Dept. of Defense schools a model for helping mobile students

Teacher Helping Boy With SchoolworkSchools have wrestled for a long time with the academic problems presented by students who move from district to district. Student mobility is associated with lower achievement, writes Dale Titus in a recent issue of the National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, possibly because of curricula inconsistency across schools, but also because many transient students are from lower-income families.

Department of Defense schools provide a good model for how to work successfully with this population, Titus says. While some aspects of the DoDEA’s program cannot be implemented by public schools, administrators can learn some valuable lessons from the approach taken by DoDEA, he says.

The Department of Defense Education Activity operates more than 200 public schools around the world for the children of military personnel and other government personnel, overseeing approximately 8,785 teachers serving 102,600 students.

“Military families spend on average three years at one military post before they are reassigned,” Titus writes. “As a result the student population turnover rate is about 37% each year for children in military families. Despite student mobility, DoDEA students scored above average on both the math and verbal sections of the SAT I, with a 67% student participation rate.

Standardized curriculum and transition system

The high student mobility rate prompted DoDEA administrators to institute a standardized transition system to help transferring students and a system of uniform curriculum with standards-based instruction.

“Since DoDEA schools around the world share a common curriculum, students who transfer within the DoDEA system do not have to adjust to a new course load,” the author writes. 

“Continuity of instruction for all students is a basic tenet of the movement for high academic standards,” the article states. “Unfortunately for mobile students, state standards and their alignment to local curricula and instruction assume a relatively static student population.”

While it is difficult for schools to duplicate the Department of Defense model because of differences in curriculum across states and districts (DoDEA also spends $2,000 more on each student than the average and pays teachers $10,000 more), there are other features and policies schools can incorporate.

For example, when new students arrive, DoDEA schools:
• Assess students in reading and mathematics with a computer-based diagnostic program within 48 hours of  arrival;
• conduct a standardized interview to assess student academic standing if the students do not have their student and they
• provide an orientation with a guidance counselor for incoming students and assign a buddy to the new student.

To better understand the challenges high school students face when moving from one school to another, the Military Child Education Coalition conducted the Secondary Education Transition Study (SETS) for the U.S. Army.

Among the suggested best practices for local schools are:
• Timely transfer of student records;
• checklist for student transfers;
• immediate new student orientation including a transition buddy;
• access to extracurricular programs;
• communication of variations in school calendars and schedules;
• staff professional development on issues related to mobile students; and
• reciprocal graduation requirements for course substitutions, waivers, and testing.

Students should be advised of the courses and credits they will need for graduation and encouraged to take as many credits as possible to ensure graduation. Parents and students should also be informed about the problems often encountered when changing schools and how to minimize those difficulties, Titus says.

Toolkits on moving to different schools for parents, educators and special needs students are available at the website for military students

checklist for student transfers includes procedures for both sending and receiving schools to minimize the disruption caused by the transfer. A 95-page toolkit for educational leaders includes checklists and recommended resources on student mobility.

Florida and Texas have developed electronic portfolios for migrant students, the author writes, and the federal government plans to develop a national system for electronic transfer of student records that would be beneficial for mobile students. School districts should be flexible with district attendance area boundaries and provide transportation to help students remain in their schools. Academic performance of mobile students should be closely monitored.

“Despite the challenges created by student transience, many schools have not yet implemented procedures to minimize the adverse effects of student mobility,” Titus writes.

“Strategies and Resources for Enhancing the Achievement of Mobile Students” by Dale Titus, National Association of Secondary School PrincipalsMarch 2007 Volume 91 Number 1 pp. 81-97.

Published in ERN May/June 2007 Volume 20 Number 5

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