Early Childhood Councils, Commissions Align with Pathways and Lead with Equity

NCECF is following the work of state level Councils and Commissions that are making decisions about NC’s early childhood policy, sharing the Pathways Measures of Success Framework and Action Framework with them, and encouraging the use of an equity lens in their recommendations. Here are some updates on the:

  • NC State Board of Education
  • Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council
  • Leandro Commission on Sound Basic Education
  • myFutureNC
  • B-3rd Interagency Council

The NC State Board of Education released a new strategic plan this month that holds up equity and the whole child as guiding principles. The new plan’s goals and objectives include many that align with the Pathways Action Framework, such as:

  • Eliminate opportunity gaps between students by 2025
    • Decrease exclusionary discipline practices
    • Improve school climate measures
    • Increase Pre-K enrollment
    • Increase educators of color
  • Include school and district performance by 2025
    • Improve proficiency in reading by subgroup by the end of third grade
  • Increase educator preparedness to meet the needs of every child by 2025
    • Increase culturally-relevant, equity-focused resources for teachers
    • Increase mentors for beginning teachers

NCECF presented the Pathways Action Framework to the State Board of Education in February, and the Board endorsed the Framework.

The Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council met in September to discuss their focus areas for early childhood, including racial disparities in infant mortality, access and affordability of high quality learning, and permanent families for children in foster care. These are three priorities pulled from DHHS’ Early Childhood Action Plan, which is based on the Pathways Frameworks. NCDHHS is holding workshops this fall to train department staff on the main issues in those focus areas, and the Council will meet again in early December to take a deep dive into strategies to address the first focus area – racial disparities in infant mortality.

The Governor’s Leandro Commission for a Sound Basic Education also met in September to finalize their recommendations, in the areas of finance, teachers, principals, whole child and early education, and assessment and accountability. Many of the recommendations from the Whole Child/Early Education workgroup pull from the Pathways Action Framework and take an equity-based approach, including recommendations in areas such as:

  • Building the early childhood educator pipeline for birth through third grade.
  • Scaling up Smart Start to provide early childhood system infrastructure and a continuum of services for children and families.
  • Expanding access to Early Intervention.
  • Scaling up the NC Pre-K Program to serve all eligible at-risk four-year-olds.
  • Ensuring that elementary schools are ready to meet the needs of all children in the early grades.
  • Improving cross-sector early childhood data quality, collection, analysis and use.

The Whole Child/Early Education workgroup also endorses the NC Early Childhood Action Plan and the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework in their recommendations.

It is exciting to see that the other Leandro Commission workgroups also have recommendations that align closely with Pathways and an equity-based approach, such as:

Assessment and Accountability Workgroup:

  • Endorse the state’s focus on improving 3rd grade reading proficiency and the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Measures of Success and Action Frameworks for ensuring that all 3rd graders are proficient in reading. To achieve those goals, the state must ensure that the state-supported K-2 literacy assessments currently being used in districts across the state remain formative assessments and are not used for accountability purposes.
  • Include multiple measures in the school accountability system, including disaggregated data on chronic absenteeism, school climate and school discipline.
  • Discontinue the current school performance grades and instead place equal weight on achievement and growth.
  • Provide in-school coaching for teachers and school leaders.
  • Involve families in needs assessments and planning.

Principal Workgroup:

  • Ensure that school administrator training includes information on:
    • Early brain development and appropriate practices for early childhood learning.
    • Social-emotional needs of students.
    • Role of specialized instructional support personnel and how to effectively leverage them in supporting student health and wellness.
    • Community engagement.
  • Focus on recruiting, preparing, and supporting a geographically and demographically diverse group of school administrators to help ensure that our state’s school administrators are more representative of the students they are serving.

Teacher Workgroup:

  • Expand the NC Teaching Fellows program beyond the five current institutions of higher education, particularly to minority serving institutions.
  • Develop and place more teachers of color, and teachers committed to teaching in low wealth, low performing, and high poverty schools.
  • Develop, fund, and evaluate a pilot program that provides teachers with education degrees a high-quality post-BA residency in low wealth districts or high poverty schools.
  • Provide annual recruitment bonuses to new certified teachers who commit to teach in a low wealth school district or high poverty school for four years.
  • Prepare teacher-graduates to be able to effectively deliver differentiated, culturally relevant instruction.

Finance and Resources Workgroup:

  • Determine an adequate level of funding in order to provide a sound, basic education to every student, accounting for individual student needs, the concentration of high-needs students in schools and LEAs, and the importance of high quality early childhood education.
  • To meet the academic, physical, and mental health needs of students and to ensure that our schools are safe and supportive learning environments, the state should provide sufficient funding to ensure that schools are staffed with specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) at the nationally recommended ratios.

