THE Boston junior-high-school student says he often can't
remember the teachers or students from his last school. "I forget
what it looks like," says the boy, who is now attending his 12th
school in the last three years.
Another boy, who arrived midyear at a school in nearby
Somerville, Mass., pulled a coat over his head for the first six
weeks and refused to participate. He was at his 15th school in
Americans once held the ideal of a student attending the same
neighborhood school from kindergarten through elementary grades.
But high student mobility has become a daunting reality of the
nation's urban schools. And it is prompting a fundamental shift in
learning as urban teachers and administrators struggle to
accommodate revolving-door students, educators say. Not only are
teachers finding it more difficult to build a cohesive unit in the
classroom, but they are increasingly forced to teach a
Triggering the changes are three main forces: economic pressures
on low-income families who are on the move to find low-cost
housing; the instability of many of these families; and a lack of
parental investment in schools, which they often distrust.
Add a high rate of turnover of principals and teachers in urban
schools, says Scott Miller, the author of a report on student
mobility for the Council for Aid to Education in New York, "and the
problem of mobility is simply one layer in a much bigger onion of
A 1994 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report stated that 1
in 6 of the nation's third-graders - over half a million - has
attended three schools since the first grade. At urban schools, the
figure is often double that.
The signs of movement can be found everywhere:
In Elizabeth, N.J., 98 percent of the children at Public School
2 had spent part of the year somewhere else, according to a 1993
state Department of Education report. At another school in Jersey
City, the rate was 89 percent.
In Montgomery County in Maryland, the percentage of all students
who have attended at least two schools in an academic year has
risen to 24 percent today from 12.9 in l983.
And in Florida, where the statewide mobility rate is 37 percent,
one elementary school in Osceola County had a rate of 84 percent in
In classrooms, as students come and go, the consequence is often
a shift to more review of material. Introduction of new topics is
much slower. Transfer of students' records is often so slow that
teachers have no background on new students for weeks. And teachers
and administrators cannot evaluate the effectiveness of what they
are doing because much of the evidence continually leaves the
"Across the grades what happens is a flattening of the
curriculum," says David Kerbow, a research associate at the Center
for the Study of Students Placed at Risk jointly run by Johns
Hopkins University in Baltimore and Howard University in