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Agency gives Detroit parents new tool to decide on child care

Excellent Schools Detroit releases scorecard for early learning programs

DETROITExcellent Schools Detroit wants to give parents more information to help them make decisions about child care and preschool.

The agency has been reviewing center-based and in-home day cares and preschools in Detroit and a five-mile radius around the city to develop an early learner version of its 2014 Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecard.  

They already provide a scorecard for schools Kindergarten through grade 12.

The goal of the scorecard is to provide parents with an in-depth, side-by-side comparison of schools.

The early learner version of the scorecard looked at programs with at least three stars on Michigan's Great Start to Quality rating system.

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"We really wanted them to hone on very specific things that really impact that development and learning," said Denise Smith.

Excellent Schools Detroit is on a mission to make sure every Detroit child as an excellent education from cradle to career by the year 2020.

The agency also wants 90 percent of students to graduate from high school and go on to college programs. Early childhood education is a big part of that.

"Preschool is so critical. Brain development really happens significantly between birth to three. and so, we've got to be able to look at that phase because if we're not nurturing, and structuring, and helping children to learn and giving them the love that they need at that age then we're going likely see some problems at the other end," said Gaylotta Murray.

Murray was a team leader on one of the review teams that spent time inside the schools and in-home centers.  Local 4 caught up with her team while they were touring Woodward Academy in Detroit.

"We really watch the children to see if the children are having a good time, if their happy," said Murray.  "I think you can tell that if the children are not having a lot of conflicts in the room.  Conflicts are inevitable, they happen, but if there is a lot of them then that's probably a sign the children are having a problem adjusting in the classroom."

The team spends long periods of time inside classrooms observing the teachers and the children, they walk the halls, check out every corner of an in-home or center based program from the bathrooms to the playgrounds.  They pay attention to what information is provided to parents about what is happening inside the school and the classrooms.

"So how do I as a parent begin understand as a community that there is more that I need to require of programs in order to make sure that my child is well rounded and that I'm making, as a parent, the best choice for him or her," said Smith.

After the tour, the review team shares their notes and compiles a report to give to Excellent Schools Detroit.

As part of their evaluation, they consider cultural and linguistic competencies of the programs, staff professionalism, safety and the quality of the learning environment.

The final score schools receive will be determined by the a school's Great Start to Quality Rating, and the climate of the school.  The climate  incorporates the feedback of members of the community that visited the program for an in-depth day of observation.

On the scorecard, programs receive a gold, silver or bronze medal. They also can receive a rating that says they are on the path to medal-level quality, not enough information to designate a rating or did not participate.

Programs had to "opt in" to be reviewed.  A total of 94 programs did, of them, 47 received a medal.  

No programs received a gold medal, 14 received a silver medal, and 20 programs received a bronze medal.  Thirteen were considered high quality and given the rating "on the path to medal-level quality."

"It takes a lot to get a gold medal and the consequence of that is nobody does or nobody did this round. The fact that schools are willing to sign up and share their data and the fact that early-learning programs are willing to host site visits and have their staff takes surveys is a credit to them and their willing to be held accountable.))

You can click here to look at the Excellent Schools Detroit Scorecard.

Murray wants parents to know when they're deciding on childcare and preschool, they should do their research and check a place out themselves.

"If someone says its a good program then go and visit the program. if the program says 'You know, well lets make an appointment,' well  that's probably not a good program. A mother a parent should be able to go in visit a program at any point at any time during the day,' said Murray.   "Then they should really look at is this somewhere, some place you feel comfortable with your child being. Are they communicating with your children? Are they working with your children? Are they on the floor? Are they showing affection with your children?"

Murray says you also want to know that it is a structured environment because at this age it is very important for children to learn how to self-regulate and a structured environment helps them to do that.