The extent to which and how early education reduces achievement gaps related to race and income have not been studied extensively in rural areas in the United States, despite clear evidence that these achievement gaps are even larger in the rural United States, and especially in rural areas in the Southeast, high-quality early education is one of the most effective means to promote educational success for all children. Three studies will provide an in-depth examination of the following:
- Policy and Practice Study: Researchers will study the policy context surrounding a cohort of children as they progress from pre-K through third grade in six rural counties. Specifically, the North Carolina team will focus on whether policies are aligned in ways that help sustain learning across early grades. To investigate these issues, researchers will draw upon semi-structured interviews, survey data from school and program administrators, and content analysis of policy documents.
- Classroom Observation Study: Researchers will observe the quality of teacher-child relationships, conversations between teachers and children, differentiated instruction, instructional content, and policies, and relate them to gains during the school year in children's academic and social behavioral skills to examine associations between classroom practices and child outcomes.
- Longitudinal Study: Researchers will investigate the extent to which classroom policies and practices relate to gains in student's academic and social skills across five years, from pre-K (2016) through third grade (2020). The extent to which these patterns are similar for children whose home language is Spanish and English will be examined.
The research studies will take place in six rural counties in North Carolina. Three counties have a higher expenditure rate per publicly-funded pre-K classroom and the other three counties have a lower expenditure rate per publicly-funded pre-K classroom.
The FPG Early Learning Network Team was one of six teams across the country who were awarded funding by the Institute of Education Sciences to conduct this work. Network partners include the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, MDRC, Ohio State University, University of California at Irvine, and University of Virginia.