This past November, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the challenges that the public education system faces with students who constantly change schools. The report was completed as part of a congressional request made by Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Christopher Dodd (D- Connecticut) with the goal of informing legislators as they possibly work on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Overall, the report concludes that as students often change schools, their academic performance is negatively impacted (not much of a surprise). Moreover, student mobility has been on the rise with the recent economic downturn and the national foreclosure crisis thus leaving schools to address these varying needs but without the resources. The report is based on the tracking of a kindergarten cohort from 1998 to 2007 from which the following outcomes were concluded:

  • About 70% of students changed schools two times or less before reaching high school (less mobile)
  • About 18% of students changed schools three times before reaching high school
  • About 13% of students changed schools four times or more before reaching high school (more mobile)

What is important to note from the report is that of the 13% that changed schools four or more times, there were statistically significant differences between them and the students that were less mobile. Students in the more mobile category were disproportionately from households under the poverty threshold, were African American, and were from homes where a father figure was not currently present. Eighth graders in the more mobile identification also had a larger percentage of students receiving special education services in addition to being English Learners. The report speaks to the varying degrees of the academic and emotional needs that highly mobile students bring with them to school and because of this reality; we need to take serious steps in providing them and their families with meaningful supports and interventions. However, that proves difficult for schools to achieve during these challenging economic times.

During a time when the economy has struggled, schools continue to face rollbacks with their budgets and therefore are having to do more with less. Officials were interviewed in schools with high rates of student mobility where they shed light on the challenges in meeting the academic and emotional needs of all students. Faculty and staff face the dual challenge of meeting the needs of their students who frequently change schools while simultaneously meeting the different needs of the remaining student body. As a result, schools must continuously restructure their framework on instruction and curriculum per the needs of incoming students; they must assist with the social and emotional adjustment of highly mobile students and additionally, schools struggle to appropriately place highly mobile students when academic records fail to accompany them.

Finally, the report notes that it is the more mobile students that regularly have lower standardized test scores than less mobile students and while also facing higher drop out/push out rates in high school.

Both Senators Harkin and Dodd should be commended for having the will to build greater awareness on diverse student needs and challenges that schools face when educating these student populations. Finally, it is our hope that educational equity is kept at the forefront when ESEA is finally reauthorized and using this critical opportunity to bridge the gap of unmet needs.

Click here to read the GAO report on student mobility.