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Cleveland-area school districts must work harder to keep children who move frequently from falling through the cracks: editorial
November 24, 2012
by The Plain Dealer Editorial Board
Students who often change schools -- making them hard to track and harder to teach -- have long been a problem in many Ohio school systems, particularly Cleveland's.
Yet few think of it as a regional problem.
Well, it is a regional problem and one that's desperately in need of a regional solution.
That's one revelation from an eye-opening report from a Columbus nonprofit, Community Research Partners, on behalf of the Dayton-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
The Ohio Student Mobility Research Project looked at 5 million statewide student records from 2009 to 2011, with a special focus on the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo areas.
The report found that, in some Cleveland-area schools, "nearly one of every two students in a school at the beginning of a school year" had moved by the second year.
No teacher can teach youngsters who move in and out of school buildings and districts so frequently.
School districts need to be more proactive about addressing the challenges of student mobility and act as partners to address it.
Terry Ryan, vice president for Fordham's Ohio programs and policy, points out that some Cleveland-area districts -- including Cleveland, East Cleveland, Euclid and Parma -- swapped a significant number of students from 2009 to 2011.
As just one example in the report (pdf), 328 students from kindergarten to seventh grade went from Cleveland schools to East Cleveland schools over that period, while 279 East Cleveland students in those grades went to Cleveland schools.
District administrators and teachers in school systems with such trends should meet regularly to discuss ways to better align lesson plans, craft specialized training for teachers and other staff and act more quickly to transfer school records.
And they should also study those public and charter schools that Ryan called "sticky" to try to learn why these schools are often able to retain poor youngsters who'd normally be prone to moving.
One "sticky" school is Citizens Academy, the excellent-rated Cleveland charter school, where high expectations, strong parental involvement and a focus on the individual child may go a long way to convincing parents that moving should be the last resort.
The report didn't look at why kids move, but experts have good guesses. Some move for a good reason -- because their parents are searching for better educational opportunities.
But multiple moves for some poor students may indicate something far more troubling, such as an inability to find affordable housing or to pay for utilities, said Stephen Wertheim, director of United Way of Greater Cleveland's 2-1-1 help line.
Schools can't solve housing and employment troubles -- that's a job housing and social-service organizations must take on -- but they should sponsor a campaign to encourage parents to stay in their homes by stressing the damage to their children's education from too many moves.
Parents also should be informed about a federal law that offers some protection for homeless, mobile children by allowing them to attend school in their old neighborhood, requiring school districts to provide transportation. The law covers a number of circumstances that might take children out of range of their old schools, including if they are doubling up with relatives, for example.
In the end, it is up to school systems, working together across district boundaries, to have the strategies in place so highly mobile students can stay on track academically and get the support they need.