city's children live in deep poverty. For children under age 5, nearly 63 percent are at risk of being left behind before they even reach the school doors. Without radical intervention, Detroit risks losing its next generation and its regeneration efforts to poverty.

The impact of poverty on Detroit's youngest is especially insidious as the academic achievement gap for poor and otherwise vulnerable children is created in the first five years of their lives. Thanks to breakthroughs in neuroscience and child development, we now realize that the early years, from birth to age 8, are considered the first critical milestone. Forward-thinking communities that can create the conditions to provide access to high-quality early childhood development during this crucial timeframe will set the stage for important milestones in learning, language, and problem solving.

Recent federal and state policy reforms have paved the way for comprehensive change, and the conditions are now in place for Detroit to capitalize on this national momentum to improve the quality of early childhood development. There is a growing commitment on the part of civic leaders in Detroit to improve early learning opportunities, but we lack a coherent citywide approach that focuses on building a solid base of high quality service.

The Kresge Foundation is committed to setting our youngest and most vulnerable learners on the trajectory toward kindergarten through high school success by ensuring they attain essential milestones in healthy development, learning, language and problem solving before starting school. We know the time is NOW. Kresge's new Detroit program focus on early childhood development embodies this belief and – with the involvement of many knowledgeable and committed partners – we propose to focus and expand on early learning work in ways that rebuild our neighborhoods and deliver the educational revolution already underway in Detroit to our youngest learners, too. Our children's future, and our city's, depends on it.

We at Kresge look forward to seeing the next generation of early learners facing a bright future because this is a city that is preparing them for success. Follow our progress and be part of it at Kresge.org.

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