Overcoming Barriers to Student Success

Research indicates that students who are not reading on grade-level by the time they start 4th grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Minority students living in poverty and not reading on grade-level by the 4th grade are six times more likely to drop out. To compound that, data also shows that a disproportionate number of low-performing schools have higher than average impoverished and minority student populations. And, it is probably no surprise to learn that students who do graduate and yet continue to struggle in attaining critical core foundational skills in reading and math are at a tremendous disadvantage regarding future career opportunities. It is an urgent matter!

Based on 2017 data, of the over 2,600 public schools in North Carolina, 505 of them are currently designated as low-performing based on data from our state’s accountability system (that’s an increase of 16 schools since 2015-16 school year). Over a quarter of a million students are enrolled in these schools. Out of the 505 low-performing schools, 468 of them have been deemed low- performing for at least two out of the three most recent school years (that’s an increase of 53 schools since 2015-16 school year).

This means that roughly one out of every five schools in our state is classified as low-performing and does not meet expected student outcomes. Over the past few years, the number of low-performing schools has increased, which deepens the challenge facing students in our state who are already not performing at grade-level in reading and math. It’s a troubling trend that should concern everyone.

The barriers to success that exist at low-performing schools both inside and outside the classroom are not new, but we need new ways to confront them. More funding is often the refrain we hear when these issues are discussed, but history shows us that funding alone is not the solution. Yes, funding matters and investing in educator talent and leadership are key components of the positive change we need to bring, but simply putting more money into something without an accountable and evidence-based approach won’t change the trajectory of our schools. Since 2010, for example, over $140 million in federal School Improvement Grants have been invested in North Carolina’s low-performing schools with little impact on outcomes.

We can’t keep repeating and refueling failed strategies. Authentic innovation is needed so we can reimagine the possibilities in our schools. The legislation that created the ISD was put in place so we could engage in this conversation and explore new options for addressing the academic and non-academic barriers that impact student achievement in low-performing schools.

The flexibilities that the ISD has sets North Carolina apart from other states. We are a state-wide district charged with selecting and operating low-performing schools in coordination with the local community and engaged partners with a shared goal of improving student achievement and success. One of the key partners in the ISD initiative are the Innovative School Operators (ISOs) who serve under a 5-year contract with the State Board of Education to implement a plan and strategy for improving student achievement. An ISO could be a college, a local non-profit organization, a corporation, or even a proven school leader who is interested in launching their own entity to transform low-performing schools. The options for what an operator may be are broad, which enables the ISD to explore the possibilities and develop new strategies for each school engaged in this approach. We also have the flexibility to design a school transformation plan with an operator that is tailored for a specific school and community and can transform the circumstances that perpetuate low achievement in our schools.

Resources from Public Schools of North Carolina

Low-Performing School & District Plans

Additional Resources & Materials