Education Opinion

Responsibility for Homeless Students

By Walt Gardner — February 18, 2015 1 min read
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As if public-school teachers aren’t already loaded down with enough responsibilities, a new law will turn them into de facto social workers (“Young, Homeless - and Invisible,” The Atlantic, Feb. 11). The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015 would amend the definition of a homeless person to include certain homeless children.

The Department of Education’s latest national survey that was conducted during the 2012-13 school year identified 1.2 million homeless students across the country. Students falling into this category lacked a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” By law, every school district is required to designate “homeless liaisons” for their campuses. But according to The Homestretch, a recent documentary, these liaisons are overworked. As a result, the job falls on the shoulders of teachers.

In a way, that’s understandable because teachers are the first to notice the likely signs of homelessness in their students. But it’s one thing to identify them and another to follow through. Who is ultimately responsible? That’s what’s so troubling. The No. 1 job of teachers is supposedly to teach subject matter. How can they do so if they’re also acting as social workers?

The existence of so many homeless students also calls into question the fairness of comparing traditional public schools with charter schools. I doubt that charter schools enroll many homeless students. As a result, they wind up by default in traditional public schools, which are expected to educate them despite the huge handicaps they bring to class.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.