There is evidence from across the nation and from North Carolina that elementary school principals, pressured by the high stakes testing in grades 3 through 5, move their higher-performing teachers into the tested grades, and lower-performing teachers into grades K-2. Studies have looked at data across time and found that this practice increased with the introduction of high stakes testing in No Child Left Behind. Principals are making what might seem at first glance like a logical decision—put your best teachers in the grades where you will be held responsible for the students’ outcomes.
Child development research and brain science, however, tell us that the foundation for learning is laid in the early years, from birth through age eight. It is the cognitive and social-emotional skills built in those first eight years that result in the test scores principals are hoping to see in third, fourth and fifth grades. So how do we motivate our education leaders to see the forest instead of the trees, and invest resources in the birth through eight system?
New Federal Education Policy Recognizes the Importance of the Early Grades
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the most recent iteration of No Child Left Behind, reflects the science. ESSA recognizes the need to incentivize principals, superintendents and state education agencies to put more resources into the early grades, in order to ensure that students arrive in third grade ready to succeed.
ESSA does this by explicitly calling out early childhood education as an allowable use of federal education funding. This approach signals the importance federal education leaders place on early childhood education and allows states flexibility to use ESSA funds to build on their current early care and education investments.
Very few of the early education provisions in ESSA are mandatory. So it is a nationwide endorsement of early learning that so many states have voluntarily incorporated early learning programs and accountability measures into their consolidated state plans.
The First Five Years Fund has released a toolkit of ESSA resources for states. The most recent addition to the toolkit is a first look at states’ consolidated plans, all of which have now been submitted to the federal government. These plans are high-level—the details will come later as state and local education agencies start to operationalize their plans—and states were not required to discuss how they would handle the early learning provisions. But even in these high-level snapshots, we can see that states are prioritizing investing in early education.
The chart below summarizes the early learning-related provisions in each title of ESSA, notes how many states addressed that provision in their consolidated plan, and highlights whether the NC plan addressed that provision. Since states were not required to discuss how they would handle most of the early learning provisions, more states than those listed below—including NC—may ultimately take action in these areas.
North Carolina’s plan addresses a few of the possible areas, including:
- How the state Title I plan will incorporate early learning into the state accountability system, describe early learning programs using Title I resources, coordinate Title I with Head Start and other early childhood programs, and address education for migrant children.
- Professional development for early learning teachers.
- How public preschool programs will work to ensure children experiencing homelessness have reliable access to preschool.
There are a few other areas that most other states address that NC does not, including:
- How districts using Title I funding for early learning will meet Head Start Program Performance Standards.
- Using Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) for early learning.
- The role of Head Start in serving homeless students.
|ESSA Provisions||How many states address in consolidated plans?||Does North Carolina’s plan address?|
|Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged|
|State Title I plans must address early childhood|
|Engage community stakeholders||21 + District of Columbia (DC)||No|
|Incorporate early learning into long term goals||13||No|
|Incorporate early learning into state accountability system||12 + DC||Yes|
|State Report Cards must address preschool||3||No|
|District Title I plans must describe early childhood programs using Title I resources||38 + DC||Yes|
|Districts that receive Title I funding must coordinate with Head Start and other early childhood programs||43 + DC||Yes|
|Districts using Title I funding for early learning must meet Head Start Program Performance Standards||36 + DC||No|
|Title I Schools with large numbers of eligible students are encouraged to address the transition to kindergarten||2||No|
|Title I Schools must describe how eligible students will be served, which may include kindergarten transition strategies||0||No|
|Early learning as a school improvement strategy||15 + DC||No|
|Joint professional development with early childhood educators||13||No|
|Early learning for migrant children||42||Yes|
|TITLE II: Professional Development Formula Funds and Literacy Competitive Grant|
|Professional development for early learning capacity building||31||Yes|
|Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) funding may be used for early learning||0||No|
|Innovative Approaches to Literacy funding may be used for early learning||0||No|
|TITLE III: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students|
|Promote school readiness of English learners and immigrant children||10 + DC||No|
|TITLE IV: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, Charter Schools Program|
|Use Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) for early learning|
|Offering well-rounded educational experiences to all students, including low-income students||38||No|
|Support safe and healthy schools||16 + DC||No|
|Use funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers for early learning||6 + DC||No|
|Charter Schools Funded by Title IV, Part C|
May Serve Early Childhood Students
|Magnet Schools Assistance May Be Used|
for Instructional Staff Compensation,
Including Early Childhood
|Promise Neighborhood grants must be used to implement pipeline services inclusive of high-quality early childhood education programs||0||No|
|Assistance for Arts Educators funding may be used to promote school readiness||0||No|
|Ready to Learn television funds must be used to promote school readiness||0||No|
|Supporting High-Ability Learners and Learning Awards may be used to support early learning||0||No|
|TITLE V: Rural Schools|
|Addressing early learning in rural schools||2||No|
|TITLE VI: Indian Education, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education|
|Indian Education Grants may be used to support early learning programs||0||No|
|Title VIII: Private Schools|
|Services to eligible private school participants, may include preschool children||5||No|
|TITLE IX: Preschool Development Grants and Other Laws|
|Ensure children experiencing homelessness have reliable access to a public preschool education||50 + DC||Yes|
|Address the role of Head Start in serving homeless children||36 + DC||No|
|Articulate how public preschool programs will work to ensure children experiencing homelessness have reliable access to preschool||37 + DC||Yes|