13 February 2008

Student Mobility and Likelihood of Dropping Out

The Rumberger & Larson (1998) article talks about the connections between student mobility and likelihood of dropping out of school.

This is particularly relevant for Memphis because we have both a highly transient student population (fully 1 in 3 students changes school during the school year for reasons other than grade promotion) as well as a high drop-out rate in MCS.

Highlights from the article (which uses data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey):
  • The study measures academic achievement (grades and test scores), misbehavior and high absenteeism - all factors which predicted whether students changed schools or dropped out. One of the interesting findings in their survey of dropout studies was from a Chicago school district where only 40% of students who changed schools did not change residences - meaning that student mobility was not tied to family mobility. The authors inferred that student mobility was due to behaviors and at the behest of school administrators rather than determined by family location. (Do we have any purchase on this in Memphis and Shelby County?)
  • Students who made even one nonpromotional school change between 8th and 12th grades were twice as likely not to complete school as students who did not change schools.
  • Poor children are more likely to be mobile and have problems in school. Mobility patterns vary by social class; school and residential mobility is higher among more poor children than upper-income children.
  • The most engaged students (those who feel connected to their academic community) remain in their school but the least engaged drop out, and those in-between transfer to another school - although transferring may be a stopover point on the way to dropping out.
  • The conceptual framework for Rumberger and Larson's study follows this path: school mobility is one aspect of educational stability that influences both academic achievement and educational attainment. Students who are educationally stable remain enrolled until completing high school and typically attend one elementary school, one middle or junior high school, and one high school. Changing schools can be positive - as in moving from a poorer to a more affluent school - but others can be detrimental - changing schools because of the inability to get along with others.
  • Students from single and step-parent families are more likely than students from two-parent families to change schools and drop out.
  • Students from urban schools are 50% more likely to drop out than students who attend suburban or rural schools.
  • The effects of moving and changing schools are additive: students who changed schools and moved were much more likely to not complete school or obtain a GED as students who moved but did not change schools or changed schools but did not move.
  • While students who obtain a GED are better off than students who drop out and do not pursue further education, they are also less well off than students who obtain a regular high school diploma.
  • Student mobility is a risk factor - but not a causative factor - for dropping out of school.
What this means for Memphis and Shelby County:
  • Our student population within the City of Memphis is particularly vulnerable because of poverty, urbanity and mobility.
  • We need to better understand how and why students change schools and if they also change residences, especially with students who are moved due to school closures for accountability measures.
  • We also need to understand what effect getting a GED has on our community. A GED is better than nothing, but a high school diploma is better than a GED. How can we better support students completing school?
  • How can we better assess student achievement, academic expectations and educational attainment to determine a path to success for vulnerable students in MCS especially and SCS? How does the suburbanization of our community affect the lifepaths of our students?

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