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Michael Little

Assistant Professor


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Dr. Michael Little is an Assistant Professor of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis at NC State University, where he studies early childhood and early grades education policy and leadership. Dr. Little’s research is funded by the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) and the Belk Foundation, among others. He currently serves on the editorial boards for two leading journals in the field: Early Childhood Research Quarterly and AERA Open. Dr. Little has published over 30 peer-reviewed journal articles in top-tier journals, including Educational Researcher and Developmental Psychology, and has been cited over 600 times. His work is regularly featured in popular press and applied in policy and practice.

Selected Recent Scholarly Publications

  • Little, M. (2023). The Alignment Agenda: Examining the Movement to Bridge the Early Childhood and K-12 Sectors. AERA Open.
  • Little, M. & Gragson, A. (2023). State Leaders in Early Childhood Education: Perspectives on Instructional Policy Supports and Alignment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 62(2), 288-298.
  • Little, M. (2021). Nationally representative evidence on the association between preschool and executive function skills in elementary school. AERA Open, 7(1) 1-16.
  • Little, M., Drake, T., Cohen-Vogel, L., & Eagle, J.*(2022). When School Doesn’t Start at Age 5: Elementary Principal Leadership of Pre-K Programs in Schools. Elementary School Journal, 123(1), 176-202.
  • Cohen-Vogel, L., Little, M., Sadler, J., Merrill, B. (2020). (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.

Courses Taught

  • ED 756 Scholar Leader: Systemic Change in Education
  • ELP 795: Early Childhood and Early Grades Leadership and Policy

Honors and Awards

  • Editorial Board Member: Early Childhood Research Quarterly; AERA Open
  • David L. Clark National Graduate Student Research Seminar in K-12 Education Educational Administration and Policy (2018), American Educational Research Association.
  • 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.


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

Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis; Early Childhood Education; Elementary Education Policy; Leadership; Principals and Early Education; Mixed Methods; Pre-K-to-3rd Grade Alignment.


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: 07/01/22 - 6/30/24
Amount: $531,230.00
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: 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: 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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