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New Report Describes Shortcomings in Supporting Homeless Students

New Report Describes Shortcomings in Supporting Homeless Students

A report from the Independent Budget Office of New York City looks into why chronic absenteeism is such a problem for the roughly 82,000 students who comprise the city’s homeless population and what changes can be made for improvement. The report, which focuses on the city’s largest school district, makes a good read for other district administrators looking to make changes to help improve the quality of education for homeless students.

"While analysts have pointed to many potentially negative educational impacts resulting from living in temporary rather than permanent housing, this report focuses on very low attendance rates, particularly for students living in shelters,” the report says in its introduction.

Chronic absenteeism, the report notes, "is associated with lower academic achievement, increased drop-out rates, and reduced college and career preparedness.”

In other words, the report looks specifically at chronic absenteeism rates because it can be assumed that this phenomenon sets into motion a chain of events that ultimately limits the students’ chances at being successful later in life.


A Widespread Problem for the City’s Students in Shelter Homes

According to the report, students who live in the city’s shelters are most likely to be chronically absent from school.

Because shelter system rules conflict with parental responsibilities to ensure children are in school, children who live in shelters are more likely to miss 20 or 30 school days a year as a result.

”The overall shelter environment . . . creates additional burdens for families and interferes with school preparation and readiness,” the report says.

More generally, the report outlines the frustrating process that goes along with moving from temporary placement to temporary placement, often orchestrated by the city itself.

"School administrators . . . expressed frustration that more and more families seem to be moved into short-term placements, which increased disruptions to schooling.”

"As one principal commented, students and families were increasingly uprooted during a process that was intended to help them find a more secure placement, bringing even more stress."

Another anonymous city principal discussed concerns over an inability to let families with school-aged children live in shelters for the term of the school year to ensure normality for the kids.

". . . at least if there are school-age children let the timeline be for the year of the school . . . so that you’re not disrupting the education of those children.”


Dirty Clothes and the Correlation Between Chronic Absenteeism

The report also discusses a problem that has been recently identified as a big factor contributing to why homeless students stay home: dirty clothes.

"Five of six parent coordinators interviewed said that they noticed that not having clean clothes could discourage families from sending their children to school,” the report said.

Including laundry machines within schools was found to be an impactful way to provide students with clean clothes and therefore boost attendance.

"Laundry machines were a source of pride among staff throughout this school and named as a key support for student attendance.”

"The school’s community schools director said that the service was not just an economic relief for families but an example of the school’s commitment to caring for their basic needs.”


Insufficient Child Care, Going to School Hungry, Long Commutes Identified as Additional Factors

Another factor identified as a reason homeless students miss more school is because an inability of parents to find affordable, convenient and quality childcare left them scrambling to meet work and school demands.

Increasing access to quality childcare, it should be noted, is one of the only bipartisan issues in this presidential election as political leaders address growing concerns for this desperate need.

Hunger and long commutes as a result of living a transient lifestyle and frequently switching locations were also identified as factors contributing to absenteeism.


An Overburdened System, a Lack of Coordination

The report points a finger at an overburdened system for failures to acknowledge and remedy such problems.

Overall, the report details the need for a systematic approach to addressing the absenteeism among homeless students.


"Ongoing issues range from improving the coordination of efforts by the education and homeless services departments to meet the needs of students in temporary housing to ensuring schools have the necessary resources to assist these students—especially in schools with high concentrations of homeless children.”

"Addressing these and other challenges could help homeless students overcome the unique obstacles they face in getting to school and achieving classroom success.”

Read the full report.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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