Posted by: Francis Koster Published: April 10, 2024

A Self-Inflicted Wound: North Carolina’s K-12 Schools are Among the Worst in America (April 10, 2024)

North Carolina's public K-12 schools show up badly in national rankings.  Learning why can teach us a lot - and show us how to improve our school systems and the lives of our kids and grandkids.


National Rank of North Carolina Schools by Two Different Organizations

U.S. News and World Report (1)                       Scholaroo (2)

     18                                                                             43

Note the difference in the two ranking scores above. Knowing what U.S. News and World Report and Scholaroo consider in arriving at their score is important in understanding the gap in these two scores. The two systems actually measure two different things.

U.S. News and World Report's Scoring System

The U.S. News scoring system is quite different from Scholaroo because it places great attention on the student’s educational attainment. It does not measure efforts that support learning. Three of its four indicators (Graduation Rate, 8th grade Standardized Test Scores, Pre-college Standardized Test Scores) only measure educational outcomes and not the amount of support received.

Scholaroo's Scoring System

In the Scholaroo system, the ranking numbers are not just the score for student learning. Scholaroo also measures things outside the classroom that are known to raise learning. Out of a total of 100 points in Scholaroo, student learning is around 25% of the score and the other 75% counts factors that increase learning.

Scholaroo uses 43 different data points, split into 3 groups:

1.   Student success (25 points out of 100): 15 data points are heavily influenced by things like graduation rates and standardized test scores, similar to the U.S. News ranking system.

2.   School quality (35 points out of 100): 12 data points are mostly about school budgets, number of support staff including nurses, and number of licensed teachers.

3.   Student safety (40 points out of 100): 16 data points focus on the number of episodes of bullying or physical attacks, presence of drugs on campus, and the number of robberies.

When researchers dig deeply into the key ingredients of student success, they find that the quality of teachers is important – but their effectiveness can be increased or decreased by things outside the classroom. In order for teachers to have their maximum impact, a number of support systems have to be in place.

North Carolina's schools do not do a uniformly good job at providing these pieces, which is why the Scholaroo score is so low.

Below are just a few of the many ways learning can be supported by actions outside the classroom.  We will be addressing others in coming newsletters.

School Security

The most important way to support student learning appears to be having a system of school security that everyone trusts, because an environment parents and children perceive to be safe lowers anxiety considerably and allows the mind to engage in learning.

In a 2018 study administered by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools , “Researchers found that of four dimensions of school climate—leadership and professional development, high academic expectations for students, teacher relationships and collaboration, and school safety and order—safety was most strongly correlated with academic improvement for students ( 3)

A comprehensive study of this topic, called The Academic Consequences of Feeling Unsafe in the Classroom (4) can be seen by clicking here.

Teacher Turnover Rate

Another is element of support is measured by the teacher turnover rate. If teachers quit during the school year, student learning drops - particularly in schools with a low-income student population that is most in need of stability.

One example: An eight-year study of 850,000 students in New York found that teacher turnover considerably lowered both English and Math scores. (5)

In North Carolina, researchers found that students who lose a teacher during the school year have significantly lower test scores than average, with the most harmful impact caused when teachers leave between December and April. (6)

School Building Quality

A third component of learning support relates to the quality of the building - the noise level, quality of lighting, and quality and quantity of the classroom air. This is not new knowledge, as many studies going back 50 years have pointed out. Many old buildings have poor indoor air quality, which lowers learning, increases asthma rates in teachers and students, and frustrates teachers of kids whose brains, affected by high indoor air pollution, do not work well. The age and performance of a school building is an even larger predictor of teacher dissatisfaction and departure than low pay. (7)

The Role of School Health

A fourth major component that supports learning is the presence and engagement of a school nurse. Post Covid, students all across the state need, but are not getting, adequate support for their health. This is one more area where North Carolina schools are falling short. The recommended ratio of nurses to students before Covid was one nurse for every 750 students. North Carolina's ratio is 1 to 833 (8), and the need for nurses has grown. You can see a summary of that need here.

Why is North Carolina's General Assembly failing to provide these learning support systems?

Our state legislature’s funding for public school students is among the worst in the country. (9)  Yet, North Carolina has the resources to seize all of the opportunities outlined above and help hundreds of thousands of our kids. Why are we not doing that?



Tuesday, April 9, 2024, was National Healthy Schools Day.

Since 2002, parents, teachers, school nurses, custodians, advocates, and agencies have promoted National Healthy Schools Day activities nationwide. National Healthy Schools Day is coordinated by Healthy Schools Network in partnership with many agencies and organizations. Together, they promote the use of EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools guidance as well as other EPA environmental programs for schools .

On Wednesday, April 10, 2024, Healthy Schools Network hosts a four-hour webinar dedicated to indoor air quality in schools. Learn more about "Air Just Air: Cleaning Air in Schools."



As I mentioned before, we would appreciate hearing from experienced teachers, school administrators or school board members who are willing to spend one hour on a group phone call to tell us which content in past newsletters was most useful, least useful, and counterproductive. I will not quote anyone.

If you are willing to try to educate us, please send contact information to Thank you!


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4) EJ1265973.pdf (


6) (" The Consequences of Leaving School Early: The Effects of Within-Year and End-of-Year Teacher Turnover")




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Francis P. Koster Ed.D.

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