Jacques: To boost reading, start in the womb

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

So much attention is placed on Detroit students’ test scores, which are consistently the worst in the nation in reading and math. These proficiency scores are often in the single digits, meaning students aren’t even the getting basics of education.

The dismal reading scores sparked a federal lawsuit, argued earlier this year, that students in Detroit are being denied their right of access to literacy.

Reading is so essential that it is a tragedy if a child misses out on this most basic of tools.

While much of the finger pointing is directed to the schools (and a lot of blame should go there) and how they’re funded, what’s going on at home is often as important, if not more, to a child’s development.

That’s why Maura Corrigan, former director of the Michigan Department of Human Services and a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, wants to tackle literacy as early as possible. In fact, she wants to start working with families before their children are born. She says that during her time as a recent visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, she learned a lot about brain science and child development. Other cities like Cincinnati and Denver have better harnessed this research about young learners, and Corrigan wants Detroit to catch up.

For middle class families, reading to children is fairly common, but it isn’t for poor families. And this leads to a significant gap in reading ability, putting children in poverty at a big disadvantage.

So Corrigan has harnessed the help of a dozen partner organizations and is working with the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Munger Elementary-Middle School.

The plan is to target 100 families in the neighborhood, and start working with parents before their children are born — teaching them about the importance of reading to their child right away. Then the reading experts and other partners will continue assisting the students and school personnel.

“I’m pumped,” says Corrigan. Given her background with starting the Pathways to Potential program, which places Michigan social workers directly into schools in high-need areas, this comprehensive approach to literacy is a logical next step.

This pilot program is scheduled to run for the next three years. If it’s successful, community leaders should look at expanding the concept throughout Detroit.