Simple steps to ease mobility

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As part of the research for this issue on student mobility, Catalyst called the three elementary schools with the largest increases in stability in recent years and the three with the largest decreases—just to get a sense of what was going on. To our surprise, the principal at one of the schools with high and increasing student turnover said he didn’t even know that his school had an extraordinary mobility rate. Not to our surprise, his attitude was, I’ve got more important things to worry about. “I’m focusing on trying to raise scores,” he said. As Catalyst Associate Editor Debra Williams writes in the lead article, student mobility generally has been accepted as a problem with no solution: Families move. What can schools do?

As Williams also reports, some schools have begun to answer that question: Tell parents that stability is important to their children’s education; make sure parents know what the school’s attendance boundaries are; explain to parents the school system’s transfer policy, which allows a student to stay at a school until the end of the year if a parent or guardian provides transportation. If every school could muster such an effort on behalf of students who might leave them, every school might see fewer new students arrive mid-year.

Of course, the revolving door will never stop. But there are steps schools can take to ease the transition for students who do transfer and minimize disruption to the classrooms they join. On page 12, Loyola University Professor Leonard Jason shares tips, including assigning a buddy, convening a transfer-student support group and training parents to serve as tutors.

There is no one, neat solution for the problem of student mobility, just a handful of small but significant actions that will spare some children some turmoil in their educational lives.

Despite their rush to get things done, Chicago’s new school leaders generally have managed to avoid tripping over their own feet, until Feb. 21. That’s the day Chief Executive Office Paul Vallas and Chief Education Office Lynn St. James sent a letter to all elementary school principals telling them they should “plan to purchase an additional hour of instruction time” or “consider restructuring their day.” Someone didn’t do his or her homework. Purchasing an extra hour would bankrupt serious improvement efforts at many schools; no restructuring that we’ve seen would add an hour.

As we report in Updates, the administration now is saying that the longer-day directive is only for schools in remediation or on the state’s watch list. Further, simply returning to the traditional schedule of 45 minutes for lunch and dismissal at 3:15 will suffice, instead of 20 minutes for lunch and dismissal at 2:30. While the traditional schedule doesn’t add time, it probably means less teaching time is sacrificed to routine activities like lining up for lunch.

So, no harm done after all. Just a little discomfort over central office’s itch to play Mr. Fix-it.