Policy Resource

North Carolina Takes on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge

Sep 20, 2016

North Carolina has a one-year extension to its 2012 Race To The Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant.

In December 2011, North Carolina was awarded a four-year RTT-ELC grant. At the time, North Carolina proposed 18 major projects in the areas of successful state systems, high-quality programs, Early Learning and Development (ELD) outcomes, early childhood education workforce, and measuring outcomes. In 2015, the state had completed about half of these projects, and successfully requested a grant extension through 2016 to complete the remaining activities. This article highlights some of the North Carolina’s ELC achievements over the course of the grant. It was last updated in May 2018.

North Carolina established a Transformation Zone initiative in four high-needs rural counties. These zones include Bertie, Beaufort, Chowan, and Hyde counties. Each zone had the support of a local implementation coach, and of a Leadership Team and Implementation Team. The Leadership Team and Implementation Team consisted of representatives from different early childhood agencies across the state. Programs in the Transformation Zones included Family Connects, a nurse home-visiting program; Triple P, a family support program; and Motheread and Reach Out & Read, both family literacy programs. Each of the four counties built system-wide capacity through technical assistance and activities to use implementation science and systems change processes, while also implementing selected strategies for serving children and families. The four counties also created strategic plans for sustaining their work beyond the grant.

The Division of Public Health worked with the Center for Child and Family Health and the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University to effectively implement and sustain Northeast Connects, a short-term, community-based, universal newborn nurse home visiting program.

The state also prioritized access to quality care for high-need infants and toddlers through key strategies in the Transformation Zones, including providing technical assistance through an Infant Toddler Specialist and creating new high-quality slots to serve infants and toddlers in the four-county area. During the course of the grant, the state expanded the work to grow North Carolina’s capacity for the use of Infant and Toddler CLASS assessment tools, supporting staff to become certified affiliate trainers on the tools.

As part of creating high-quality programs for infants and toddlers, North Carolina revised its Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS). TQRIS is an updated version of the state’s Star Rated Licensure System, which rated early childhood education and care programs with a star system. The changes to TQRIS made more rigorous standards and clearer differentiation among the star ratings. The state is currently working to provide TQRIS to religious and public school ELD programs that have been exempt from TQRIS. In June 2015, 100 percent of state funded preschool and 95 percent of Early Head Start and Head Start programs participated in TQRIS. By the completion of the grant, the number of children with high needs served by Early Head Start/Head Start programs in the top tiers of the TQRIS increased from 22,348 in 2012, to 25,310 in 2015.

In 2018, the North Carolina General Assembly proposed a second, separate star-rated licensing system for infants and toddlers as part of the state’s budget bill. Child care programs would receive a star-rating based on one set of criteria developed for infants and toddlers and a second star-rating for children ages three and older. Under the proposed system, one program could have two separate ratings, if it serves both birth-to-two and three-to-five year old children.

The North Carolina Partnership for Children expanded the Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) model. ABCD works to increase health and developmental screening and referral rates for all young children by integrating routine developmental screening into well-child visits, using either the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) or the Parents Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS). In 2016, the rate of screening at Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPDST) visits was 84 percent. The rate of developmental screening rates among ABCD practices also increased to 93.9% from 85.2%.

North Carolina expanded its professional development options for the early childhood workforce. This has included the development of a Continuing Education Unit course on Technical Assistance, cultural competence training, and a reduced cost Early Education Certification. The state developed an online Master’s degree program in Early Childhood that is available through the University of North Carolina Greensboro and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. North Carolina is also developing a Birth to Kindergarten (B-K) teacher licensure.

Learn more about North Carolina and how other states are using RTT-ELC funds to strengthen their early childhood systems in ZERO TO THREEs papers: How Are Early Learning Challenge Grant Targeting Infants and Toddlers and The Early Learning Challenge Grant Is Helping States Better Serve Infants and Toddlers.

Updated May 2018.

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