Ten years ago, few school districts paid attention to the problem of mobility and how it affected students academically, says education researcher David Kerbow.
But in the last few years, districts have begun to address the issue on a systemwide basis.
“You see it written about more and talked about more. There are policies about it. It is not high on the agenda, but it is at least now on the agenda,” says Kerbow, the lead researcher on a major 1994 study of mobility in Chicago Public Schools conducted by the University of Chicago and the now-shuttered Chicago Panel on School Policy. Today, that report is used by other researchers as a template for how to study the issue. Kerbow says he gets calls once a month from districts working on the issue.
In 2003, the Fund for Colorado’s Future, a non-profit civic and education group, commissioned a study of mobility in Denver Public Schools and bordering districts.
As part of the study, researchers followed 7,000 Denver Public Schools 5th-graders and found that over three years, 57 percent of students switched schools at least once; of those, 29 percent moved twice or more. Of students systemwide who switched schools, Hispanic students were more likely to move to lower-performing schools than black or white students.
Researchers made three recommendations: implement a statewide tracking system to keep up with students if they move; have schools develop a plan to meet the needs of new transfer students; and examine, and possibly reallocate, funding for low-income students, who were found to be the most mobile.
Colorado has since put a tracking system in place and begun giving schools additional dollars to use as they see fit for highly mobile students. However, there is no state oversight for these funds, and schools self-report how they use the money.
The state hasn’t required schools to develop a plan for mobile students.
“We are a strong local-control state. Every district can adopt a plan or not,” explains Terri Rayburn, the executive director of the Fund. Some schools may have crafted plans, Rayburn adds, “but we can’t say how many.”
With a student tracking system now in place, Rayburn says the Fund may examine mobility again.
In Columbus, Ohio, the Columbus Foundation sponsored two studies in 2003 and 2005 and, as a result, sought to lower mobility with multiple strategies—convening a two-day summit to develop solutions, creating a group to examine policies that might affect mobility, and initiating a campaign of public service announcements, posters and parent education groups.
So far, officials credit the strategies with producing a 7 percent reduction in mobility.
With charter schools and vouchers making inroads in the city, those results are significant, says Lisa Courtice, a vice president at the Foundation. “Our public schools are losing students, so a reduction in mobility meant a lot to us.”