Downward drag of student transience: Timely KC ‘mobility summit’ to examine tough problem

Students need stability to do well in school. But hundreds of young people in and around Kansas City switch schools annually, or even multiple times a year.

It’s encouraging to see the office of Mayor Sly James and his Turn the Page Kansas City educational initiative tackle the acute but under-the-radar problem of student churn. About 150 educators, housing officials and community leaders are expected at a Mobility Summit at the Kauffman Foundation on Tuesday.

They’ll receive data from Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, executive director of the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium. Her findings show that frequent transfers among schools increase the likelihood of poor student attendance and lower test scores — results that create a drag on individual schools and entire districts.

For a region like Kansas City, with a long-troubled urban school district, multiple adjacent suburban districts and a melange of charter schools and private schools, the causes of excess mobility are more apparent than the solutions.

Parents change jobs or move in search of lower rents. Homelessness is a big concern. Many families move children to different schools in search of better educational offerings, which don’t always pan out.

Students who move frequently are confronted by many curriculums, teaching approaches and sets of expectations. The effects can be devastating. Changing school even once between eighth and 12th grades can reduce the likelihood of a student finishing high school.

Some remedies could include schools sharing data, using new technology and reducing the number of school days that students must miss when they enroll in a new school district.

Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association, correctly assessed the problem, saying changing schools “is detrimental to any student’s education, and all public schools, charter and district, must collaborate and create strategies to assist every student who moves from school to school in order to provide continuity to their education.”

That’s going to be hard for schools that essentially are in competition with one another. But the task of the summit and beyond is for educational and community leaders to set aside blame and personal agendas and work for the good of the students.