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The United Sates has a long history of searching for utopian possibilities of public school, amidst a steady stream of population mobility. Horace Mann proclaimed that schools would be able to assimilate the millions of immigrants arriving during the late 1700’s. He promised that schools could end poverty, crime and social injustice. Today, public schools continue to serve a revolving door of students and most agree there may be little that can be done to prevent student mobility amidst the complexities of a growing global economy, immigration and the increase in children living in poverty. The challenge for the public school system is to create technical solutions to address the needs of mobility students, while meeting the growing demands of NCLB.
The purpose of this concurrent mixed methods study was to gain information about post-move functioning of mobile students by converging both quantitative (broad numeric trends) and qualitative (detailed views) data. In the study, quantitative data were used to measure the collective academic achievement of students who had attended their elementary schools for less than one year at the time of testing in comparison to the total school achievement in Math and Communication Arts based on results from the MAP (Missouri Achievement Program) Test from 2008-09. In the second phase, qualitative interviews were used to probe significant quantitative findings by exploring the needs of mobile students with ten elementary principals. Furthermore, a historical view of the effects of mobility was gained from the experiences of adults born during five different decades (1940’s through the 1990’s) who moved a minimum of three times during their elementary school years.
The quantitative results of this study illuminate the long standing belief that changing schools is detrimental to the academic attainment of students. A significant gap in academic performance was found in both Communication Arts and Math between students who had been in their schools for the entire school year and those who had not.
The qualitative learnings from this study suggest the need for educators to assess and compensate for gaps in the social capital of mobile students. Educators often have wondered why some students from the poorest of homes can move from school-to-school, obtain their academic goals, and become contributing members of society. The findings of this study suggest that students who are successful, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or gender, have tapped the resources around them to create a social capital bundle. Some children draw their social capital from financial resources, some from strong parental support, some from church and community activities and some from deep creative roots. The results suggest that the combination of these social capital sources is the foundation of individual student success.