Making Moves on Mobility

By: Mike English

The first two months of a new school year are tough. It takes time for kids to get used to their new teachers, make new friends and adjust to new academic expectations. By November, most students hit their stride.

But for “highly mobile” students, the cycle never ends. These students change schools multiple times per year, sometimes more than five times in one school year.

For highly mobile students, the entire school year is tough. The more often a student transfers, the more school she’ll miss—which means he’ll be much more likely to struggle academically.

In fact, the majority of children who miss more than 18 days of school in Kindergarten or first grade will not be able to read at grade level by third grade, making them far less likely to ever graduate high school.

This is an alarming statistic. So what causes students to move?

The Causes of Student Mobility

At a recent GradNation Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, our community delved deeper into the causes and consequences of student mobility. The Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (KC-AERC) analyzed local school district data for approximately 100,000 students so that we could better grasp the extent of student mobility.

We learned that 15 percent of our students transferred at least once last school year. In the central city of Kansas City, 36 percent of students transferred at least once, and 9 percent of students transferred at least twice.

The root causes of student mobility are complicated. Unstable family environments, problems with housing, poverty and other socio-economic often cause families to move.

Other moves are related to preferences. In the Kansas City Public School District, families are able to choose between district schools and charter schools. This allows students to change schools without changing addresses.

In some cases, the change can be a better fit, but more often it causes the student to miss several days of school and, in turn, fall behind his or her peers.

The Link Between Student Mobility and Absences

Why do students miss so much school when they move?

Much of the problem is administrative. When a student changes school districts, the new district must collect student transcripts, discipline files, and proof of residency before the student can enroll.

While one district waits for another to fax a student transcript, the new student misses school; and while a parent waits on a utility bill to arrive in the mail to prove residency, her son or daughter is missing school.

But sometimes the problem is emotional. When students transfer during the school year, they may feel lost—both socially and academically, discouraging them from attending at all.

So what can we do?

Moving Forward on Mobility

Fortunately, our new mobility data has allowed us to identify the schools with the highest student transfer rates. Our community is now coming together to chip in and make sure that highly mobile students are welcomed and supported when they change schools.

Now that we are armed with school level mobility data and have made the issue a priority, our community can work together to minimize the impact of mobility on students.

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Published by

Jordan Frazier

Third grade teacher