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Education Opinion

The Plight of Homeless Students

By Walt Gardner — January 24, 2018 1 min read
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A new groundbreaking study put the number of homeless students ages 13 to 17 at about 700,000 nationwide (“The hidden homelessness among America’s high school students,” the conversation.com, Jan. 4, 2018). It’s hard to understand how these students can be expected to function in school.

When young people lack the basic necessities, their ability to learn severely suffers. They don’t necessarily live on the street or in a shelter. They also double up in motels, trrailer parks and campgrounds. Doing homework becomes nearly impossible under such conditions. Yet we fail to take their plight into account when evaluating schools.

I had a black student in my first-period English class who routinely asked me if he could go to the school library. He explained that he was exhausted from a lack of sleep because he worked on the docks after school and wanted to nap. He was too ashamed to ask the school counselor for help. We assume that all students go to school well nourished, clothed and rested. But that is not always the case.

Their precarious situation has direct implications for school accountability. I don’t know how we can expect schools to post positive outcomes when they enroll these young people. Teachers can and should be on the alert to identify those most in need. But they have not been trained to make up for the deficits homeless students 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.


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