"It's Hard to Teach a Parade" By William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre. Education News. May 21, 2003.

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May 21, 2003

Itís Hard to Teach a Parade

by William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D. and Steven M. Sundre, Ph.D.
Columbus, Ohio -

In school systems across the country a major flaw exists in the rationale that holds teachers and administrators accountable for the progress of "all children" on standardized and state administered tests. Throughout the nation, one fact remains: "Itís hard to teach a parade." Put another way, schools are more likely to leave children behind when students are no longer enrolled.

Some students are moved from school to school simply because of the economics of the rent coming due. Others are moved due to divorce. Many are wards of foster care systems. Sometimes moving seems like a beneficial thing. When a family is moved due to a promotion in Mom or Dadís job the outcome can result in positive attitudes on the part of parents but the children may still have problems adjusting. Regardless of the reason, the impact of moves on academic achievement and behavior of students cannot be overstated. These children frequently bring to school more personal problems than other students.

Nearly a decade ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study conducted by Los Angeles and San Francisco-based pediatricians and statisticians. The study revealed that children who move frequently are 35 percent more likely to fail a grade and 77 percent more likely to have behavioral problems than those whose families stay in one place. David Wood, M.D., of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and his colleagues conducted a nationwide study of nearly 10,000 school-age students. The negative effects they reported include what they called psycho-educational dysfunction, delays in growth or development, four or more behavioral problems per year, failure to graduate from high school and increased rates of repeating grades. In the study, multiple socio-demographic characteristics were examined but the bottom line concluded that increased mobility of Americans hurts student achievement.

Numerous studies indicate families who are poor move 50 percent more frequently than those who are not living in poverty. In these days of increased finger-pointing and accountability for teachers, administrators and school boards, we have examined data from San Bernardino (CA) to Manchester (NH) and Osceola County (FL) to Cheyenne (WY). We find no reason to dispute the results of the medical communityís study.

Recently SchoolMatch was commissioned by our local non-profit Community Research Partners (CRP) to review administrative processes and procedures related to mobile students in one of the more transient sections of the Columbus Public School District. CRP is a partnership of our United Way, the City of Columbus and the John Glenn Institute at The Ohio State University. The mobility study, which has many other facets, is being supported by a grant from the Columbus Foundation.

Columbus not only has the highest poverty rate in our Central Ohio area it has the areaís highest mobility rate. School administrators are frequently frustrated with the transience of students. School teachers and their leaders see an important link between high mobility rates and some of the buildings with lower test scores.

In one of the interim project reports, CRP has documented evidence that in school year 2001-2002, the mobility rate for elementary schools in the Columbus Public district was a whopping 33.5 percent, while the Ohio average was 8.1 percent. This figure, called a "churning count," is calculated by simply taking the total number of school admissions and withdrawals divided by school population as of October 1st. In laymanís terms, this means that, on average, one in three students in the Columbus Public Schools changes schools each year.

CRP Executive Roberta F. Garber indicates the report, complete with recommendations, should be released sometime before the beginning of next school year.

Federal government leaders have demonstrated some understanding of the mobility problem by ruling that schools should not be held accountable for the test scores of students who have been in the school less than 120 days in that school year. Nevertheless, one Columbus teacher told us last week she believed efforts by the administration to create a common curriculum in areas such as reading are helping, but when the mobility rate gets over 50 percent, the frustration level among professional staff members escalates.

There would appear to be no higher priority than finding ways to help families and social service agencies understand that moving students from place to place hinders their educational progress. We need to find ways to reduce the disruption that results from frequent school changes.