Addressing Student Mobility and Homelessness in Schools



As schools across America embark on a new school year this month, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of students will be playing the often difficult and complex role of “the new kid” this fall where they will have to quickly make new friends, adapt to a new school and a new learning environment, and look for opportunities to bridge the gaps from one school experience to another. It reminds me of my own experience in that role when I made a move from one state to another between sixth and seventh grade. Although schools see a higher than normal number of new students at the start of the school year, the reality is that new students can move into the system at any point during the year.

Student mobility, also referred to as churn or transience, happens anytime a student makes a voluntary or involuntary move from one school to another. According to this 2015 report from the National Education Policy Center, “Student mobility is a widespread and often unheralded problem facing American schools. The majority of elementary and secondary school children make at least one non-promotional school change over their educational careers, with many children making multiple moves.”

The academic, social, and emotional impact on these students, as well as other students in the school, can be significant. According to this National Education Association NEA Today article by Jasmine Song, “Changing schools often can be detrimental to normal adolescent development by disrupting relationships with peers and educators as well as altering a student’s educational program. Effects of student mobility can be seen on test scores and high school graduation rates.” In an Education Week video published this past month, Vermont Superintendent Jay Nichols explains how student mobility impacts his rural community. “Kids that move are much more likely to drop out, to have trouble at school, and to have problems with the criminal justice system”. Nichols went on to suggest that on average, the achievement gap for a student who moves from one school to another widens by as much as three months as a result of the move.

In Vermont, like in many states, student enrollment is often tied to funding that is based on residency – where a parent or guardian resides. This often creates hardship for families who have to move from one school community to another, especially when the move occurs in the middle of the school year. This can happen often, especially for students and families who live below the poverty line and have to constantly look for affordable housing based on their ability to maintain a steady income from low-wage jobs. Since the McKenney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001, many states have adopted policies and regulations aimed at reducing student mobility for homeless students by allowing them to continuing their schooling in the same school for a period of time, provided it is feasible to do so. Still, homeless students often see significant negative academic, social, and emotional impact in school as a result of this mobility.

In an article earlier this month, Education Week’s Sarah Sparks explored in detail the impact of student mobility and how it affects learning. Sparks wrote, “As more states begin to use longitudinal data to improve schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a growing body of research suggests student mobility may be a key indicator to identify vulnerable students and keep them on a path to academic achievement.” Sparks went in to note that student mobility, especially for students who experience multiple moves, often leads to lower school engagement, poorer grades in reading (particularly in math), and a higher risk of dropping out of high school.”

Sparks went on to quote a 2016 Clark County Nevada study that identified four policy recommendations  that schools could implement to reduce the impact felt by student mobility:

·         Better student data transfer: Foster the development of longitudinal databases that can follow students, particularly those who live in traditionally transient communities such as migrant farm workers, the foster care system, and the military.

·         Quick turnaround for student records: Enact policies that require schools to send unofficial student records and transcripts to families within 10 days to expedite the new school enrollment process.

·         Flexible enrollment: Develop policies that allow a student who makes a voluntary move to finish the school year in their old school.

·         Interagency supports: Embed resources and interagency supports for families living below the poverty line in schools that can aid families in things like job placement, adult education, and aid for housing or utilities.

 This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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