No Longer Homeless, but Still Struggling in School

For homeless children, the negative effects don’t end when they move into a new home.

Formerly homeless students continue to struggle in school for years, scoring as poorly on state tests as their peers with no place to live, according to a study from the Education Trust-New York released on Monday by a coalition of groups from around the state.

This study emphasizes the challenges facing New York City, where 10 percent of public school students were homeless at some point during the last school year, but also makes clear that this is not just a city problem. Across the state, more than 148,000 children were homeless during the last school year, and that number is widely considered to be too low.

The analysis looked at the 2015-16 results for the annual reading and math tests given to third through eighth graders. It identified more than 90,000 students who took the test — 10 percent of the total test takers in the state — as children who were either currently homeless or had been homeless at some point since starting school in New York. Homeless students could have lived in temporary housing, such as shelters or hotels, or doubled up with family friends.

While statewide, 40 percent of students who had never been homeless scored as proficient on the reading test that year, only 20 percent of homeless students passed. The percentage was the same for formerly homeless students. Many children cycle from being homeless, to having a home, and then right back again.

The numbers in math were similar: 42 percent of students who had never experienced homelessness scored as proficient, while 19 percent of homeless and formerly homeless students did so.

“This should be an area of urgency,” said Ian Rosenblum, the executive director of the Education Trust-New York.

Another significant finding in the study was how big an impact a school district, or a school can have. Students who were homeless in New York City did better over all on both the reading and math tests than students who had never been homeless in Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester.

In New York City, 19 percent of homeless students passed the math test as did 20 percent of formerly homeless children. Students who had never been homeless passed at a rate of 40 percent. But in Rochester, just 9 percent of students who had never been homeless passed the math test. Formerly homeless and homeless students passed at a rate of just 4 percent. In reading, the numbers were similar.

“Our outcomes are nowhere near where we want them to be as far as on-time graduation and achieving competencies,” said William G. Clark, president of the Urban League of Rochester, which is part of the coalition that released the report. “And our homeless and formerly homeless students are only at half of that.”

The Education Trust found that there are schools where homeless students did better than statewide averages — there were 169 schools where this was the case in math and 164 in reading. A vast majority of those schools were in New York City, and about a third of them were charter schools.

“When we see these very successful schools that have reached homeless students, it really is a bright spot,” said Anna Shaw-Amoah, principal policy analyst at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. “It’s a point we need to be making, that these low proficiency scores we’re seeing over all really can rise up. It doesn’t need to be that way.”

Abja Midha, the deputy director of the Education TrustNew York, visited a few of the schools where homeless students performed well. She said that while each approach was tailored to that school’s particular community, they all used targeted academic help and intensive engagement with the families, and tried to address the social and emotional needs of their homeless students.

The study was written with an eye toward a federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2015. Under that law, states are required to report on the academic outcomes, like state test scores and high school graduation rates, for students in temporary housing. The coalition that released the study, which advocates on how best to implement the new education law in New York, includes civil rights, education and business organizations from around the state.

“Our coalition believes that the reason E.S.S.A. is so important is that it provides an opportunity to shine a light on how well schools are doing for every group of students,” said Mr. Rosenblum of the Education Trust. “As we think about what groups of students are particularly vulnerable, it’s clear that the education system needs to do a better job of serving students in temporary housing and formerly homeless students.”

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