Homelessness among students a growing issue, report shows
(District of Columbia) The homeless student population grew by 10 percent or more in 20 states between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 school years, according to a new report from a collaborative of youth advocacy organizations.
The 2016-17 academic year saw the highest number of students experiencing homelessness ever recorded, totaling nearly 1.4 million youth, after an increase of 70 percent over the past 10 years, according to researchers at Education Leads Home–a collaborative effort by SchoolHouse Connection, Civic, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness.
The report follows the release of federal data earlier this month, which showed the average graduation rate of homeless students throughout the country was just 64 percent, compared to the rate for low-income youth at close to 78 percent, and of more than 84 percent for all students.
“These gaps reflect the significant educational challenges–above and beyond poverty–that homeless students face,” said Erin Ingram, senior policy advisor at Civic, a firm that works with non-profits, universities and government agencies to support education, public health and civic engagement efforts.
“We can and must do more to remove these barriers,” Ingram said in a statement. “Students cannot afford to miss out on the critical first step of a high school diploma due to homelessness.”
Research has long shown that homelessness is one of the largest predictors of chronic absenteeism rates, low academic achievement and poor long-term health outcomes.
According to authors of the Education Leads Home report, children experiencing homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out of school than their peers with stable housing, and without a high school diploma, are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness as young adults later in life.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states are required to report disaggregated data regarding homeless students, including graduation rates. The federal data also released this month shows some states are seeing far more success in this area. Analyzing data from 44 states, researchers found that the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates for homeless students ranged between 45 percent and 88 percent during the 2016-17 school year–with a national average of 64 percent.
Using its 26 State Homeless Student Snapshots, the Education Leads Home campaign found significant gaps in graduation rates between homeless youth and their peers–with most states reporting an approximately 20 percentage point gap during the 2017-18 school year.
Some were much higher–including Minnesota, which reported a more than 37 percentage point difference; South Dakota and Maine had about a 27 percentage point difference; and Oregon and Washington State reported a roughly 26 percentage point difference.
A couple states reported much smaller gaps in graduation rates during the 201-18 school year. Delaware reported the smallest, at just about 3 percent, with Arkansas following with a gap of slightly less than 9 percent.
One of the collaborative’s key goals is to increase the high school graduation rate for homeless students to 90 percent by 2030.
Researchers noted that the drastic increase in the number of homeless students being reported may be due in part to improved school identification of homeless youth–something they said is a positive first step in ensuring those students will be able to access the support services.
Additionally, with a more accurate understanding of the breadth of student needs, researchers said that states will be better able adopt more targeted policies and implement services more likely to boost graduation rates and student achievement among homeless youth.
Barbara Duffield, executive director of the non-profit organization SchoolHouse Connection, said homelessness among students is a complex problem that cannot be addressed solely by providing housing, and that policymakers must look at the problem more broadly.
Lawmakers and school districts should look at districts succeeding in helping homeless students achieve academically, and work to learn from and replicate best practices, she said.
“Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and establishing economic mobility,” Duffield said in a statement. “It’s the only way we can prevent today’s homeless children and youth from becoming the next generation of homeless adults.”