Two recently released reports tackle the problem of student mobility, namely that students who move and change schools during the course of the school year are more likely to have poor academic and other outcomes than students with more stable addresses. One study, “A Revolving Door: Challenges and Solutions to Educating Mobile Students” from the Rennie Center, focuses on educational challenges. The other, “Going for Growth: New Education-Housing Partnerships to Stabilize Families and Boost Student Achievement” from MassINC – hones in on housing instability.
For a sense of the scope of the problem, consider that 35,000 children living in 11 Massachusetts “Gateway Cities” – mid-sized, older industrial cities – moved at least once during the 2008-09 school year.
MassINC research director Ben Forman labels the problem churn and calls it “a classic example of a cross-cutting issue where we must break down the silos between education agencies and those in other areas of government” in a piece on MassINC’s CommonWealth website.
“Churn has real consequences,” writes Forman, co-author of the MassINC report. “Mobile students are much more likely to score lower on standardized tests. They have higher dropout rates and higher incidence of emotional and behavioral problems. Research also documents the negative effect that attending a high turnover school has on the academic achievement of students who don’t move.
“A host of factors contribute to high rates of student mobility in Gateway Cities, but economic insecurity is a leading cause. These school systems serve predominately low-income students. At any given point in time, their families are more likely to lose their job, their housing, or both,” Forman continues. “Student mobility is about more than just individual family circumstances. Neighborhood conditions are also an important factor. Almost by definition, schools serving the most unstable neighborhoods have high mobility rates.”
The Rennie Center report notes some of the academic problems associated with student mobility.
“A growing body of research suggests that mobility has a negative impact on mobile students’ academic achievement,” the Rennie Center report states. “Findings from a recent Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) study revealed that mobile students are not as successful as non-mobile students on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests, even after controlling for low-income status. The study found that non-mobile students scored in the Advanced or Proficient categories at higher rates than mobile students on both the English language arts (ELA) and mathematics tests, a staggering 24 percentage points greater in both cases…. Even among students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, non-mobile students performed better on both exams and had higher growth scores than their mobile peers.”
Among other things, the Rennie Center report recommends developing a Readiness Passport that incorporates individual indicators of student mobility, supporting districts more affected by churn, and encouraging schools of education to train teachers to work with mobile students.
MassINC, in its report, recommends advocating for homeless families, piloting housing voucher programs to stabilize families with school-aged children, and supporting “school-centered neighborhood revitalization.”