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Michael Little

Assistant Professor


Poe Hall 500

View CV 


Dr. Little is a native North Carolinian. After attending public schools in Charlotte he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) to pursue his undergraduate degree in Public Policy, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with honors. From there, Michael worked as a Research Analyst at RTI International. Realizing he wanted to design and conduct his own research projects, he returned to UNC to pursue his PhD in Education, where we was a member of the Royster Society of Fellows. Prior to joining the faculty at NC State, Dr. Little was a Researcher at the American Institutes of Research (AIR). While at AIR, he worked on a range of studies for federal and state governments and foundations.

Selected Scholarly Publications

  • Little, M. (2021). Nationally representative evidence on the association between preschool and executive function skills in elementary school. AERA Open, 7(1) 1-16.
  • Cohen-Vogel, L., Little, M., Sadler, J., Merrill, B. (in press). (Mis)alignment of instructional supports in pre-k and kindergarten: Evidence from North Carolina. Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
  • Little, M. (2017). School-based kindergarten transition practices and child outcomes: Revisiting the issue. Elementary School Journal, 18(2) 335-356.
  • Little, M. (2017). Racial and socioeconomic gaps in executive function skills in early elementary school: Nationally representative evidence from the ECLS-K:2011. Educational Researcher, 46(2), 103-109.
  • Little, M. (2016) Measuring more: Schools, teachers, and the development of kindergartners executive function skills. AERA Open, 2(3), 1-14.

Courses Taught

  • ED 756 Scholar Leader: Systemic Change in Education

Honors and Awards

  • David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in K-12 Education Educational Administration and Policy (2018), American Educational Research Association.
  • Five-Year Royster Society of Fellows Doctoral Fellowship (2015), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Phi Beta Kappa (2013), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Best Undergraduate Thesis Award (2013), Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Ph.D. Education Leadership, Policy, and School Improvement The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2018

B.A. Public Policy The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2013

Area(s) of Expertise

Dr. Little studies early childhood and early grade education policy. His work aims to achieve the goal of equity in early childhood education so that all children begin their educational careers on solid ground. To achieve this goal, he conducts research that helps us to understand how to build a coherent and aligned system of early education that seamlessly bridges the Pre-K and early elementary grades. This area of research is often called "Pre-K through Third" or "P-3" education research.


Date: 05/19/23 - 6/15/25
Amount: $141,234.00
Funding Agencies: Belk Foundation

The purpose of this two-year project is to develop a transformational principal learning model for early grades leadership in North Carolina. Building on previous work that was supported by the Belk Foundation, this project advances us from strategic learning to strategic doing. Specifically, our team will work with district and school partners to build a data dashboard-informed principal learning model that will be (1) piloted in preparation for large-scale evaluation and (2) spread across the state of North Carolina.

Date: 05/17/22 - 12/31/23
Amount: $75,000.00
Funding Agencies: Belk Foundation

We will expand the scope of our current project funded by the Belk Foundation entitled “Enhancing PreK-3rd Grade Principal Practice in North Carolina.” In the current project, we surveyed all elementary school principals in North Carolina in February and March, 2022. The preliminary findings from our survey reveal a critical need to support early grade principal leadership in our state. In response, our plan for Phase Two Funding is to develop a “North Carolina Early Grade Leadership Collaborative” responsible for using the survey results and improvement science approaches to co-design a set of change ideas to test with the goal of improving early grade leadership in a sample of North Carolina school districts.

Date: 07/01/22 - 6/30/23
Amount: $265,495.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Education (DED)

The purpose of this IES exploration project is to comprehensively study school-based Pre-K and the role it plays in promoting vertical alignment and sustaining Pre-K gains on a holistic range of outcomes (e.g., achievement, executive function, absenteeism). This project is segmented into three separate studies. Study 1 asks: Who attends school-based Pre-K? Study Two asks: What is the association between school-based Pre-K attendance and student outcomes in elementary school? Study Three asks: What factors moderate the association between school-based Pre-K attendance and student outcomes in elementary school? In each study, the research team will examine how enrollment in school-based Pre-K or the association with student outcomes may vary between student subgroups, including race/ethnicity, SES, disability, gender, and ELL status. Project Activities: The research team will conduct exploratory secondary data analysis with data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (ECLS-K:2011). Products: The primary product of this project will be a set of studies, reports, and briefs on the topic of school-based Pre-K in the United States. The team will also generate a video and podcast summarizing the key project findings. The aim of the project’s dissemination plan is to ensure that these products and the information summarized therein reach educational researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

Date: 12/07/21 - 1/15/23
Amount: $75,000.00
Funding Agencies: Belk Foundation

The purpose of this one-year project is to field a survey of elementary school principals across the state to capture the extent to which current practices are aligned with new standards for effective Pre-K-3rd grade leadership. Working in partnership with the NC Department of Public Instruction (see letter of support) and other organizations, our project will spur action on strategies to enhance Pre-K-3rd grade education in North Carolina, including Read to Achieve implementation, for example.

Date: 01/15/21 - 1/15/22
Amount: $25,000.00
Funding Agencies: American Educational Research Association

The purpose of this proposed study is to examine the extent to which preschool attendance is associated with the development of students’ executive function skills in elementary school using a large nationally representative dataset. This project will use the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 dataset and weighted regression models with fixed effects to estimate the impacts of preschool on executive function skills. Upon completion of the analysis, the project will include presentation at an academic conference and submission of a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal.

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