This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.” These interviews provide answers to my One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.
In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?
I try to look at this question through multiple lenses, those of foundations, government, and direct services side, as well as that of the ultimate end user — families. Ultimately, I want to know how well people are informing stakeholders about problems and solutions. In Detroit, much of my work is in early childhood. One of the questions I hear a lot from practitioners is Why are we always just at minimum? Why is funding minimum? What would happen if we built formulas for the abundance, not the scarcity? We’re always working on minimums of state and federal funding and that has a negative effect on the system.
When we mold to the minimum, we’re building for somebody else’s kids. It’s discrimination against poor people. When an early education professional with two master’s degrees makes $10-12 /hour, the system is broken. When every month or quarter early childhood centers have to justify their existence and they have already stretched every dollar, the system is broken. We have normalized these low investments and expect people to make miracles happen for the next generation without sufficient capacity.
What would change things?
- Universal Pre-K that’s not defined by your zip code. No matter who you are or where you live, you should get the same education.
- Pay equity. Early childhood educators are barely paid more than fast food workers. We can’t deliver high-quality universal pre-K until we start respecting our educators.
- Remove institutional barriers to early childhood access. Models like half-day pre-K are false choices for low-income families. In places like Detroit, where there’s not much transit or cars, there are structural barriers to such models. It takes 90 minutes to drop your kids off, then if you’re a few minutes late, your child is turned away, and you have to take them home on the same 90-minute bus ride. At some point parents decide that it’s not worth the trouble.
- Make parent involvement about partnership, not compliance. The lack of transit infrastructure is compounded by punitive compliance-driven practices at the school level. Successful universal pre-K will have parent engagement goals that are relevant and focused on developmental supports for their children.
Earlier in our conversation you said that it takes at least 10 years for structural change to happen. What do the next 10 years of this work look like in Michigan?
In the beginning, focus on state and local partnerships. Engage in common visioning and develop common understanding of the realities of local, state, and federal funding streams. This Citizen’s Research Council catalog is a good start. Data creates space for decision-makers to identify our strengths, our capacity, and our inadequacies. For example, a recent IFF study shows the gap between the available quality seats in early childhood education and the kids in need. The highest need goes in a band around the city and into the suburbs. If we were all reviewing that information, we would see that this is not a Detroit problem, it’s a regional problem.
Once there’s a shared understanding of where to go (vision) and why (purpose), tackle the question: How do you turn a regional issue into a workable issue? For example, with their Science and Cultural Facilities District, Denver created a tax which enabled some regional thinking about the solutions. A proposal like that could be helpful for building a regional conversation on early childhood. At present, Dearborn and Detroit don’t think that they have the same problems.
Finally, focus on impact metrics: How will we know that universal early childhood is working? When we see parent demand for quality early childhood rise. When quality early childhood programs don’t have empty seats. When you have robust public conversation about quality of life for parents with young kids. When the conversation is actively about learning, no longer bemoaning the fact that we don’t have good options. Once the focus is more on the nuance of what/how our children are learning and less on how the institution is performing, we’ll know that we’ve achieved universal access of acceptable quality for all families.
The Flint water crisis is fueling many questions for me, and while we don’t hear about it every day, I wonder about its long term impacts on society. How do we create cities and communities where we don’t have decisions made solely on economic terms? How do we address the divide between the Dollar Store community and the Amazon community? People are our biggest educators. How we live and how we organize our communities is a key part of our education too.
“We have too many Americas where people are never seeing each other”.
About Nicole: Nicole de Beaufort is a social entrepreneur based in Detroit, Michigan. She leads EarlyWorks, llc., a strategic communications and community engagement consultancy focused on building awareness and public support for children’s issues. She is also co-founder of Cadre Studio, a service design collaborative using human-centered design methods with philanthropists to increase impact and effectiveness. De Beaufort co-founded the Detroit Women’s Leadership Network, a mentoring network of more than 1800 women in the Detroit region that was formed promote inclusive and diverse women’s leadership. Prior to this, de Beaufort served as vice president of Excellent Schools Detroit, an education coalition. She previously founded and led Fourth Sector Consulting, Inc., and served as communications director of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Find her at @NicoledeB and earlyworksllc.com