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Timothy J. Bartik


Kalamazoo County Ready 4s

222 S. Westnedge Avenue
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Dr. Timothy Bartik, author and economist, is an outspoken proponent of universal preschool and a research expert in the areas of early childhood education and state and local economic development. His opinion, in both realms, is that equity matters more than almost anything, and he has written several books on this subject matter.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Timothy Bartik, author and Senior Economist for W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research: For me, a big part of being a leader is trying to think about how I can be useful.
A big part of leadership is trying to make a contribution based on your own expertise, but also being willing to listen to and learn from others and to be willing to compromise with the group, and it’s good for leaders to be involved in groups.
I served on the Kalamazoo Public Schools’ board of education for eight years, and I am on the board of the Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. We have members with backgrounds in areas like childcare, education, and philanthropy who come together to share ideas and make decisions. In coming together, leadership consists of trying to nudge toward a stronger consensus, toward the best course after enough discussion.
What is your dream for kids?
We need to do as much as we can to equalize opportunities for all kids, regardless of their barriers. It is my dream that as many kids as possible get to develop their capabilities to be better human beings. We need to expand K-12 interventions
We need to think about how we identify policies that are universal in nature, like universal preschool, which would give all children, regardless of their race or their parents' income, the same opportunities.
and programs and make them available to the disadvantaged kids who need them, but not every kid needs summer school.
We need to make high school more relevant to all kids, to make post-secondary education accessible for everyone financially, and to teach kids how to navigate the post-secondary world.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
We need to think about how we identify policies that are universal in nature, like universal preschool, which would give all children, regardless of their race or their parents’ income, the same opportunities. If you want to target only the poorest of families’ early education opportunities, you’re going to have classrooms full of poor children who are stigmatized; these programs tend to be underfunded, so the quality is neglected.
On the other hand, look at the most successful social sector programs in history – public school systems and Social Security – they are successful because everyone has a stake in them.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We have to insist on rigorous evaluation, based on rigorous research, based on the results of people who did participate in a program compared to those who did not to really understand if progress is being made. It is too easy to delude yourself into thinking that a program is working because it’s nice to look at. Any photographer can take pictures of happy people being helped: teenagers shooting baskets after school, children playing, people smiling when they get the food that they need, that kind of thing.
But the fact that you can take pictures of people doing good things does not mean that a program is working and is cost-effective. It takes research to determine that.
What are you most proud of?
I think that I’m pretty good at putting my research knowledge and expertise to use and translating it so that it helps others implement public policy.
For example, if you run a preschool, you’re going to know how to do that much better than I ever will. But what does the research show? I give speeches all around the state and the country to groups (including legislative groups, association
...the fact that you can take pictures of people doing good things does not mean that a program is working and is cost-effective. It takes research to determine that.
groups, business summits and early childhood program professionals) primarily on two subjects: the first is preschool and early childhood education and the second is proper state and local economic development. I try to take research and make it relevant to the real world.

What originally drew you to your current profession?
This goes back a long way. I worked as a legislative assistant to Don Regal from 1975 to 1978. He was working on urban policy issues, and I was fascinated with it. I became convinced that we would never solve problems in a city’s economy unless we could create jobs and improve wages. Much of my career has been focused on state and local economic development. For example, the wage of an individual will be higher if the average education level of a metropolitan area is higher.
This is true regardless of skills. Let’s say I work for a company and I have good skills, but the others don’t. In that case, my employer will be less able to introduce new technologies, and that will hurt competitiveness. I have to have a stake in not only my own skills, but in the skills of others.
That brings me back to universal preschool. I hear arguments from people who ask, “What’s in it for me?” People who don’t need it, or who can afford to pay for it and don’t want to pay for others’ preschool. My answer is the huge spillover effects of one person’s skills on the people around them – we all know that the competitiveness of the state and local economy depends on everyone’s skills. You just cannot divorce yourself from that. 
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Program Profile


  • Kalamazoo County Ready 4s
    The Kalamazoo County Ready 4s mission is to provide fully accessible, high-quality pre-kindergarten education to every four-year-old in Kalamazoo County - so that every child can begin kindergarten ready to succeed.


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