Posted on 05-17-2012
Preventing the exorbitant cost of student mobility
The cycle of mobility robs a student of the very foundation that can prevent the burden to society that his lack of education will otherwise cause.
Heather O’Mara and Ruth Márquez West
The societal cost of a high school dropout has been calculated into actual dollars and cents and circulated for public awareness. What is less known, though, is the exorbitant cost to a child’s potential achievement caused by switching schools for reasons other than grade level progression – an event referred to as student mobility.
In a child’s life, the hidden costs associated with high mobility (when a student switches schools more than once at each level) are often unrecoverable. The greatest loss, caused by disruption to a learning routine before, during and after a school change, is often to the child’s achievement potential. Not only is he distracted from his studies but, just as critical, his affiliation with a school that provides accountability, positive esteem from a sense of belonging and learning momentum is impeded.
A typical HOPE student, upon enrollment, has switched schools several times during his school career. Regardless of their ages: 37% of 1st graders attended at least 2 schools; 49% of 2nd-5th graders attended 3 or more schools in the past 3 years; 53% of 6th graders attended 3 or more schools; 33% of 10th graders attended 3 or more schools. These numbers, when viewed in light of the impact noted below, confirm that community action for mobility awareness has reached a critical point.
• It takes a minimum of 4-6 months for a student to recover academically from each school change
• Highly mobile students score up to 20 points lower on standardized tests
• On average, changing schools lowered the GPA of Hispanic students by .541 on a 4.0 scale
Students who switched schools were 35% more likely to have failed a grade (Felner, R., Ginter, M. & Primavera, J. 1981. The Journal of the American Medical Association.)
In a study on the broader impact of student mobility, researchers noted that highly mobile students are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities, are more likely to have behavioral problems and are more likely to drop out of school. (Tucker, C. J., Marx, J. & Long, L. 1998. "Moving on": Residential mobility and children's school lives. Sociology of Education, 71(2), 111-129.)
The cycle of mobility robs a student of the very foundation that can prevent the burden to society that his lack of education will otherwise cause. After several school changes, students can easily be entrenched in a cycle of evaluation and remediation that ultimately stunts achievement.
HOPE understands the link between stability and achievement. We know that students who stay with us for more than one year make strides in their academics. In 2011, students who were enrolled for one year or more in HOPE increased their CSAP scores in reading (+6.5 percentage points), writing (+3.2 percentage points) and math (+6.5 percentage points). Furthermore, on this year’s TCAP, 33% of 3rd grade students in their first year at HOPE scored unsatisfactory in reading, while only 17% of their peers who have attended HOPE for more than one year did the same.
As we have for seven years, we will continue to engage community in the classroom and in the battle against student mobility. We know that many of our families, due to economic hardship, must move frequently. But with HOPE Learning Centers located in many neighborhoods, a student can transfer from one Learning Center to another but remain within HOPE and still progress. Together, we are making inroads. All of us – educators, community members, parents and students – must continue reducing the impact of switching schools.
If students in our community must move, let’s make sure they continue moving toward achievement.
Heather O’Mara serves as CEO, and Ruth Márquez West serves as Communications and Public Relations Coordinator for Hope Online Learning Academy Co-Op.