ERIC Identifier: ED482918
Publication Date: 2003-11-00
Author: Walls, Charles A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education
Providing Highly Mobile Students with an Effective
Education. ERIC Digest.
Amidst the many challenges that the American education system faces, one
in particular remains outside the range of wide public scrutiny: highly
Students who are highly mobile move six or more times in the course
of their K-12
education and come from a variety of backgrounds. They include the
children of migrant workers, of families experiencing domestic violence,
of families in unstable work and home situations that result from high
poverty, and of military and immigrant families. National data on third
graders reveal that one-half million children attended more than three
schools between the first and third grade. Thirty percent of children in
low-income families changed schools versus eight percent of children well
above the poverty line.
High mobility hits urban children particularly hard. Inner city students
are more likely to
change schools frequently (United States General Accounting Office,
approximately twenty-five percent of urban third graders were highly
to approximately one seventh of suburban and rural students. Some urban
report student turnover rates from forty to eighty percent (Stover,
The academic consequences of high mobility are severe. It may take four
to six months
for mobile students to recover academically from a transfer and they
are half as likely to graduate from high school as their non-mobile peers.
Many highly mobile students
experience isolation after a move, which impacts attendance and performance
for Homelessness, 1999; Rumberger, Larson, Ream & Palardy, 1999).
move frequently have lower attendance rates: a twenty percent absentee
resulted in achievement scores twenty points lower than their stable
Housing Fund, 1998). Lastly, mobile students are twice as likely to
repeat a grade, and mobility even negatively impacts the academic achievement
of stable students
(Jacobson, 2001; Kerbow, 1996; see Popp, Stronge, & Hindman, 2003,
Appendix D). Students who live in high poverty and frequently change schools
suffer the most
academically; however, some categories of highly mobile students (e.g.,
military and immigrant families) are not from low-income families.
This digest explores
several subpopulations of highly mobile students, their needs, reasons
for mobility, and
effective programs and practices that meet those needs (see Popp, Stronge,
Hindman, 2003, Appendix B).
MIGRATORY CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Children of migrant workers cross not only school and district lines
but multiple state
lines, as families follow available work. In 1994 and 2001, Congress
educational needs of this population in legislation that ensures that
they are not
penalized for lacking continuity in relation to curricula, academic
graduation requirements. Subgroups within this population that have
include students with disabilities and older immigrant youth who enter
the school system with little prior educational experience. Despite the
fact that most migrant children have parents who work full-time, three-fifths
of them live in poverty. These students also have inadequate health care,
which contributes to school absences. Migratory children have linguistic
and cultural differences, as well as work responsibilities, which tend
A report published in 2002 found that schools serving a large proportion
English proficient migrant students had lower expectations of student
consistent standards and assessments, and less experienced teachers
than other schools (U. S. Department of Education, 2002). To address this problem,
programs such as The Migrant Education Program (MEP) provide academic
compensatory instruction, support for parental involvement, bilingual
instruction, vocational instruction, career education services, special
counseling and testing services, as well as health and preschool services
Accounting Office, 1999).
Migratory students also have delays in education while their families
settle in new areas
and while their new schools wait for records that indicate the child's
placement, educational needs, and health information. As a result,
states have instituted
programs, such as the Migrant Student Record Transfer in Texas, to
information among 46 receiving states that serve migratory children.
HOMELESS CHILDREN AND UNACCOMPANIED YOUTH
Urban areas have higher concentrations of homeless children than rural
areas; although children in elementary school represent the largest
number of homeless
children, many secondary school students may not be identified because
they no longer
attend school, hide their homelessness, or do not access support services
To specifically address the issue of school stability, Congress passed
McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, which allows homeless
students to remain in their school of origin (if this is preferred by the
family) even if the student no longer lives in the residency area. In addition,
schools must provide transportation, if remaining in the school of origin
is in the student's best interest (Stronge, 2000).
However, as with migratory students, homeless mobile students often
delays in their enrollment because of inefficient information transfer
and as a result may
lose days or weeks of schooling and require many more to catch up.
To address this
problem, the McKinney-Vento Act requires schools to immediately enroll
students and subsequently obtain any missing student information (McKinney-Vento
Under the McKinney-Vento Act, liaisons build awareness throughout their
districts and community and collaborate with shelter workers and other
serviceproviders who work with homeless families and youth to build support
Liaisons must also advocate for unaccompanied youth, including runaways
not allowed to return to their homes, when the student wishes to enroll
In addition to the liaison's efforts, if localities want to access federal
funding for housing
needs, including shelters and transitional housing, the Department
of Housing and
Urban Development (HUD) requires the establishment of a Continuum of
network of social service agencies. In communities where the Continuum
of Care is well established or in development, local schools should utilize
this resource and consider what information is appropriate to place within
the system to simplify their outreach to homeless students. School social
workers, guidance counselors, and nurses can also contribute to these services
(Giacobbe, 2002; Popp, Hindman, & Stronge 2002).
CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANT FAMILIES
Over half of the foreign born population in the United States is from
Latin America, over 25 percent from Asia, and about 16 percent from Europe.
Approximately 18 percent speak languages other than English, Spanish being
the most common. Many of these families, especially undocumented ones,
have members who are rural agricultural
workers or urban service and manufacturing workers.
Learning to navigate a different system of education and understanding
the policies and
procedures of American schools add to the number of challenges immigrant
as they attempt to get an education. In addition, communities that
attract large numbers
of immigrants sometimes act on concerns over lost jobs, "illegal status,"
social service and educational costs and may seek, as with Proposition
California, to exclude undocumented immigrant children from schools.
To counter these initiatives, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe in
1982 that schools may not deny admissions to students on the basis of their
According to suggestions from the research, schools should also adopt
procedures to meet the needs of immigrant students: train school personnel
cultural expectations of the students and families they serve; use
bilingual staff to assist
non-English speaking parents and students through the admission process;
admissions policies and procedures that are consistent with immigration
Popp, Stronge, & Hindman, 2003, Appendix C; Morse & Ludovia,
1999). In addition, schools should look at strategies and resources that
address the significant language barriers that many immigrant students
face. Among these are (see Popp, Stronge, & Hindman, 2003, Appendix
E): keeping students with age appropriate peers (ESCORT, 1998); avoiding
overcorrecting (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,
2002); and assessing academic skills of incoming students in their native
CHILDREN OF MILITARY FAMILIES
These highly mobile children have parents who are career military or
members in any of the several branches of the U. S. military (Army,
Navy, Air Force,
Marines, Coast Guard, or National Guard). Thirty-five percent of these
students change Department of Defense schools (DoDs) each year; 32 to 50
percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch; and 94 percent of children
of enlisted military have parents whose highest education is a high school
diploma. Though 90 percent of military families are comprised of two-parent
households, the long-term deployment of one parent often forces these military
families to function as one-parent households. Despite the challenges such
statistics normally imply, these highly mobile students, unlike migratory
or homeless children, consistently perform at academic levels equal to
or surpassing the national average for public schools; this high level
of achievement includes minority students (Smrekar, Guthrie, Owens, &
Various military branches have devised strategies to address these challenges
promote academic and social success, which in some case may be useful
subpopulations. They include: the establishment of family and educational
networks during deployments; the encouragement of parental involvement
with high academic achievement; the use of school counselors to meet
the needs of
military adolescents and to advocate and implement strategies for smoother
transitions; and a "corporate culture" that supports families and encourages
school-family-military partnerships. This culture includes high expectations
success; a welcoming school community; school counselors trained to
advocate for the needs of students; the expectation that parents participate
in the child's education through parent meeting attendance and volunteer
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