Barriers for Homeless Students at School

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I recently wrote about the growing trend of homeless youth. Homelessness has serious negative consequences for the lives of these young people. It can negatively impact educational attainment, especially a student’s ability to “remain focused, graduate on time, and complete the more rigorous courses.”

Instability of residence often leads to increased school mobility—41% of homeless youth will attend two different schools in a year and 28% will attend three or more. Research shows that “school mobility has a negative effect on academic achievement, including lower scores on standardized tests and higher dropout rates.” One survey from Seattle found that 63% of homeless students had six or more absences from school and at least one course failure in 9th grade.

The graph above shows that homeless students have graduation rates lower than all other subgroups, except foster children. The gap between graduation rates is as large as 30 points in Washington.

The rising number of students experiencing homelessness requires greater action from policymakers at the national, state, district, and school levels. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law in 2015 by then President Obama contains measures on public health and addresses many of the issues raised by youth experiencing homelessness. ESSA reauthorizes the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which established the federal government’s involvement within public school education from K through 12. One example of aid to homeless students within ESSA is the increase in funding for grants that may be used to help homeless students to attend and participate in school. This is something but is not enough. America’s Promise Alliance urges schools and districts to better identify homeless students, further support students to stay in school, and connecting students to outside supports.

Feature image graph from Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools, p. 12. 

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