Handbook Details Challenges and Solutions for Mobile Students

Nelly Ward
February 14, 2005

Fragmented: Improving Education for Mobile Students? is a handbook produced by the Poverty & Race Research Action Council that describes the overwhelming impact that mobility has on the educational progress of many students across the country. Using research included in a 2003 volume of The Journal of Negro Education, the handbook explains the problem, discusses related policy, outlines the best practices that states have used to address the problem of student mobility, and makes practical recommendations for improving the quality of education for mobile students, whose constant transitions create immense obstacles to their education and to the success of the classrooms they are continually entering and leaving.

The handbook was designed ?to assist policy-makers, educators, parents, advocates, researchers and others who want to bring about the changes mobile students need.? To this end, it explains the problems associated with mobility and provides resources for understanding and working to mitigate the difficulties of educating mobile students.

The Problems of Mobility

Mobile students are those facing any one of a number of possible challenges: homelessness, changing foster care placement, migration, immigration, and many others. These students are forced to shift from school to school quite frequently, often in the middle of the school year when they are most at risk of losing instructional time and missing lessons as teachers and curricula change. Studies have shown that mobility has a crushing impact on student achievement, depressing curricular achievement and graduation rates, increasing the likelihood of behavioral problems, and decreasing the probability that a student will receive needed special education services.

Mobile students are not alone in experiencing the impact of frequent transfers; schools and classrooms with high rates of student turnover can experience lowered teacher effectiveness, repeated lessons, and loss of administrative and counseling services as overextended personnel process students in and out of the building. Schools can also frequently lose supplies in the shuffle, and their achievement level on No Child Left Behind assessments may be lowered by students they have not been given the opportunity to educate.

The authors of the handbook outline the challenges of social forces as well as individual situations. Social policy often dictates the number of people facing these extraordinary economic and social circumstances, most notably in the case of homelessness, which is frequently directly linked to the availability of affordable housing. The social significance of these problems is so great that some researchers have looked to housing and other social reforms as the most effective way to improve the country?s education system. But while making these systemic social changes is important, confronting the problem of mobile students directly is also essential to ensuring these students are afforded an adequate education.

Solutions to the Challenges of Mobility

Though the plight of mobile students is a frequently marginalized issue, much can be done through legislation and effective practices to provide these students with a more consistent and effective education. The federal McKinney Vento Act requires school districts to transport students to their home school, even when they have moved several times during the year. Though challenging to implement, the provision of transportation is essential to ensuring stability and the possibility of achievement to mobile students, and the consistency of this implementation has been improved by litigations that have raised awareness of the federal requirements. The handbook details successful efforts by states and school districts to facilitate implementation, many of which are credited to the Homeless Education Liaisons mandated by the law, who advocate for homeless students and help all parties to coordinate and communicate. The law also ensures that homeless students will not be denied education while waiting for administrative questions to be resolved.

Another federal program, the Migrant Education Program, has been responsible for improving data on migrant children, streamlining the entry of migrant students into new school systems, and funding several programs designed to encourage achievement amongst migrant students through distance learning and other technology.

While the principles behind these programs can help students in foster care or of immigrant or military families, students in these more specific circumstances often require more explicitly tailored local efforts to receive adequate educational opportunities. Other priorities for limiting the impact of student mobility include family support, attendance improvement efforts, and cooperation amongst those schools between which students frequently transfer. The federal No Child Left Behind Act has also raised awareness of the plight of mobile students, for whose achievement schools and districts are being held responsible.

About the PRRAC

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council is an organization whose ?purpose is to link social science research to advocacy work in order to address problems at the intersection of race and poverty.? Their handbook is the culmination of an effort begun at a conference entitled ?High Student Mobility/Classroom Turnover: How to Address It? How to Reduce It??. It then continued in The Journal of Negro Education, in which conference participants and others published papers on the issue of student mobility. The final handbook was written by Lynora Williams of the PRRAC, and is based in part on these scholarly articles, with an emphasis on real solutions and resources for improving education for mobile students.

The Christian Science Monitor recently published a series of articles on the problems faced by mobile students, which can be found here, here, and here.