Advancing Early Learning Through ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strengthens federal support for early learning and provides new opportunities for birth-through-third grade alignment, accountability and funding. NCECF is leveraging ESSA as a tool to support state and local collaboration across birth-through-eight systems.

In September 2017, North Carolina submitted its state plan to comply with the federal law. North Carolina Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will submit district ESSA plans annually describing how they will advance state priorities and meet federal requirements.

We are partnering with the Office of Early Learning and the NC Head Start State Collaboration Office at the Department of Public Instruction to support LEAs and early childhood community leaders in collaborating to develop the early learning components of the LEA’s ESSA district plans.


  • NC State ESSA Plan includes recommendations developed at our convening of state leaders.
  • In 2018, 80 district and two charter teams attended regional ESSA & Early Learning meetings. Each team completed commitments for birth-through-eight strategies in their local work. Attendees give the meeting an average rating of 4.29 on a 5-point scale.
  • In a second round of regional meetings in 2019, teams identified a problem of practice around one of three priorities – family engagement, aligned professional development and transition into kindergarten. Each team began developing an action plan. Attendees gave the meeting an average rating of 4.3 on a 5-point scale.

“This meeting set aside a day out of our busy schedules to come together and focus on children birth to eight. The time we spent together was so very powerful. We collaborated, shared our thoughts and ideas, created a commitment plan and reflected on our district goals. I learned and grew so very much. Thank you for providing this opportunity! What a wonderful investment of our time together.”

“This training provided the tools and time to move forward with planning. The follow-up offered by the trainers in the form of virtual office hours sounds incredible!”

“Receiving important district data to identify problems of practice is beneficial in our work as we develop our strategic plan for the next cycle.”

Promote Understanding

We help education leaders understand the early learning opportunities in ESSA, how early learning supports district goals, and how to engage early learning leaders in district plan development.

Spearhead Collaboration

We convened district teams of Local Education Agency and early learning leaders. The meetings delved into the early learning strategies available to districts, shared best practices, highlighted using early childhood data to make informed decisions, and provided time and support for working together on district plans.

Advance Policy

We provide intensive support to a small number of local teams, including coaching, materials, a shared learning community and plan review. Materials and lessons learned will be shared across the state.

Advancing Work

August 2020

The NC DPI Office of Early Learning, including the Head Start State Collaboration Office, Title I Preschool, and Federal Programs hosted a webinar to share best practices for coordinating services for children and families experiencing homelessness. 

August 2020

The Public Schools of North Carolina, the Head Start State Collaboration Office, the Division of Child Development and Early Education, and the NC Early Childhood Foundation hosted a webinar sharing plans for reopening preschools this fall. 

June 2020

The Public Schools of North Carolina, the Head Start State Collaboration Office, the NC Early Childhood Foundation and national partner EducationCounsel hosted a webinar highlighting opportunities to address early learning strategies within ESSA and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) in the federal CARES Act to include in CCIP or other early learning action plans. 

April-May 2020

COVID-19 response: DPI Office of Early Learning and partners release guidance, including on Head Start summer learning opportunities (April 28) and preschool eligibility (May 19).

NCDPI and NCDCDEE collaborated on a webinar to share the preschool enrollment and eligibility guidance.

February 2020

State administrators and regional consultants who support local work on early learning came together to continue to build cross-sector relationships, learn more about ESSA and other requirements and opportunities across early learning programs, and think about how to act as resources to support coordinated early learning systems at the local level.

November 2019

The Public Schools of North Carolina, the Head Start State Collaboration Office and national partner EducationCounsel hosted two regional meetings for local Head Start grantees and school district personnel on how to develop or improve the MOUs between the two organizations that are required by the Head Start Act and ESSA.

July 2019

EducationCounsel, the NC Department of Public Instruction and the NC Early Childhood Foundation host a third online Office Hours session to highlight opportunities within districts’ Comprehensive Continuous Improvement Plans (CCIP) to address early learning strategies. The webinar shares examples of specific strategies and language to consider, as well as 2019-20 CCIP revisions.

May-July 2019

Local early learning teams can access virtual TA sessions to review MOUs and other agreements, ask questions about coordination requirements, discuss strategies for continued collaboration, explore opportunities for including early learning strategies in district ESSA plans and receive technical support on creating aligned action plans.

May 2019

EducationCounsel, the NC Department of Public Instruction and the NC Early Childhood Foundation host a second online Office Hours session to share a new resource:  a series of annotated agendas that can be used over several meetings with local early learning partners to align strategic planning efforts and support completion of a collaborative community action plan. 

April 2019

The NC Department of Public Instruction, NC Early Childhood Foundation and EducationCounsel host an online Office Hours session, explaining requirements and answering questions about developing or improving MOUs between LEAs, Head Start programs and other early childhood programs.

February 2019

More than 360 local early learning and K-12 leaders representing 80 school districts participate in four regional meetings, focused on family engagement, aligned professional development and transition into kindergarten. Attending teams identified a problem of practice to address, began developing an action plan, and will receive ongoing support as they develop their plans throughout 2019.

January 2019

LEAs, Head Start, Smart Start and early learning leaders participate in introductory webinars.

December 2018

NCECF releases case study of our collaborative work.

June 2018

State partners provide template language for LEAs and host webinar.

February 2018

20 district teams submit applications and five are selected for coaching and TA support for development of district ESSA plans.

January 2018

80 district teams (380 people) attend regional meetings and develop birth-through-eight commitments.

December 2017

Local school board members attend a workshop at the North Carolina School Boards Association Annual Conference
300 early learning leaders view webinar on ESSA.

November 2017

NC School Superintendents Association partners with us to host webinar for superintendents.

October 2017

Title I leaders attend workshop at North Carolina Association of Compensatory Educators Annual Conference.

September 2017

State submits ESSA plan, which includes birth-through-eight strategies.

Summer 2017

NCECF leads efforts to provide early learning comments on state ESSA plan. 2/3 of comments received are on early learning.

May 2017

Smart Start Local Partnerships and school leaders attend day-long workshop at National Smart Start Conference.

September 2016

State leaders develop recommended birth-to-eight strategies to be included in North Carolina’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan.

April-September 2016

We host webinars and share information to introduce early learning opportunities in ESSA.


  • Local Education Agencies include birth-through-eight strategies in their district ESSA plans.
  • Districts strengthen collaboration across birth-through-five and K-12 systems.

Featured Resources