ERIC Identifier: ED338745
Publication Date: 1991-06-00
Author: Not Listed
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New
Highly Mobile Students: Educational Problems and Possible
Solutions. ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 73.
While America has long been a nation "on the move," today two types of
student mobility stand out: 1) inner-city mobility, which is prompted largely by
fluctuations in the job market; and 2) intra-city mobility, which may be caused
by upward mobility, on the one hand, or poverty and homelessness, on the other.
In fact, because of high rents, poor housing, and economic hardship, urban
schools whose populations change as much as 100 percent a year are an increasing
phenomenon (Schuler, 1990).
MOBILITY AND ACHIEVEMENT
Although moving once or twice
during the public school years may not be harmful, most research shows that high
mobility lowers student achievement--particularly when the students are from
low-income, less-educated families (Sewell, 1982; Straits, 1987). Students who
attend the same school for their whole career are most likely to graduate,
whereas the most mobile of the school populations--migrant students--has the
highest rates of school failure and dropout (Lunon, 1986; B. Tobias, personal
communication, June 1991).
Just as high poverty rates in a school depress achievement even for nonpoor
students, schools with high mobility rates don't succeed even with students
whose residence is stable. Schools with high dropout rates are more likely to be
situated in unstable school districts, and to be in high-growth states (Neuman,
Of course, the depression of achievement associated with mobility may be
compounded by other related factors: poverty, limited English fluency, poor
housing, etc. For example, an analysis of student mobility found that children
living with one parent move twice as frequently as children living with two
parents, and that children in one-parent families also had lower achievement
than those in two-parent families (Sewell, 1982).
THE BURDEN OF STUDENT MOBILITY ON SCHOOLS
mobility puts enormous stress on schools. Services developed for one
population--for example, limited English proficient students--may suddenly
become unnecessary, as many of its users move in the middle of the semester.
Furthermore, even attempts to monitor school performance become meaningless if
the student population tested one year has largely changed by the next. In urban
schools already burdened by bureaucracy, mobility increases record-keeping.
EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS FOR MOBILE STUDENTS
interventions with highly mobile students are derived from the effective
schooling research (Neuman, 1988). High expectations, an emphasis on excellence,
small classroom size, personal contact, and opportunities for students to
exhibit competence, initiative, and responsibility are considered critical
(Druin, 1986). The issue of high expectations is especially important here,
since there is evidence that when students enter classrooms in mid-semester,
teachers tend to prejudge them unfavorably (Neuman, 1988; Sewell, 1982).
Among the suggestions for facilitating the acclimation of new students are
parent education programs and handbooks that acquaint new parents with the
effects of moving on their children, and with the procedures and customs of the
reception committees and tour guides.
classroom buddies for the new students.
inservice training for teachers in schools with highly mobile students.
New students should be watched for distress signals--aggression, withdrawal,
over talkativeness, etc.--since the experience of moving can be similar to death
and mourning for a young child (Neuman, 1988).
Most schools assume that, as with poverty, there is little or nothing they
can do about student mobility itself. However, a pilot study in Rochester
suggests that schools can lower mobility rates by sending letters home that
describe the negative effects of mobility on grades and graduation rates and
helping parents solve landlord disputes or find new housing nearby (Schuler,
One of the biggest administrative, and
therefore pedagogical, problems with mobile students stems from lack of prompt
transfer of records. Students may be given inappropriate placement, and even
held back, while their receiving school waits three to five months for their
records (Neuman, 1988; Sewell, 1982). These record-keeping problems have been
most obvious with migrant students. However, record-keeping problems have long
occurred with many students less clearly designated as "transient." Voluntary
desegregation is well known for creating havoc with district record-keeping (A.
Wells, 1991, personal communication). More recently, homeless students have
created a new surge in record transfers, and districts have often been
financially penalized for students who were counted absent when they were
already enrolled in a different district. Finally, although record-keeping has
not been discussed in relationship to school choice, this new form of student
mobility may create its own record-keeping nightmare--especially since schools
will have little reason on the surface to cooperate with competing schools by
providing rapid record transfers.
MODELS AND PILOTS IN STUDENT RECORD-KEEPING
In 1968, the
Migrant Student Transfer System (MSTS) was instituted as part of Title I/Chapter
1. The MSTS is an electronically-based record system in the U.S. and Puerto
Rico, with both health and academic information on migrant secondary students.
Unfortunately, in part because only some schools have computer terminals and so
much communication is still done by mail, the MSTS is currently underutilized. A
study in 1989 reported that only ten states kept data for 70 percent or more of
their migrant students (Villarreal, 1989).
Under a Ford Foundation grant, a paper system called a passport was recently
piloted for Puerto Rican students moving between the island and either New York
City or districts in the state of Connecticut. Like the MSTS, the passport
contains both health and academic information. However, unlike the MSTS,
passports were created to enable the students themselves to take charge of their
own academic careers. Students carry their passports with them when they move
from the island to the mainland, or vice versa, ensuring rapid enrollment in the
appropriate class. Of course, the system requires cooperation between the school
systems, which must both advertise the existence of passports to students and
fill them out, and there have been some problems getting both ends equally
involved (E. Davila, June 1991, personal communication).
Finally, prompted by the drive for national educational statistics of all
kinds, an electronic nationwide record transfer system for all students is
currently being piloted by the National Center for Education Statistics and the
Council of Chief State School Officers. While Florida already has a state-wide
electronic record-keeping system, and states such as Texas, California, and
Wyoming are considering such systems, the lack of a uniform, national
record-keeping system has made collecting good school data difficult.
Although not geared directly to the needs of highly mobile students, the
proposed national system should solve the problem of rapid record transfer. It
would also increase reliability and consistency in the interpretation of student
records. Finally, because all data would be on-line, it would decrease costs to
districts of transferring records (B. Clements, June 1991, personal
communication; R. Valdivieso, June 1991, personal communication).
Two possible problems arise in the new search for a more efficient
record-keeping system for mobile and other students. The first is student
privacy: as material becomes more accessible, it may also be more difficult to
ensure confidentiality. The second is school accountability: record-keeping that
aids in making schools more accountable to the communities they serve may not
always coincide with records that serve a national purpose. Thus, as schools
join in a national system, they will have to be careful to ensure that they are
also keeping data for their own purposes.
Druin, G. (1986, September). Effective schooling
and at-risk students: What the research shows. Portland, OR: Northwest
Educational Laboratories. (ED 275 926)
Lunon, J.K. (1986). Migrant student record transfer system: What is it and
who uses it? ERIC Digest: CRESS. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University,
ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.
Neuman, J. (1988). What should we do about the highly mobile student? A
research brief. Mount Vernon, WA: Educational Service District 189. (ED 305 545)
Schuler, D. (1990, Fall). Effects of family mobility on student achievement.
ERS Spectrum, 8 (4), 17-24.
Sewell, C. (1982, October). The impact of pupil mobility on assessment of
achievement and its implications for program planning. Brooklyn, NY: Community
School District 17. (ED 228 322).
Straits, B.C. (1987, January). Residence migration and school progress.
Sociology of Education, 60 (1), 34-43.
Villarreal, G.C. (1989, August). Migrant education, interstate secondary
credit accrual and acceptance manual: Practical guidelines for school personnel
serving migrant secondary students. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State Department of
Education. (ED 319 546)