Early College High Schools in North Carolina Benefit 9th Graders

By Julie Edmunds, Ph.D. (guest blogger)

The SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is conducting a longitudinal experimental study to examine the impact of North Carolina’s Early College High School (ECHS) model on student outcomes. Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the study uses a lottery to assign students to the ECHS and then tracks outcomes for the students who got in and the students who did not. Findings for ninth grade indicate that this model is having a substantial positive impact on students:

  • More ECHS students were on-track for college than control group students.
  • The ECHS model appears to be closing the performance gap among student sub-groups.
  • Students in the ECHS were less likely to be suspended and were absent fewer days.
  • ECHS students reported higher levels of academic engagement.
  • ECHS students reported more positive school experiences than students in the control group, including better relationships, higher expectations, more rigorous and relevant instruction, and more academic and social support.

Though the study is showing positive results, there are important considerations for anyone seeking to replicate the model. As implemented in North Carolina, the ECHSs involve a revisioning of the entire high school experience and includes a set of specific core components: college-preparatory coursetaking and dual enrollment for all students; more rigorous and relevant instruction; a personalized learning environment that provides academic and social/emotional support; a collaborative teaching environment focused on ongoing learning for staff; and school structures designed to support the previous four components. In addition, the staff receives extensive coaching and other professional development to support the implementation of the model. This study suggests that getting significant positive results requires a comprehensive approach accompanied by substantial and clearly focused support.  

For more detail on the study and its findings, visit http://www.serve.org/FileLibraryDetails.aspx?id=179. We will report on 10th grade findings in the upcoming year. For more information on the early college model as implemented in North Carolina, visit www.newschoolsproject.org. For more information on the national initiative, visit www.earlycolleges.org.  

Guest Author: Julie Edmunds, Ph.D., is a project director at SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is directing a $2.9 million longitudinal experimental study of the impact of North Carolina’s Early College High School model. She is also conducting other research on Early College High Schools and other high school reform models. 


Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

Tierney, W., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do: A practice guide (NCEE # 2009-4066). Washington, DC: National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.


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