In my last post I highlighted two districts that are equalizing opportunity to learn and increasing teacher collaboration through districtwide curriculum and assessments. Across schools, the same knowledge and skills are being taught, and the same expectations are being met.

Imagine what it would be like to have to transfer schools mid-year in one of those districts. Making new friends, getting to know new teachers, and dealing with whatever family upheaval caused the move are hard enough. The one good thing about the transfer is that you would not be lost in class. Your new teachers would be teaching the same curriculum, and they would have detailed information on your prior performance.

It’s a shame this level of coordination is so rare—for schools transfers are not rare, especially in urban areas. A new report summarizes the available data, finding that two-thirds of elementary school students change schools, with 24% changing schools two or more times. The effects are devastating:

One paper … summarized the findings from 16 studies (9 of which were identified as methodologically strong) conducted since 1990. The study found that even one non-promotional school move both reduced elementary school achievement in reading and math and increased high school dropout rates, with the most pronounced effects for students who made three or more moves….

One study that tracked a cohort of preschool students in Chicago for 25 years found that students who made non-promotional school changes between kindergarten and 12th grade were less likely to complete high school on time, completed fewer years of school, had lower levels of occupational prestige in their jobs, experienced more symptoms of depression, and were more likely to be arrested as adults. The impacts of mobility were above and beyond the impacts of associated risks such as poverty and residential mobility, and were more severe for transfers between the fourth and eighth grades….

A high school student who participated in a comprehensive study of mobility in California commented:

Moving and changing schools really shattered my personality. I feel like there’s all these little things I picked up from all of the different schools and I feel all disoriented all the time. There’s no grounding. I always just feel like I’m floating.

And, … one study in Texas found that student turnover, especially during the school year, adversely affected student achievement not just of mobile students, but everyone in the school. Moreover, the effects were larger for poor and minority students.

Would a districtwide curriculum solve these problems? No. But it would certainly help with the intra-district transfers. A statewide instructional framework—which specifies certain topics for each subject and grade, but leaves room for discretion at the local level—would also help. Maybe that teenager from California would not feel so fragmented if he had the opportunity to read whole novels, conduct whole science experiments, and create whole art projects, even while changing schools. Maybe he would have more in common with his new classmates if they had some shared knowledge. Maybe his teachers would be better prepared to support him if they had some notion of what he had studied in his other schools.

Maybe someday more districts and states will realize that an education is not a collection of skills to be cultivated with any content. An education is a curated, systematic exploration of the best humanity has to offer, resulting in a broad body of knowledge and content-specific abilities that enrich life. At least, that’s what it should be.

Shutterstock Image
A new school need not mean a new curriculum (photo courtesy of Shutterstock).


7 comments on “Districts Could Do More for the Most Vulnerable Students”

  1. 1
    Janice on June 23, 2015

    I am all for Core Curriculum, and have been since my college days (I even wrote a paper in my sociology class, with which my professor disagreed, vehemently, I might add.). However, I think it’s an exaggeration to say that results are “devastating” if students move from one area to another and curriculum is different. I and hundreds of people I know moved from one country to another across the Atlantic twice, and some three times, before we were in our teens. Not only did we have to learn other languages, we had to learn to live in different cultures. Consider the millions if immigrant students from Asia and Europe as well.

    Yes, Common Core is vastly superior to varied curricula across the country, but the bottom line is that as much as we would like to believe differently, school does not give us enough time to learn what we need to know. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own education. In school (not to mention at home) we need to instill in our young people that they must teach themselves most of what they need to know. First and foremost we must teach them how (and what) to teach themselves. Most of the great minds throughout history had comparatively very little formal schooling, including Socrates, Plato, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Washington, Franklin, Lincoln…

    I find that I learned 10% of what I know today in school, and I was a very good student. Discipline, motivation, and ambition are the ingredients in superior education. Poverty is not an excuse for ignorance, for books, magazines, and libraries are readily available. For most children I know, information is at their fingertips ( not like for us who had to either buy encyclopedias or spend hours in the library), yet when they do access it, via their tablets or smartphones, they have no idea what they are reading. They can’t process the information. In school they watch film versions of Great Books, often in lieu of reading them.

    Who is to say whether it’s better to read The Great Gatsby in 10th grade or the a Good Earth? Should we teach Macbeth or Othello, or King Lear, or The Merchant of Venice? Should we teach Paradise Lost at the expense of something else? Why don’t I see biographies of Washington and/or Lincoln in school curricula? Why do teachers spend months teaching one book? They may follow Common Core prescription, but students are tuned out anyway, and it just doesn’t cover enough.

    Home is where the embers of knowledge burn. School should lead a horse to water, but ultimately it’s the horse that must drink that water. In my empirical observation most (but thankfully not all) of our students are just not that thirsty.

  2. 2
    David J. Krupp on June 23, 2015

    Janice’s comment says it all. The love of knowledge and the motivation to learn must come from the home. A large section of the population of the United States are anti-intellectual. They are mainly interested in sports and socializing. They have very little respect for scholarship.

