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Schools plagued by 'epidemic' of student mobility
Saturday, November 25, 2012
by Jessica Brown
Of the roughly 24 students in Blake Barnett's third-grade class, four are new to the school this year, including 9-year-old Maurice Harris.
This is the third school he's attended since kindergarten. Mom Ericka transferred him here because his old school wasn't giving him enough individual attention, and she wanted to find a place where he would thrive.
New faces are hardly a rarity at North College Hill Elementary. In fact, four new students in a class is pretty typical, said Barnett. "You do have the core students that stay, but you're inevitably going to see four to six new faces in your class."
Leaders in the district know they have high "student mobility" due to either parents' economic circumstances or their desire, as was the case for Maurice's mom, to shop for a better school. But now they know just how big the problem is, and where their former students are going.
A first-of-its-kind statewide study on student mobility found North College Hill, a district of 1,600 students, has the least stable student population in the region. Fewer than half of the students in an NCH school at the beginning of one school year were still in that same building two years later, and one in three students had left the district entirely. (Study organizers say they took into consideration student promotions and new schools being built.)
High student mobility can be hard on kids because it forces them to play a constant game of catch-up, academically and socially. The study shows that the more often kids move, the lower they score on state tests.
It's also a problem for teachers and school systems. Teachers spend extra time figuring out the new students' history and academic needs, Barnett said, which can take time away from other kids. A revolving door of students also makes it hard for districts to plan how many teachers to hire. If students perform poorly on state tests, it can hurt districts' academic ratings.
North College Hill is by no means alone.
The study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Community Research Partners found that student mobility is common, even in suburban and rural schools. In poor city neighborhoods, it "verges on the epidemic," according to the study.
While the study didn't offer recommendations, authors hope reporting the extent of the mobility issue will prompt schools, communities and parents to talk.
Perhaps community leaders need to re-examine housing or economic policies to help stabilize families, said Terry Ryan, vice president of Ohio programs and policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Fordham Institute, a school-focused research group that maintains a strong focus on the Buckeye State's schools since it was founded in memory of an Ohio industrialist.
Perhaps school districts need more conversation with the districts with which they're constantly swapping students. For policymakers, it might mean considering an online student records system, so schools can get new-student data immediately instead of waiting for a file to be mailed. And for parents, even those who move because of situations out of their control, it might mean finding ways to keep their children in one school a little longer, especially if they are doing well there. "(Parents) need to understand there is a cost to serial mobility," said Ryan. "I'm not sure that parents understand that moving their kids from school to school a couple times a year comes at a cost to that student's future."
The study focused on more than 5 million student records from traditional and charter Ohio schools during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Charter schools are public schools run by independent organizations. The study included in-depth analysis for the Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo regions. It calculated the "stability rate" – the percent of students who were still in the same school building two years later, and the "churn rate" – the rate at which students transferred into and out of a school in a single school year.
Among the findings:
Other unstable districts for grades K-7 were Cincinnati, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place, Lockland, Mount Healthy and Reading. Unstable districts for grades 8-11 were Cincinnati, Norwood, Mount Healthy, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place and Reading.
The most stable districts, where fewer than 10 percent of kids changed buildings, were those in traditionally higher-income areas like Madeira, Indian Hill and Wyoming.