Effective Systems

School Mobility in the Early Elementary Grades: Frequency and Impact From Nationally-Representative Data


This paper was prepared for the Workshop on the Impact of Mobility and Change on the Lives of Young Children, Schools, and Neighborhoods, June 29-30, 2009.

Efforts by educational researchers, policy makers, and educators to improve the quality of learning and teaching in our nation’s schools include a host of approaches, including large-scale policy initiatives (e.g. No Child Left Behind) and local efforts (e.g. teacher professional development, curricular reform, using assessment to inform subsequent instruction, among others).

The implicit assumption common to almost all educational policies, goals, and reforms is that the initiative or activity will be implemented and have an influence on a constant population of children within a district, school, or classroom. However, this assumption is often false - in reality, school populations in the United States are constantly shifting. We know that children in the United States are much more likely to change residences than children in other industrialized countries. Very often, these relatively common residential moves are coupled with school changes.

Research supports the relatively common nature of school mobility. One nationally representative study of 15,000 third-graders in 235 elementary schools found that by the end of third grade, 40% of children had moved once and 17% of children had attended two or more schools. In urban centers, school mobility is even more pervasive.