Conservative Viewpoints

"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan

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Midyear moves affect academic life…

Posted by Stephen on February 13, 2007

That was the title of a CNN report about the difficulties that young people experience when they are forced to move from one school to another. It is especially difficult when the move occurs during the school year.
As the son of a military officer, I endured 13 different schools growing up. There are few experiences more difficult then being the new kid at a new school in the middle of the year. Parents, who typically don’t have a choice in the decision when moving, try to rationalize the change by suggesting that it will be good for them, or that they will get over it quickly. I can assure you, it is very difficult and in some cases the scares from the experience last for many years.
As I stated, many parents do not have a choice in the matter of moving, but what if they did? Under NCLB, a parent is given the option to move their child to another school if the current school is struggling to meet the expectations of the legislation. They say it is a solution. Perhaps, but there seems to be little conversation about the effects such a move has on the child.

Even in small communities where the physical move from one school to another may be no more then a few blocks away, there can be terrible ramifications for the child.

It is an intimidating experience to walk into a new school for the first time. Kids can be cruel and they waste no time ridiculing the new students. Many young people struggle academically as a result.

I was an honor roll student but every time I had to transfer to a new school my grades dropped significantly. I would recover but the emotional impact could not be underestimated, particularly when the switch was midyear and across state lines. Each state chooses its own curriculum, testing and definition of success and the new student is left to adapt, often with little support.

CNN reports that at least four in 10 students change schools one or more times by the time they are 17, on top of their normal progression from elementary and middle schools to high school. Students typically switch locations for reasons involving their parents, from job changes and marital breakups, to military assignments and seasonal work for migrants.

With an increase in ESL students, schools are finding it difficult to obtain resources necessary to teach them because it is so difficult to determine how many students will stay in school from one year to another. This directly impacts the schools ability to meet NCLB expectations.

CNN reports that at Fort Belvoir Elementary, a public school on an Army post in Fairfax County, Virginia, hundreds of its 1,300 children come and go during the year. As military dependents, they arrive from far-flung places, including Panama, Germany and Alaska, that have varying academic standards.

So the Virginia school has after-school programs, Saturday classes and volunteer help from the military to aid students. “It’s built into the system to not even be a surprise. You just make it happen,” said counselor Peggy Moore.

Research in California found students who changed high schools even once were less than half as likely to graduate as other students, even when controlling for other factors. The CNN report stated that they also were more likely to have trouble making friends and less likely to participate in after-school activities.

Even students who didn’t move were influenced, as the turnover around them affected classroom instruction and teacher morale.

The CNN report also discussed transient families. In Houston, homeless children may move four or five times each school year as their family’s shuttle between shelters. The school district identified more than 1,000 such children in 2004 and provided transportation so each could stay enrolled at one school.

CNN also reported that along the Hudson River north of New York City, many Hispanic migrant families move in during the year to make a living by harvesting apples, corn, onions and other crops. State workers seek out children in these families, direct them toward school and tutoring and ensure parents know their rights. Most school districts respond well, said David Sokolove, coordinator of the Mid-Hudson Migrant Education Outreach Program.

“We don’t want a school to see these kids as invisible, to think that their job is just to house them,” Sokolove said. “We want them to get the same priority the year-round children get.”

Schools, under pressure to make yearly progress under No Child Left Behind, have a cushion when it comes to student mobility. They only count the test scores of students who have been with them for a full academic year. The same is true for school districts and states. The idea is that schools should not be judged on the progress of children they have had little time to teach.

One concern still exists. With all the concentration on test scores there seems little invested in the human being found buried under the numbers game that legislators are playing in the classroom. Too much emphasis on test scores can cause us to lose sight of the most precious commodity in the classroom; in this case, the new student.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

Copyright 2007 by Stephen Winslow. All rights reserved.


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