Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rent subsidies for students?

A few years ago, the Memphis City Schools realized they had a problem with student migration.

The district regularly — and rightly — argues that it is challenged with educating a majority of students who come from low income families. These students might have fewer educational resources at home; they might not get enough sleep at night or enough to eat for breakfast; and they also might change schools at least once or twice a year.

All of which can contribute to lower test scores and, more importantly, stop children from learning.

Student turnover can be a serious problem, as students changing schools suffer a break in instruction. Students who haven't moved are also affected by a high turnover rate, as teachers have to take extra time with new kids.

(And in a city like Memphis where people ask "Where do you stay?" instead of "Where do you live?" it seems to betray a very transitory culture.)

MCS realized it couldn't stop families from moving around inside the city limits, but it could make its curriculum uniform district-wide so that children who did move in the middle of the year wouldn't miss anything.

But a Flint, Michigan, program is trying a very different solution. This from the NYT:

"In some of Flint’s elementary schools, half or more of the students change in the course of a school year — in one school it reached 75 percent in 2003. The moves are usually linked to low, unstable incomes, inadequate housing and chaotic lives, and the recent rash of foreclosures on landlords is adding to the problem, forcing renters from their homes. The resulting classroom turmoil led the State Department of Human Services to start an unusual experiment, paying some parents $100 a month in rent subsidies to help them stay put — a rare effort to address the damaging turnover directly."

Not only do students live in the same place for two years under the program, they also remain with the same teacher and classmates for all of second and third grade. And results from a 2004 group showed that third graders scored significantly higher on standardized tests.

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