Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Barriers/Mobility

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How is mobility a barrier to effective education?

One of the barriers to an effective education, mobility, all too often slips people's minds. Student Mobility can occur in many different ways such as: A student may change residence without switching to a new school, a student may change residence and subsequently change his or her school, a student may change his or her school without changing residence, etc. (Biernat and Jax). The mobility that results in a school change is the greatest threat to academic achievement and the school environment. In rural communities families are at risk of being categorized as highly mobile because: Nearly all executive and high ranking managerial positions tend to be in the cities, a higher rate of poverty exists in the rural communities, there is a current trend to “move urban”, etc.

Who Does It Affect?[edit]

Students that are considered to be highly mobile move six or more times in the course of their K-12 education and they come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some of the backgrounds are as follows: The children of migrant workers, families experiencing domestic violence, families in unstable work and home situations that result from high poverty, and military and immigrant families. Families that have a low income seem to be a significant factor with 30% of children in these families changing schools versus the 8% of those in families that are well above the poverty line (Walls).

Another group that gets hit very hard by high mobility are urban children. Students in inner city schools are more likely to switch schools frequently. “Approximately 25% of urban third graders were highly mobile compared to approximately one seventh of suburban and rural students” (Walls). Some urban schools even report student turnover rates from 40% to 80%. One of the biggest problems for highly mobile students is its effect on the academics of these students. It could take anywhere from four to six months for mobile students to recover academically from a transfer. Also they are half as likely to graduate from high school than their non-mobile peers (Walls).

These students are also known to have major problems adjusting to different school systems. As stated before, it can take students many months to settle after a major move. Research has found that student mobility is generally detrimental to student achievement (Schleicher). It has been proven that there are multiple issues involving mobility, and half are school related. Students forced to move not only have to leave their current school environment, they must leave all that they have come to know. The uncertainty that comes with having to move away from what is familiar gives children unfair disadvantages during their transfer period. Research also shows that the students that are affected are less likely to go on to higher education. High school completion is the gateway to higher education (Schleicher) and with a constant mobility problem students will inevitably have a harder time reaching their full potential. In the following section further problems of high mobility students will be discussed.

Problems for Highly Mobile Students[edit]

Frequent relocation interrupts regular attendance, continuity of lesson content, and the development of relationships with teachers and peers. This can easily lead to a feeling of isolation and can be a big issue for highly mobile students. When they are constantly moving children are not able to make friends with many people. They tend to not share strong connections with the ones they do end up befriending because highly mobile students are not used to keeping friends very long. Every time a student changes schools they have to make new friends and get to know the teachers all over again. Because of this, it is highly unlikey they will keep a lot of the friends they make. Also, moving takes time. It takes time to get things packed up, to find a new place, to actually get everything moved and unpacked, to enroll in a new school, etc. There are so many things involved in moving it makes the children of these families miss a significant amount of schooling. “According the the U.S. Government Accounting Office, children who change schools more than three times before the eighth grade are at least four times more likely to drop out of school. Another study shows successive school changes result in a cumulative academic lag -- students who move more than three times in a six year period can fall one full academic year behind stable students.”(Kerbow)

Homelessness and Its Ties to Mobility[edit]

Homelessness is another factor affecting student mobility that may not occur to us when we think about it. However, homelessness is a big factor in the mobility of students. Homeless families move frequently due to limited length of shelter stays, an ongoing search for safe and affordable housing, or a search for employment. Also, homelessness affects a child’s educational opportunities because of residency requirements (so obviously if you have no residence this causes problems), guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records. All of these factors often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school. “In a recent study of homeless children in New York City, 23% percent of homeless children repeated a grade, and 51% percent of these children had transferred twice or more.”(Institute for Children and Poverty) Poor children are also more likely to suffer developmental delay and damage than non-poor children. (Miranda)One thing that a lot of homeless children lack is a proper role model. As a teacher, showing the student proper behavior can make a drastic difference. "In poverty, discipline is about penance and forgiveness, not necessarily change." (Payne) Students in homeless families are often punished for bad behavior and then forgiven. These children are not always being taught right from wrong, so teachers have to understand that negative behaviors are a result of this. The students in these families need to be taught a separate set of behaviors for school and the street.


Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well.


