North Carolina’s newly released plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) once again recognizes birth-to-eight alignment as a strategy to meet North Carolina’s education goals. Released on July 28th by the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the revised plan reflects many of the comments submitted by the early childhood community, including the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF).
- Theory of Action: This section once again recognizes birth-to-eight early childhood education, noting, “Early experiences shape brain development and early learning provides a foundation for later learning. To make the most of the unique opportunity early education offers to improve future lives will require a transformation of early learning.” The state’s newly formed Birth through Third Grade Interagency Council is highlighted. Also in this section, both Smart Start and NC Pre-K are recognized as proven programs that improve learning.
- Improving Skills for Educators: This section calls attention to the work of the Birth through Third Grade Interagency Council to create a “birth-to-eight professional development system that will strengthen both teacher and administrator skills and knowledge to support young children’s learning.” It now includes language calling on local education agencies to “provide professional development opportunities that are focused on an aligned and coherent birth through grade three continuum that is inclusive of both public schools and community provider teachers and leaders.”
North Carolina’s plan would be strengthened by addressing the following areas:
- Chronic Absenteeism: Unlike the previous draft, the new plan includes a mention of chronic absenteeism as part of the focus of the state’s Multi-Tiered System of Support Framework. More is needed. As early as pre-kindergarten, students who are chronically absent are less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and more likely to be retained. In North Carolina, chronic absenteeism rates vary by district and go as high as 26 percent for elementary-age students. Fourteen of the 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education include chronic absenteeism as a measure in school accountability systems. Currently, North Carolina’s accountability plan does not include any measures that reflect the experience of children in prekindergarten through second grade. Chronic absenteeism meets the rigorous ESSA requirements, serves as an early warning system, brings focus and resources to the early grades, and is actionable at the state, district and school levels. Furthermore, every district is already required to collect and report the data to the federal government.
- Transitions: Like the previous draft, the updated plan highlights ongoing work to improve transitions from NC Pre-K to kindergarten. It also notes that the Birth through Third Grade Interagency Council will focus on transitions. However, because a smooth transition to school can increase the likelihood of children’s positive social, emotional, and academic outcomes in years to come (Four Important Things to Know About the Transition to School), children would benefit from requiring districts to create transition plans in collaboration with community stakeholders that create shared understanding between early childhood programs, schools, administrators and families of what children should experience between early childhood programs and schools.
DPI submitted this draft of the state’s ESSA Plan to the Governor’s Office for review as required under the ESSA. It will be presented for approval by the State Board of Education at its meeting on September 7, 2017. North Carolina will be submitting its consolidated state plan to the U.S. Department of Education by the September 18th deadline.