Home > Uncategorized > This Just In: Homelessness Contributes to Academic Challenges… and in NYC 10% of Students were Homeless at some point in 2016-17

This Just In: Homelessness Contributes to Academic Challenges… and in NYC 10% of Students were Homeless at some point in 2016-17

October 11, 2017

Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes matter-of-factly reports that in the NYC School District one in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year and matter-of-factly describes the impact of homelessness on the students:

The upheaval in the home lives of students in temporary housing often follows them into school. Many of them frequently change schools as they bounce from one temporary living situation to another. Many are placed in shelters far from their original school, which means they must either transfer midyear or commute long distances each day. Many students regularly arrive late or miss days of school altogether.

Those stresses harm their academic performance. A report released this summer by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness found that homeless students passed the state English tests at about half the rate as their peers who had permanent homes. Homeless students who were designated as English Language Learners generally took longer to become proficient in the language. On average, the report found that one-third of homeless students miss the equivalent of a month of school. Students living in homeless shelters had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism, meaning they missed more than 10 percent of school days.

Liz Cohen, chief of staff at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, said that while most of the city’s homeless policies are aimed at getting people housed, the academic damage can linger long after students find a place to live.

“The data shows that for multiple years after a student becomes housed, they have increased rates of chronic absenteeism and decreased academic performance,” Ms. Cohen said. “That experience stays with them.”

The data on the absenteeism and the transience of homeless children is only part of the story. The schools attended by these children are “graded” based on how well all of their students perform on standardized tests. Unsurprisingly, if a school is located in a neighborhood where there is a lot of churn in the housing market due to parents failing to pay rents, or a neighborhood where there is a homeless shelter that provides temporary housing, or a neighborhood where previously homeless children reside, their test scores will be lower because of the impact of homelessness on academic performance. Moreover, the parents of homeless children, who are concerned with keeping a roof over their heads, food on the dinner plate, and clothing on the backs of their children are unlikely to have the wherewithal to apply for the charter schools that “reformers” see as the solution to those stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. Those who advocate “choice” as the solution to poverty often have a choice as to where they live, what kinds of clothes their children will wear to school each day, and what kind of food they will serve. Children and adults need food, clothing, and shelter first… “choices” can come later.


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