So as we can see there are many ways in which mobility can be a barrier to an effective education. Whether it is because of homelessness, a parents career choice, being in an immigrant family or otherwise, students in a highly mobile environment have a much harder time in school than non-mobile students. It is for these reasons that not only do the students have to work harder, but we, as the teachers, should work harder to make sure that these students don't fall behind. We can do things such as offering after-school tutoring to help those that are lagging behind. Also, for those students who may have that feeling of isolation, we can inform them of sports or other clubs the school has that we think they might be good at. This way they get to meet other children their age and being on a team gives them a sense of belonging. So as one can see, we may not be able to do everything to help the child adjust but we can at least do some things that will make the mobile students transitions much easier.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Students are considered mobile when:
A. They change residence without switching to a new school.
B. They change residence and subsequently change schools.
C. They change schools without changing residence.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

What is the percentage of urban third graders that are considered highly mobile?
A. 50%
B. 60%
C. 30%
D. 25%

D. 25%

According to the U.S. Government office students are four times more likely to drop out or school if they change schools more than ___ times before eighth grade:
A. 7
B. 2
C. 3
D. 6

C. 3

Homeless children may have trouble enrolling in school due to:
A. Residency and guardianship requirements.
B. Delays in transfer of school records, lack of transportation, and lack of immunization records.
C. Neither A nor B.
D. Both A and B.

D. Both A and B.

According to the study done in New York City, how many homeless children had repeated a grade and how many had transferred twice or more?
A. 35% and 12%
B. 23% and 51%
C. 32% and 15%
D. 21% and 53%

B. 23% and 51%

John's father is in the military and has moved his family 3 times while John has been in high school. Compared to his immobile peers, how likely is it that John will graduate from high school?
A. 1/3
B. 1/4
C. 1/2
D. 1/6

C. 1/2

Mark is an 8th grade student that has switched schools three times since the 5th grade. He is outgoing and makes friends at his new schools, but when he leaves them he often feels:
A. Happy
B. Suicidal
C. Focused
D. Isolated

D. Isolated

Stacy is a homeless student that is trying to enroll in high school since her father just got a new job. Which is NOT one of the difficulties she will face enrolling?
A. Bullies
B. Lack of transportation
C. Delay in transfer of school records
D. Lack of immunization records

A. Bullies

Half of the causes of mobility are
A. Child-related
B. School-related
C. Work-related
D. No reason at all

A. Child related

What percentage of homeless students have to repeat a grade?
A. 23%
B. 40%
C. 35%
D. 10%

B. 40%

When teaching homeless students, teachers should
A. Be very hard on them to force improvement.
B. Choose not to teach them at all.
C. Understand their home issues and adjust.
D. Force the children on to other teachers.

C. Understand their home issues and adjust.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Discuss some of the things that cause problems for homeless children who are trying to enroll in school. Give three examples and explain why they cause problems.

Unfortunately even in America our children are not always able to get the education that they deserve. Especially the homeless children. It does not always matter what laws are pasted, or how much it is reinforced for our children to have an education. There are just some who always fall between the cracks.

Our homeless children have a great disadvantage than just those children who move due to parents career, or family reasons. Parents of children are to prove residency when enrolling their children into a school. If you are homeless though, you will not have a residency because you lack a place to live. This will not allow that child to enter into a school system causing them to slip through the cracks.

Homeless children may even lack a place to shower; this would cause certain odors and lower the self-esteem of the children. Even though they may be able to enroll in a school and attend, lack of ability to shower may prevent children from attending schools. A lowered self-esteem will not help children who do attend school focus on the material, thus this will lower the chance of homeless children learning even if they are in school.

Another thing that will not allow the homeless children to learn may even be the lack of food. If children are hungry or malnourished then they are worried about eating or finding food. This is drawing less attention to the teacher and the material. Thus again allow the children to fall in between the cracks of the system.

As you can see homeless children really need the help of the school system, not only for education, but even basic living needs. Many schools have free lunch available to low-income families in which homeless children in school would qualify for. Most middle and high schools have showers for bathing after gym class, homeless children could come and bathe early before school starts, and if homeless the school system could work with parents to find them a job and help with to provide a stable living place. These are some problems with suggestions on solutions so that our homeless children do not get left behind. —Julia Marable

It is truly a sad occurrence when every child is not given equal opportunity to be schooled and educated. Homeless children are immediately working from behind in regard to achieving their education.

There is no substitute for a string environment where a child feels protected and secure. In this regard homeless students are extremely hurt in their educational experience. When students grow up with a safe environment they can focus more on their studies and less on whether or not they will safely make it through the night. Also the prospect of going home is often a comforting view for students, and without that sense of peace students will spend more time worrying about the idea of going home than being properly prepared for classes.

Another problem that these students will have is the lack of available study area. Without a strong home environment students will struggle to be able to properly prepare work. Homeless students will run into the trouble of having proper lighting in which to do their work. Also students will be forced to rush their work while there is still enough light to do required reading, and other activities.

One final problem for homeless students is a lack of school supplies. Being completely dependent on others in students need supplies they will have to wait to borrow from others. A need to always borrow from others creates a sense of dependence which can be detrimental for a child trying to achieve an education. —Keith Smith