Talk with school superintendents and principals, and by and by they launch their own version of an altar call. They show the light and pray you arrive at a moment of recognition. They say: Yes, we have the future in our hands. Yes, we embrace the responsibility to teach and guide and inspire. But we can’t do this alone. We need more parents involved. We need children who are not coming to us hungry or angry. We need children who know that someone cares what becomes of them. We need communities to step up, to do the things they need to do outside school, so we can do what we need to do inside. We need. …
Educators talk quite readily about the material needs — the money, the books, the technology, the buildings and so on. But they are careful — lest they come across as trading in excuses — not to tell us bluntly, as communities, to take the blinders off and understand the struggle they and their students face in the effort to meet the charge to give everyone a fair shot at a decent education.
Let’s consider one of those odds: the number of students who move in and out of schools and districts during the school year and the frequency of this occurrence. When superintendents say they can’t do it alone, when they plead for communities to step up and help, this is part of the light they seek to shed on situations that can easily cripple the future.
A year ago almost to the day, administrators in the Akron Public Schools presented a Leadership Akron class with an exercise using profiles of students, one of whom they called Mary.
Mary started kindergarten on time, at age 5. She attended a different school in Akron each year for the first three grades. She spent some of fourth grade in a school out of state and the rest back in Ohio, in a different county. Fifth grade was a blur for Mary. She spent half of it in a new school in Akron, and the other half out of state — and out of school. Returning to Akron again, she repeated fifth grade, starting in one school, transferring to another and then going back to the first school. She stayed put in the same school for the sixth and seventh grades, started eighth grade in a different school and finished middle school in a district out of state.
Altogether, Mary bounced in and out of 11 elementary schools as her family’s living arrangements changed. “Mary” was not a figment of an administrator’s overactive imagination, unfortunately. She was not an item to embellish a scenario. She was, in fact, a student who had made it to high school, interruptions and all. Her record of high mobility was real.
It would be easy to examine Mary’s profile above and conclude it is unusual and does not accurately reflect the challenge such interruptions pose to school systems.
But you might ask reasonably how a student settles down enough to catch up with her classmates if she moves two, three or more times in a year. (Disregard for the moment the emotional toll of having to adjust constantly to new environments, new faces, new expectations.)
You might ask how a teacher controls the rhythm of teaching and learning when the classroom has a revolving door, with students arriving and departing at different times during the year. Or you might wonder what impact the traffic has on the students who must learn to accommodate the disruptions.
Student mobility is a problem outside the control of school systems, but we hold them responsible, all the same, for the consequences of the disruptions. Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Community Research Partners released the first statewide study of student mobility in Ohio, providing much needed hard data and critical perspective to this issue.
The report, “Student nomads: Mobility in Ohio’s schools,” analyzed data from districts and charter schools in the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo metro areas to establish mobility and stability rates over a two-year period.It found “nomads” in all types of districts, the prevalence “considerably greater than most of us appreciate or fully understand” and verging on the epidemic in inner-city schools. It also established the link among poverty, high mobility and lower test scores and passage rates.
Educators can’t stop people from moving. But they can show them how the disruptions make a difficult task harder.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at email@example.com.