Starting Line
December 2016
Duke Study: NC preschool programs yield long-lasting gains for children

Children who were enrolled in North Carolina's early childhood programs performed better throughout elementary school, with gains lasting through fifth grade, according to a study by Duke University researchers.

The findings were published in the journal Child Development. Researchers at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy analyzed data on more than 1 million North Carolina public school children born between 1988 and 2000, including those who had been enrolled in the state's Smart Start child-care program and More at Four, the prekindergarten program now known as NC Pre-K.

Children who had been in the state programs had higher test scores, less grade retention and fewer special-education placements through fifth grade, according to the study.

The new research seems to contradict studies in other states that suggest the benefits of pre-K may fade over time, in particular an often-cited study from Tennessee. But the Duke study's lead author, Kenneth Dodge, professor of public policy, psychology and neuroscience, said comparing pre-K in Tennessee and pre-K in North Carolina is like comparing apples and oranges.

Prekindergarten programs around the United States vary in important ways, he said, including teacher credentials, class size, curriculum, eligibility criteria and spending per student. "We need to get away from thinking that all pre-K programs are the same," Dodge said.

Duke researchers found that the positive effects for North Carolina children held steady or even grew over the years.

Children living in counties with average levels of Smart Start and More at Four funding saw improved educational outcomes by the end of fifth grade - a gain of six months of reading instruction and three months in math, according to the study. The children also had significantly higher math and reading scores in grades three, four and five.

Both programs reduced the odds that children would end up in special education. The impact was most pronounced among More at Four participants, whose chance of special education placement was cut by 48 percent in fifth grade. Their chance of being held back during elementary school was lowered by 29 percent.

"We are confident that the effects of North Carolina's two signature programs, which are nationally regarded programs, hold up through the end of elementary school," Dodge said.

The researchers found the state's investment in both programs totaled an average of $2,200 per child during the 13-year study period.

Smart Start began in 1993 and expanded to all 100 N.C. counties beginning in the 1998-99 school year. It is focused on child care, health and screening services for children from birth to age 5.

More at Four began in 2001 and has since been renamed NC Pre-K. It targets early education to at-risk 4-year-olds. By 2010, about 25 percent of all North Carolina 4-year-olds were served.

The impacts were seen in students across economic levels, and research suggests a "spillover" effect to classmates of the students who were enrolled in state preschool programs. Sustaining the gains also depends on having quality K-12 education after preschool, Dodge said.

The Duke researchers are now studying whether the positive effects persist into middle school. The team aims to follow the students' progress through high school and beyond.

"I am confident that these findings support the continuation and expansion of both of these programs in North Carolina," Dodge said. "But we need to continue to evaluate whether the programs continue to have a positive impact on these children, because the context changes. We've got to make sure the quality remains high."

Article Written by Jane Stancill for The Charlotte Observer
Dolly Parton Imagination Library Expands to Serve 12 Zip Codes in Mecklenburg County

The Hearts Beat as One Foundation and Smart Start of Mecklenburg County announced the expansion of the DPIL program to 12 zip codes in Mecklenburg County on November 16th. 

Subsequently a group of Charlotte Mecklenburg Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) Sponsors were able to meet Dolly and offer gratitude and support to her before her concert in Charlotte on November 19th. Pictured Left to Right: Jason McCraw (Twirl to the World), Suzie Ford (NoDa Brewing Company), Dolly Parton, Joe Davis (Hearts Beat as One Foundation) and David Singleton (Charlotte Mecklenburg Library).  

Because language development and early literacy are so critical during the years from birth to five, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County wanted to find a way to address the "book gap" for children in our community. 

The solution came in the form of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library (DPIL).
DPIL builds a child's home library by sending them an age appropriate book in the mail each month until age five. The program is free to the family and if enrolled at birth, a child will have 60 books by the time they enter kindergarten.

In April of 2015, Smart Start collaborated with Hearts Beat as One Foundation, and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library was rolled out in three zip codes with the most limited access to books (28205, 28206, 28209). Enrollment was available to children at birth through hospital enrollments.

As of today, the program has expanded to all twelve of the zip codes where books are most needed - and enrollment is open to any child born after July 1st, 2013. This expansion is possible because of the generous sponsors formed with the Hearts Beat as One Foundation; Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, Ann Dunlap Hendrix Charitable Fund, Noda Brewing Company, Twirl to the World and Ivy's Diaper Service.

Smart Start was able to expand the program to serve approximately 3,000 children in partnership with Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity Charlotte, Novant Health and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

More donors are needed to adequately serve the over 44,000 children 0-5 living in those 12 zip codes. Anyone interested in supporting the program, visit

For more information about how the Dolly Parton Imagination Library works here in Charlotte, please contact Champagne Selman at  or 704-943-9780 or Click Here!
Smart Start of Mecklenburg County (SSMC) administers approximately $13 million a year in state and private funds to programs serving children birth to age five, their families, and their caregivers in Mecklenburg County. 
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool prepares Spanish-speaking children for success in school and life by providing superior dual-language early childhood education. The preschool supports students' families with parenting, life skills and English-language classes, enabling them to s ustain and nurture their children's educational and emotional development.

Charlotte Bilingual Preschool
6300 Highland Ave
Charlotte, NC 28215
Phone: 704-535-8080
Smart Start Autism Coordinator, Dr. Dianne Alexander along with Nancy Popkin (Autism Society) and Rachel Aiello (TEACCH)  attended the Sensitive Santa Event and Resource Fair at  Discovery Place Kids in Huntersville on December 1st to share resources and offer support to local families.
FREE Sensory Friendly Bounce Sessions

On the second TUESDAY of every month, BounceU of Charlotte offers a FREE Open Bounce Session that is sensory  friendly for children with special needs and their families from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. This is a private session. Families are welcome to stay for the 4pm-7pm Open Bounce for no charge, but note that the 4pm-7pm is an All Ages Open Bounce session open to the public.