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We've ignored this issue for too long
Saturday, November 25, 2012
by Krista Ramsey
If ever there was an issue under-examined in American education, it has to be student mobility.
For years, nobody bothered to measure how often children moved into or out of schools. When districts and states finally began calculating mobility rates, they were a postscript to "critical" numbers like free and reduced-price lunch rates and daily attendance.
But to a kid, there's nothing more critical than having to change schools.
The mobility study recently released by Community Research Partners and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute cites the academic losses that come with multiple moves. They're significant and compounded by each additional move. But kids worry first about not knowing how to find the cafeteria, or remembering their new bus number or figuring out how to stand alone on the playground without looking like the new kid.
Multiple moves can make kids resilient, necessarily gregarious, able to strike up a conversation or find their way. They can also make children cautious and reserved, unwilling to put the energy into establishing friendships and likely to see themselves as the perennial outsider.
Schools can find ways to minimize the hardships, and most try hard to. But highly mobile students fit a profile – more likely to be low-income, in special education or from unstable homes – and are typically clustered in particular school districts. Staffs in those buildings often experience mobility-fatigue. Even veteran teachers find themselves worn out by having to figure out where students are academically, how to patch the gaps in their learning and how to monitor the new students' social well-being.
What is unsettling, then, is that poor school performance and education reforms add still more movement. Failing schools spur families to leave for better options. Charter schools draw students from their neighborhood schools. Nationally, some reform policies remove entire staffs from failing schools or close buildings.
In the long run, are these beneficial moves? Maybe. But the performance of Ohio charter schools has been widely inconsistent and, as the new study shows, students have left them at higher rates than they did most traditional schools. As Enquirer reporter Jessica Brown notes, 17 of 37 local charters lost more than half their students over two years.
Students put a lot on the line when they move from one school to another. It's a breach of trust when the receiving school – whatever type it may be – doesn't offer a quality education. Sure, the family can pull a child out and try again, but it's not a zero-sum move. Children crave consistency and suffer academically and emotionally under too many transitions. It's simply wrong to treat them as educational experiments.
Unfortunately, student moves have been taken too lightly by some parents as well. In pursuit of the "perfect" education, some parents continually shift their children among public, private and parochial schools, occasionally with stints of homeschooling or online programs mixed in. The pursuit of a great education is a noble goal, but not when it turns into an endless quest.
The Community Research Partners report provides a rare opportunity to increase discussion on an education issue of fundamental importance. Policymakers, educators and parents should move on it.
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