A Moving Problem

by Guest Blogger
October 21st, 2013

Terrifying. Half-way through first grade, I was plucked out of a Montessori program that was part of the Montgomery County, MD, school district and dropped into Page Jackson Elementary School in Jefferson County, WV. Everyone was perfectly nice, helpful even—but I was a shy kid in a strange land.

Jarring is too mellow a word. Having gone to that Montessori program for kindergarten as well, I only had one concept of what school was. Page Jackson did not fit that concept. It was bigger and more traditional; finding my way from the front door to my classroom took me weeks to master. Too fearful to speak up for myself, for several days my inability to print was mistaken for an inability to write. No one ever asked if I wrote in cursive, if I had taught younger children some phonics and writing strokes, if I had memorized the times tables up to 10×10.

Lucky me—my mother was there to speak up for me. Soon enough, the ways in which I was ahead were appreciated and the ways in which I was behind were remediated.

Most children who change schools are not so lucky. The research is clear: changing schools is strongly associated with lower performance. The more kids move, the less they learn.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Now a new report, The Invisible Achievement Gap, shows that changing schools is devastatingly frequent for some of our most at-risk students: youth in foster care. Here’s a quick summary:

Only about two thirds of students in foster care attended the same school for the full school year. In contrast, over 90 percent of the low-SES [socioeconomic status] and the statewide student populations attended the same school all year. Furthermore, about 1 in 10 students in foster care attended three or more schools during the school year, a level of school mobility experienced by only about 1 percent of the low-SES and general student populations….

Students in foster care, like low-SES students, were consistently more likely than the general population to attend the state’s lowest-performing schools and less likely to attend the state’s highest-performing schools….

CST [California Standards Test] results showed that students in foster care consistently fell far short of achieving proficiency in English language arts, elementary mathematics, and the secondary mathematics courses algebra I and algebra II…. They were consistently outperformed by low-SES students. Test results for students in foster care fell into the two lowest performance levels for English language arts and mathematics—below basic and far below basic—at twice the rate of those for the statewide student population….

Students in foster care were more likely than all comparison groups to drop out.

These results are terrible! Yet these data also point to one major way to help:

The majority of California students in foster care were enrolled in just a small number of districts. Specifically, two thirds of these students were enrolled in 10 percent of the state’s school districts, with each of these districts enrolling at least 100 students in foster care.

I know it’s heresy, but here goes: All of the schools in that 10 percent of districts should teach the same core curriculum. School districts can’t prevent the need for foster care or the school transfers that result. They can make those transfers much easier on their students. If all of the schools in these high-foster-care districts shared a core curriculum, then students could change schools without having to change what they are learning. Any days missed would be easier to address, and teachers would have common ground for helping each other serve these neediest of students.

As the report states, foster care students are already likely to “attend the state’s lowest-performing schools.” This shared curriculum project could be the foundation for a renaissance for these schools. Not only would mobile students have fewer gaps in their knowledge, the districts could collaborate on instructional materials and professional development.

Districts that share students already have shared responsibilities. Why not share curriculum and wisdom too?



  1. Education disruption from school transfers could definitely be minimized with curriculum commonality, but that does seem unlikely. But with current emphasis on personalized learning and movement to competency based learning, there may be another way to ease the disruption with the help of technology.

    What if students had portable learning profiles – their individual detailed records of achievement from teacher observations and assessments, project based accomplishments, and testing results all at the individual competency level? What if those competencies were at a level of granularity equivalent to the Core Knowledge Sequence? Then, receiving schools (and teachers) would have a much easier time threading students into the new school programs without creating learning gaps or the student enduring repetition.

    Comment by Tom Sundstrom — October 21, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  2. Transferring Because of Student Teacher Ratio
    I had to change her from that school, it was too crowded. The teacher pupil ratio was ridiculous, 1:35, 1:45 etc. I am an educator and I know for sure no one teacher can manage that many students in his or her classroom. I strongly believe that at the Primary/elementary level the teacher pupil ratio should not be over 25 pupils to one teacher. I know my daughter deserves the best in her early education. Knowing that and seeing her struggle at certain things, I made the decision of sending her to a school with a more successful student to teacher ratio. Being in an overcrowded class has caused her to lose out on worthwhile hours, which are of vital importance to them at this level. I did not want my daughter to be left behind in her education; hence I had to take a stance. If you are experiencing what I had experience with my daughter, don’t be afraid to consider transferring. As long as it’s a school that has high standards and putting students first.

    Comment by Nadia — November 9, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

  3. Presently I am teaching at a much smaller school than I’m use to. The children are more involved and I am able to reach all of them.I have more time to have individual interaction with them. At the end of each teaching day as an educator I feel that more was accomplished. I truly believe that as educators our classes should not be more that 20 students. In doing this, more justice is being done to us and the students.

    Comment by Nadia — November 16, 2013 @ 11:37 am

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