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Bloomberg Philanthropies Announces Replication of Mayors Challenge-Winning Early Childhood Learning Innovation in Five U.S. Cities 

Birmingham, AL; Detroit, MI; Hartford, CT; Louisville, KY; and Virginia Beach, VA will Replicate Providence Talks

 Inspired by Providence Talks, the first-ever Grand Prize Winner of the Mayors Challenge, Cities will Expand Robust Programming for Children that Increases their Exposure to Words and Conversation, a Crucial Intervention for Vocabulary Building, Brain Development, and School Readiness

Bloomberg Philanthropies today announced the five American cities that will replicate Providence Talks, an early childhood education program that empowers parents and caregivers with tools to support language development at a critical age and help children enter kindergarten classroom ready. Combined with local investments, the support provided across five cities totals nearly $12 million over three years.

The five cities that are replicating Providence Talks are: Birmingham, AL; Detroit, MI; Hartford, CT; Louisville, KY; and Virginia Beach, VA.

Providence Talks was the first-ever Grand Prize Winner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, an innovation competition for cities. The winners of the challenge are cities with bold, inventive ideas that address urgent challenges and have the most potential for impact and the ability to spread to other cities.

“Providence Talks shows just why we launched the Mayors Challenge: to help cities take on big challenges, test innovative ideas, and then spread what works best,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and the 108th Mayor of New York City. “Providence Talks has had promising results, helping thousands of young children increase their language development. Today, we’re glad to help five new cities adapt the program and work to achieve similar progress.”

After receiving the Mayors Challenge Grand Prize in 2013, the city of Providence, RI, launched Providence Talks the following year with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The program continues today and has served more than 3,000 children.

The program provides families with a small recording device known as a ‘talk pedometer’ that counts adult words spoken in a child’s presence, as well as the number of conversational interactions a child engages in during the day. Research shows that robust exposure to words and conversation—from birth to age four—is crucial for children’s vocabulary building and brain development.

A Brown University evaluation of Providence Talks found:

  • Children who participated in the program made significant gains in the number of words they heard and turns they took in conversations and in language development.
    • In the Home Visitation model, 56% of all children showed growth in the number of adult words they heard and 42% increased their number of turns taken in conversations.
    • In the Playgroup model, 73% of all the children showed growth in the number of adult words they hear daily and 56% increased their number of turns taken in conversations.
  • The largest gains were seen in children who started the furthest behind. These children, on average, showed a 51% growth in the number of adult words they hear daily, going from an average of 8,000 to over 12,100 words per day. This jump from the 11th to the 42nd percentile in eight months is substantial, moving from the lowest quartile of words heard to about the average level.
  • By the end of the program, children in the program showed, on average, a 15 percentile point increase in the Developmental Snapshot score, a tool used to measure a child’s development progress (or language skills).

“Providence Talks has had a profound effect in our city by empowering parents and placing children on a supportive path to educational success,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, of Providence, R.I. “By proactively providing tools and assistance to families in need we are closing the word gap and ultimately the achievement gap. Our innovative program reflects our belief that investing in our children is the greatest investment we can make for our future and we’re thrilled that other cities are interested in replicating it.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies will support this programming with grants in each city. Cities will also receive the technology and software, including talk pedometer devices, software, and other tools required to replicate the approach. These critical technological resources are provided by LENA, a national nonprofit organization that develops technology to measure talk.

“Our evaluation of Providence Talks shows positive program effects that promise to disrupt the learning gap on a city-wide scale.  Providence Talks not only improved the auditory environment at home but also contributed to parent efficacy, factors that will support student success,” said Brown University Professor Kenneth Wong, principal investigator of the evaluation.

The cities were identified and selected through an application process and will bring this tested approach to citywide scale over the next three years. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative will support the implementation in each of the five cities.

  • Birmingham is launching Birmingham Talks to serve the greater Birmingham metropolitan area.
  • Detroit is partnering with Brilliant Detroit—a neighborhood-based organization that provides health, family support, and educational programming to children—to launch 313 Speaks.
  • Hartford is building upon the Words Count program at The Village for Families & Children and expanding programming to classrooms as part of Hartford Talks.
  • Louisville is partnering with the National Center for Families Learning—a Louisville-based national nonprofit that works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families—to expand programming though its Say and Play with Words program, which aims to improve vocabulary for children ages birth to five.
  • Virginia Beach is launching new programming through the Virginia Beach Reads campaign, which will complement existing word count programming.

“Each city has worked closely with local partners to design a replication program that will positively impact families in their community,” said Simone Brody, Executive Director of What Works Cities. “We are excited to follow their progress and share lessons on how cities can tailor effective programs developed elsewhere to meet the specific needs of their community.”

For more information on the Providence Talks program, please visit

About Bloomberg Philanthropies:
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 510 cities and 129 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $767 million. For more information, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.