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 Collaborative 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.
  • 80 district and two charter teams attended regional ESSA & Early Learning meetings. Each 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.

“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.”

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

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.

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