- In an article and podcast, The Hechinger Report delves into the ways that migrant education has changed across the last 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which included the Migrant Education Program (MEP).
- The program allocates federal dollars to school districts that work with and serve migrant students, and it was instituted in large part because of the impact of Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 documentary “Harvest of Shame,” which revealed the state of migrant children at a time when only 1 in 500 finished grade school, about 1 in 5,000 finished high school, and none went to college.
- Since the inception of the MEP, more children of migrant workers can break the cycle of poverty by graduating high school, entering college, and finding other forms of work.
The story of the change in fate for children of migrant workers illustrates both how federal dollars can make a difference in the lives of families and how good journalism can help affect change. Migrant families are challenging to deal with because they are generally a transient population, and the lack of educational stability often places the children at a disadvantage. Many of the families also use English as a second language, compounding the challenges for students and for teachers who try to communicate with parents.
The number of migrant families remains fairly consistent over the years and is even higher in some areas where agriculture is an important part of the economy. However, the challenges that these students face overlap with challenges of other student populations and can require similar strategies. For instance, immigrant families may be more firmly rooted to the community but have similar language barriers. And some English-speaking families have jobs or housing situations that cause them to be more transient. In many ways, these families face similar challenges to military families, which also require special handling and flexibility.
Technology can help address some of these challenges, as course work done through web-based classes or programs can be more easily transferred from one school district to another. School districts also need to be aware of slight changes to the MEP under new ESSA regulations. These changes basically involve small changes in the definition of terms and some qualifications for assistance.