Ideas and Findings

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Teachers and administrators have worried for years about the increasing frequency with which urban students move in and out of their neighborhood schools.

Now, a new study suggests there is good reason to worry: All that moving adversely affects more than just the students who are actually making the moves. In schools with high rates of student mobility, the study says, the pace of instruction slows down for all children.

David Kerbow, a researcher at the University of Chicago, surveyed 13,000 6th graders in Chicago, a district with notoriously high student-mobility rates. In an average Chicago elementary school at any given point in time, Kerbow says, only half the students are still enrolled in the same school after a three-year period.

Kerbow found that the more often a student moves in elementary school, the further behind that student falls academically. By 6th grade, students who have changed schools four or more times are about a year behind their counterparts who have had more stable school careers.

But in schools with high rates of student mobility, the pace of instruction for all children begins to slow after 1st grade as teachers increase the amount of time they spend reviewing material for new students, Kerbow says. By 5th grade, these schools are offering their students a curriculum that's a full year behind that of schools with more stable populations.

Moreover, the students who leave rarely end up in better environments. Kerbow says they often wind up at nearby schools with similarly high mobility rates.

Yet, Kerbow laments, the problem of student mobility rarely gets serious consideration when schools leap to embrace new reform ideas.

"Without a certain level of stability," he writes, "it is unclear how school-based educational programs, no matter how innovative, could successfully develop and show long-term impact." Kerbow's report was published in the June issue of the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk.

A number of studies in recent months have delivered the good news that there is an average of one computer for every 10 students in the nation's schools. What the studies don't always say, however, is how many of those machines are capable of using up-to-date technology.

Quality Education Data, a private Denver-based research firm, did its own analysis of data on 84,851 public schools in 14,201 school districts. Although the 1-to-10 ratio is technically correct, the firm concludes, not all of the computers are multimedia units. In other words, they cannot use CD-ROM technology or connect students with the Internet.

The ratio of multimedia computers to students, the study says, is actually 1 to 35.

"So what you have is older machines in schools than you do in business," says Jeanne Hayes, QED's president. "The difference is significant. When we talk about competitiveness worldwide and student access to current technology, including the Internet, a multimedia computer is the tool that students need."

Why is it that in a group of children with the same academic ability, some do well in school while others don't? To try to answer that question, Marianne Miserandino, a researcher at Beaver College in Glenside, Pa., studied 77 3rd and 4th graders who scored above the median on the Stanford Achievement Test, a national standardized test.

Her findings, published in June in the Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest that students who are more successful in school tend to believe in their ability to do well and they want to learn more. The children in the study who exhibited those traits reported feeling more curious and participated in, enjoyed, and persisted longer at school tasks, Miserandino says.

In contrast, she adds, "those children who were uncertain of their ability and motivated by external reasons lost interest in school, didn't partake in as many activities, felt angry, anxious, and bored and suffered a decline in their academic performance."

Why were some of the children's perceptions of their abilities at odds with their test scores? In part, Miserandino believes, it's because they formed their self-impressions by comparing themselves with peers or teachers' expectations.

"Having ability or potential is not enough to enjoy success in school or in life," says the psychologist. "Talent and potential will be wasted unless children believe they possess ability and have the freedom to use it."

Vol. 15, Issue 41

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