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NCGA Recommends Greater Focus On Early Childhood Learning For Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts

Elizabeth Yelverton | NCASA Legal Affairs & Policy Manager

Legislative staff from the State Program Evaluation Division (PED) released a report on Monday recommending the State focus more on early childhood learning in order to raise achievement in predominantly disadvantaged school districts. The report was created and shared with members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee (JLEOC) as a result of a 2018 Work Plan directing PED to identify at least 10 high-performing school districts with predominantly economically disadvantaged student populations and explore the reasons for their success. In its findings, PED recognized that it was “highly uncommon” for students in poorer school districts to demonstrate average or better performance on standardized tests; however, out of those districts that are demonstrating higher performance, most are already performing well by the third grade. As a result, PED found that students in poorer school districts were likely to be more academically successful when they were provided with more early childhood education opportunities. PED recommended the General Assembly should:

  1. Require low-performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan as a component of their required plans for improvement; and
  2. Require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for school districts.

The 2018 Work Plan of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee directed PED to identify at least 10 high-performing American school systems with predominantly economically disadvantaged students and compare the systems on several variables. The evaluation’s charge directed PED to explore the reasons behind the better outcomes achieved by these systems and report on any common best practices applicable to North Carolina.

The PED based its findings on a case study of 12 school districts, utilizing data from the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA), which has compiled approximately 300 million standardized test scores for grades 3-8 from 2009-2015. PED noted 18% of districts in the national dataset were identified as “disadvantaged,” with only 5% of that group performing at grade level or higher. In comparison, PED found 39% of school districts in North Carolina were disadvantaged, with 16% of those school districts performing at grade level or higher. PED found all 12 case study districts provided some form of Pre-K, with certain districts expending significant resources on early education.

In addition to finding a correlation between early education and overall student performance, PED also found positive results in schools with higher-quality teachers and strong school administrators. The report states all of the case study districts had local school boards that focused primarily on policy and academic achievement, rather than the day-to-day administration of the schools. In its findings presentation, PED staff noted, “If school boards get too involved in micromanaging the district, they can impede the ability of superintendents and principals to create successful learning environments.” Case study districts also emphasized “hiring strong principals with in-depth instructional knowledge” while providing them with autonomy to lead their schools.

The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) would like to thank legislative staff for their efforts in preparing this insightful report, which mirrors our own legislative priority of increasing Pre-K availability throughout the State. NCASA urges JLEOC members to approve of the recommendations contained in the PED report during its next meeting on June 10.


Elizabeth Yelverton