  3. 3
    Visitor on June 24, 2015

    This is the great equity elephant in the room. However I think that there is little hope of it being resolved except in a limited fashion by small networks of schools. On the one side of the debate there is a belief that in education there is a NEED to have autonomy in the classrooms. Teachers are creative and class groups are organic. To force them into a single curriculum is an unnatural and damaging straightjacket. On the other side is a strong feeling that centralization in education equals federalization and that local control is superior and required. In the meantime in one classroom they spend months building a tepee and learning Native American traditions while the same grade across the hall focuses on Westward Expansion for 2 weeks before switching to the history of aviation. That can be in one building, now imagine that issue expanding across the district, state etc. I disagree with the comment that since kids come from other places and do well this is a non- issue. The question isn’t if some can survive the experience. The question is if we can put into place a system that makes it more likely that students will learn and succeed why do we choose not to do so. Will it solve all problems, clearly it will not. Obviously the issue is more difficult for someone who is struggling and was already suffering from a lack of parental help with their studies. However even for kids not “at risk” this is an issue. One teacher does Charlotte’s Web in second grade the next year at the new school it is a third grade book. One school starts fractions in fifth grade after a move the student is a classroom where everyone already did the foundation in fourth grade; now he is a fifth grader who is behind. Is it impossible to catch up? Of course not and parents often work hard to help fill the gaps. However, many other countries have national curriculums. Some so organized that on the same day you will hear the same lesson across the country. This goes strongly against tenets in our culture of autonomy and freedom and will likely never be accepted. But to say that the students (and their motivated parents) need to fill the educational gaps and everyone else should just go home seems a defeatist attitude.

  4. 4
    Ponderosa on June 24, 2015

    To me the proper attitude is one of very modest hope. True the country is largely anti-intellectual: passionate about their “soma” (Brave New World allusion) like sports and prescription drugs, but not books. But though schools cannot raise this mass high overnight, they can and should lift it incrementally over many generations. If school makes the next generation of parents a little more literate, their kids will come to school a little more inclined to “drink the water”. They will, in turn, emerge from school slightly more literate than their parents, and so on. Of course this slow transformation will speed up if schools adopt a knowledge-centered curriculum. I fear the skills-centered curriculum may be putting this process in reverse.

  5. 5
    kim on June 27, 2015

    Being in the trenches everyday puts a different light on how I view the core. It has its perks, but it also sets many young people at a disadvantage. When looking at a mid-school move, we need to first ask if the student had any type of academic deficiencies prior to making the transition. Being that many of the students that are matriculating in our schools now were also apart of “No Child Left Behind”, we need to be a little more empathetic to their needs. The article addressed the issue from the student’s perspective…something that we often overlook. Making such a drastic transition mid-stream is enough to set anyone into to a frenzy. I do hope that the core has a much better outcome for both the students and the teachers that have to reach them.

  6. 6
    Gloria Cortez on March 22, 2018

    Yes I agree, districts could do more for the most vulnerable students. “We know that children who move frequently are more likely to perform poorly in school and have more behavioral problems,” said the study’s lead author, Shigehiro Oishi, PhD, of the University of Virginia. Henson stated, leaders have several types of power at their disposal. By being aware of the sources of power, leaders can often increase their power and improve the ways they use it (Henson, 2015). As it was mentioned in the blog, it will not solve these problems, but it would certainly help students. As educators we are ensuring that our students have all the resources available for their success. Our leaders have the power to make it happen.

    Henson, K. T. (2015). Curriculum planning: Integrating multiculturalism, constructivism, and education reform (5th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press

  7. 7
    Melody A on March 18, 2019

    I was a military brat growing up and attended 13 schools across the United States in 12 years. There were times when I was ahead of other students, but unfortunately, there were also times I was behind. The subject that I struggled the most with was in math. In second grade I was so behind that I was forced to attend summer school to catch up and not be held back the next year. This was devasting for my confidence as I usually made straight A’s in school. The DoD website lists that there are 1.3 million military children that are school-aged and going through the same struggles now that I had. The only thing that is certain is by 11th-grade students should know the information they will be tested for, for the SAT or ACT if they want to get into most colleges.

    I believe there should be a universal list of skills that should be known by the end of each grade. As others have stated, this would allow for children to be responsible for learning what they need to know by the end of each year. Having said that I would argue that educators should be allowed to teach their students the information how they want as long as they are learning it. Moving from state to state and being forced to learn multiple ways of doing the same math problem or failing because you get the correct answer, but by using a different method is ridiculous.

    We need to look at the states requiring mandating testing and see if those are helping students. Texas had had their standardized testing before most schools followed suit, but when you look at the average SAT scores they are ranked number 43 out of 51. It might do us some good to look at the top-ranked states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Illinois and see how they are doing things. I believe we can do better!

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