Friday, November 06, 2009
We were talking about college preparation, and the various options and obstacles. In reference to a program that seems like it should work, but somehow doesn't, she mentioned that so many students move during the course of a year that it's not unusual for a majority of a class to turn over during the year. When students bounce from town to town -- it sounds like most of the moves are relatively local -- it's hard for any single program to gain serious traction, no matter how well-run it might be.
That seemed hard to accept, so I asked around on campus for the last few days to see if others had heard or seen the same thing. They had. Apparently, one of the features of our local low-income community is extremely high transience.
In a way, that helped me understand some things I'd noticed recently on campus. Last year we started putting chairs in unused parts of hallways for students to use; they've been full almost without interruption, since literally before they were unwrapped. The library is standing-room-only. The outdoor benches are often full, even on cold days, and even without smokers. Although the college was built for commuter students, some students are starting to use it as a home away from home. If the regular home is precarious, that makes sense.
The stereotype of urban poverty is of an entrenched underclass that gets stuck in place. This seems to be the exact opposite; these students may be a lot of things, but 'entrenched' isn't one of them. They move a lot.
From the high school's perspective, constant churn in the student body makes meaningful educational interventions incredibly hard to sustain, since all that turnover defeats the sustained focus you need to make real progress. (In the era of mandatory statewide tests, this has direct consequences for the schools.) It's hard to form bonds with teachers or counselors when you switch schools twice a year.
From the students' perspective, of course, it's a disaster. I imagine that it's driven by delicate family situations and shaky economics, each of which brings issues of its own. And moving, in itself, is a major hassle.
I don't really have an easy solution for this. We don't have the money, land, or political will to build dorms. And even if we did, they wouldn't help the K-12 students. But I'm starting to appreciate the new chairs a little more.
The mobility rate is only that *low* because we allow students who have moved during the year to remain at their home school until the end of the year, although there are significant obstacles to families taking advantage of this (transportation, primarily).
And yes, when summer mobility is included, grade schools in particular can have an entirely different 2nd grade than they had 1st grade.
Anon, there IS a statewide curriculum (or rather, "learning standards," things they're meant to have mastered by the end of year X), but moving all schools in lockstep in terms of curriculum would be practically impossible and politically untenable. One big problem that we've had is that one of our high schools got sent into NCLB restructuring and now has a specialized "turnaround" curriculum that is not remotely like the curriculum at the other high schools, so students have a very difficult time transferring out. And of course everyone wants to add charters, year round school, etc., but it all complicates the transfer issues.
Needless to say, an existence like this would be very de-stabilizing for the kids even if they were always in the same school district. Which they usually aren't.
(Word verification: "taxon". Apparently I should get back to work!)
Eyebrows McGee has access to published student mobility numbers and a supervisory duty; have they done any digging into the trustworthiness of the numbers, or just taking it on blind faith?
If not statewide, why not nationwide, you say? Well, then what about the poor kid who came from Mexico and had to take US history as a senior rather than a sophomore? What about the kid from Somalia who has been working on a farm for the last 5 years instead of attending school? Even if we could get The Entire World (and possibly Mars) to agree on a k-12 math curriculum, it could never, ever happen in subjects like history where it's just calling out for localization, not to mention that people who are herding animals in Africa truly don't need calculus to an even greater degree than liberal arts majors at US universities don't need it.
I'm really not sure what the solution is for k-12 with high transient populations. I just know it drove me crazy trying to teach challenging college-prep mathematics in a low-income high school under those conditions, because the prerequisite pieces were never in place.
What I always envied colleges for was that they could tell a transfer student that it hurt them to transfer midway through like that and that it might now take them longer to graduate because the standards were different. In high school it seems that we're supposed to pull a graduation-rabbit out of our hat for these kids.
The entire system need an overhaul. Even within a high-taxed district it is shocking how unbalanced the schools are in terms of academics and extras. The new directive in my district is to teach the kids how to find information (due to technology) rather than actual know things. I believe that this is going to disadvantage children even more in a global society.
While there are some very LOOSE national standards, each state has to have some standards thanks to NCLB. Where it gets exquisitely politically tricky is in science. You can imagine evolution is a non-starter in the Republic of Texas (*snark!*) and the land too big to be an insane asylum (South Carolina).
Typically, when the feds decide to nationalize educational standards, a specific model is held up. I would rejoice if it were Vermont and probably be suicidal if it was Texas.
Simply put, while NCLB is increasingly a policy straightjakcet, states still call the curricular tune (not the local schools and not the feds) in K-12 education. Unless the feds are willing to dump a trillion dollars or so into public education to develop a coherent and measureable national curriculum, well....
Yes; low-income families are subject to incredible housing insecurity and have been for a long time.
Anon: We get classroom-by-classroom breakdowns and can go county bodies in the classroom. Drop-out and mobility numbers locally involve so many agencies -- the police (truancy), housing authority, school district, school lunch programs and WIC -- that it would be difficult to massage those numbers. Plus if you don't know where your "mobile" students go, they're drop-outs. Plus most of our mobility is in-district, but again, that's a local feature.
When you are trying to decide between the electric bill and the gas bill, the internet bill has probably already fallen by the wayside. They've all fallen off before you stop paying rent. Many of these students move because their parents can't consistently afford rent so they move in and out of relatives' apartments.
Some of them may have internet at home at any given time, but we can't even assume consistent phone service (half of the numbers from the beginning of the year will be disconnected by the time I make calls in December to parents whose kids need to put in an extra push over winter break to catch up) so I doubt their net access is stable. This leaves aside the issue of having a computer, which is still not a given (but becoming more common, especially since my town has a program where low-income folks can earn a used Linux box through volunteer work).
This leaves aside any issues involved with online education more generally, because that's really Another Post Than This One.