A related set of recommendations was put together by the consultant group WestEd in consultation with the Commission and other stakeholders – including NCECF, who shared the Pathways Action Framework with them. The report has been delivered to the judge in the Leandro court case but is currently confidential. The Commission expects that the WestEd report will be released this fall.

myFutureNC announced this week that Cecilia Holden, formerly the director of government and community relations for the North Carolina State Board of Education, will become the organization’s first president & CEO, effective the first week of December. myFutureNC holds up the share of eligible four-year-olds enrolled in NC Pre-K, fourth grade NAEP reading proficiency scores, and chronic absenteeism as benchmark indicators for the work, which focuses on meeting a statewide higher education attainment goal of two million North Carolinians achieving a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by the year 2030.

myFutureNC priorities that impact early childhood include:

  • Prioritize high-quality early learning.
  • Ensure access to a high-quality learning environment for every student at every level, (including ensuring positive school climate where students feel a sense of belonging, encouragement and support).
  • Ensure seamless transition across educational sector, (including from preschool to kindergarten).
  • Strengthen educational opportunities in economically-distressed communities.
  • Recruit, develop and retain excellent educators statewide, (including increasing the pool of teachers and leaders of color; preparing high-quality teachers and leaders for childcare and preschool centers and for schools with the greatest need; enhancing educator preparation for working with students with special needs; and expanding access to evidence-based professional development that maximizes educator potential).
  • Adopt rigorous, standards-aligned, culturally-relevant curricula and instructional materials.
  • Coordinate student support systems, including supporting schools and communities to reduce the number of students who face barriers to full engagement in school by directly addressing those barriers.

The report also recommends some strategies for moving the work forward that align with Pathways, including:

  • Embedding cross-sector strategies—both new ones and current sector-level strategic priorities—into each state agency’s or system’s core priorities.
  • Expanding and cultivating leadership that is reflective of demographic shifts, to diversify thought leadership and to support wider adoption of core principles.
  • Ensuring that accountability systems are relevant and meaningful to all parents, students, and other stakeholders by engaging representatives from North Carolina’s many constituencies (e.g., from low-income communities, communities of color, etc.) in the design of the accountability measures.

The report includes information about the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative in a section about Current and Recent NC Education Commissions and includes a table showing which recommendations align with the Pathways work.

Several Pathways recommendations live in the report’s Strategies Archive section, with the intention of returning to them during the next phase of the myFutureNC work. A few of those include:

  • Invite and facilitate the participation of a wider range of participants to policymaking conversations from the beginning, including intentional seats for families and youth of color. “Design with” instead of “designing for.”
  • Develop a sustainable plan (including incentives and loan forgiveness) for aligning early childhood educator compensation with that of P-12 educators.
  • Prepare teachers to support young children’s development in skills that are needed for adaptive coping, sound decision-making, and effective self-regulation.
  • Ensure educators and administrators have pre-service training and in-service training on implicit bias and cultural awareness.
  • Invest in childcare subsidies to allow more families to access affordable early care and education. Options include raising childcare subsidy rates to better reflect the actual cost of providing high-quality care, reimbursing providers even when a child is absent, and providing higher rates to public and private early care and education providers in high-poverty, underserved, and/or rural communities.
  • Create collaborative professional development opportunities for early childhood to third grade teachers (and child care center directors and principals) to learn together.
  • Ensure early care and education programs are accessible by providing services such as transportation to and from school, before- and after-school care, summer care, and meals.
  • Eliminate or minimize the use of suspension and expulsion in birth-through-third grade classrooms; incorporate cultural competency into and develop common expectations around disciplinary policy, recognize the impact of trauma on many children of color.
  • Ensure educators and administrators have pre-service and in-service training on adverse childhood experiences, child development, and social-emotional learning.
  • Invest in support staff, including trained social workers, nurses, school psychologists, and behavioral health specialists; increasing school nurse ratios to the national standard.

Finally, the myFutureNC report includes the following caveat, inspired by the Pathways initiative:

Incorporation of Birth-to-Pre-Kindergarten Concepts and Components: The current set of myFutureNC priorities begins at preschool, but education begins at birth. During children’s earliest years, the brain’s architecture is shaped, creating the foundation for future learning. Work in the next phase and beyond will benefit from a more intentional incorporation of our best knowledge about this critical stage in the development of a child’s future prospects.

The B-3rd Interagency Council, co-led by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction, met in October to hear and discuss updates on:

Check out EdNC’s recent article for a good overview of the meeting.

NCECF will continue to track the recommendations and implementation efforts of early childhood initiatives to encourage alignment of priorities and use of an equity lens.