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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Too much turnover foils turnaround

Milwaukee’s low-performing Carver Academy got more money, new leadership and “five years of attention from Milwaukee’s best minds in business and education,” reports Erin Richards in Lost Lessons in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. After five years, less than five percent of students at the K-8 school test as proficient in reading and math, little better than before.

Carver Academy teacher Symona Gregory works with a third-grader in May 2018. Photo: Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

High student turnover thwarted turnaround efforts, concludes Richards.

“More than a third of Carver’s students — 38 percent — were brand new to the school last year,” she writes. Of 47 third graders in the turnaround’s first year, only eight were still enrolled by eighth grade.

Student mobility is much, much higher in high-poverty schools than in low-poverty schools.

“Some transfer because their families move or are evicted or become homeless,” writes Richards. “Others switch because they didn’t like a previous school, or because of discipline matters or transportation issues.”

Few Carver students “leave for higher-performing schools,” the Journal Sentinel found. “Most continue to cycle through the city’s lowest-achieving schools year after year.”

Frequent school switches is linked “to lower academic outcomesincreased behavioral problems and a higher likelihood of dropping out,” reports Richards.

Research shows students who switch schools frequently are less engaged and make less improvement in reading than their stable peers. Churn also harms the students who stay put. One large Chicago study showed classrooms where many students moved in and out were operating a full year behind classrooms where the majority of kids stuck around.

School hopping creates chaos in high-poverty Detroit schools, report Erin Einhorn and Chastity Pratt Dawsey of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. Last school year, “the 31 eighth-graders in Bethune’s ‘8B’ homeroom had collectively attended a total of 128 schools — an average of more than four schools each.” Only three had attended the K-8 school since kindergarten.

This kind of enrollment turmoil has a debilitating impact on schools, dragging down test scores, exacerbating behavioral issues, fueling dropout rates, and making it more difficult for all children to learn — not just those who are on the move.

One in three Detroit students changes school each year.

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