During the 2016-17 academic year, 1,355,821 public school students – the highest number ever recorded and an increase of 70% over the past 10 years – experienced homelessness, according to federal data released last week. Additionally, between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 school years, 20 states saw a homeless student population growth of 10% or more, the National Center for Homeless Education reports.
State report cards are now required, under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regulations, to report disaggregated data regarding homeless students, including graduation rates. Information from 44 states revealed that the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates for homeless students ranged between 45% and 88% during the 2016-17 school year, compared to a national average of 64%.
- Using its 26 State Homeless Student Snapshots, the Education Leads Home campaign – which aims to reach a 90% high school graduation rate for homeless students by 2030 – reports that the number of U.S. students who identify as homeless has nearly doubled since the 2007-08 year. And without a high school diploma, youth are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness as adults, the campaign reports.
Though the number of homeless students continues to grow, these numbers only provide a snapshot of the severity of the problem. Student or parental embarrassment or fear of being placed in foster care or jail, for instance, can skew these numbers. In a 2016 report published by nonprofit America’s Promise Alliance, the authors stated, “As high as these numbers seem, they are almost certainly undercounts. Despite increasing numbers, these students – as well as the school liaisons and state coordinators who support them – report that student homelessness remains an invisible and extremely disruptive problem.”
School leaders need to work to identify the full scope of affected students to accurately report the problem and address it on a student-by-student basis. With new ESSA regulations in place, more attention is being paid to the plight of homeless students, and along with increased accountability, new ways to help these students are showing up. Federal programs uner the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – including Head Start and Child Care and Development Fund – as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's homeless assistant programs are some places educators and administrators can start in assisting their students in need.
The number of homeless students in schools not only affects graduation rates, but it also affects chronic absenteeism rates. Housing instability has proven to be the largest predictor of chronic absenteeism, and other factors, including health issues, also play a part in students' attendance. And students who are not in school, or who manage to attend but are focused on out-of-class struggles, are not able to grow as much academically.
Some teacher prep programs now offer more in-depth instruction on how to help homeless students, and a number of schools with largeer numbers of this student population are hiring coordinators to help address their needs. In addition, some schools are opening drop-in centers to help meet students' immediate physical needs, while others are seeking creative solutions to the problem that fit indiviuals' specific situations. While schools can implement resources of their own to help these students, they can do even more with the help of community partners as both entities work together to address the problem.