Musical Chairs: A local study of student mobility

Student mobility is a term that refers to the rate at which students come and go to a particular school over the course of the year. There are many reasons that can lead a family to move during the school year, from opportunities for a better job to eviction notices, and as the children switch schools it adds to student mobility.

KCUR's multi-part series "Musical Chairs" investigates a significant but under-the-radar aspect of education -- the frequency with which students change schools during the academic year, and the challenges that arise from all that moving around. KCUR contributor Barbara Shelly immersed herself in a second grade and a fourth grade classroom in the Hickman Mills School District to learn firsthand how all this 'churn' affects students and their education. And KCUR reporter Elle Moxley adds a broader perspective.

Read more about KCUR's "Musical Chairs"

As Families Come And Go, Hickman Mills School Administrators Power Through

At Year's End, Hickman Mills Teachers Lament Missed Students And Missed Opportunities

Here's What It Means When We Talk About Student Churn In Kansas City

 Yohana Gomez, left, and her stepdad, Rogelio Romo, fill out forms in Barb Wunsch's office. Gomez started the year in Hickman Mills, moved to Kansas City, Kansas, to live with a relative, before returning to the district. CREDIT ELLE MOXLEY

Yohana Gomez, left, and her stepdad, Rogelio Romo, fill out forms in Barb Wunsch's office. Gomez started the year in Hickman Mills, moved to Kansas City, Kansas, to live with a relative, before returning to the district. CREDIT ELLE MOXLEY

The consequences of student mobility are far reaching. Moving schools is confusing and stressful for the student as they try to adjust and keep up, the change in the student body disrupts the classroom dynamics, a frequently changing classroom effects the teachers, the added stress on the teachers effects the administration, and the overall education of the student body can be jeopardized. 

Research on student mobility on the Missouri side of the of the Kansas City Metro was released in 2015, drawing attention to just how serious a problem this is. Kansas City Public schools have a mobility rate of 74 percent, the highest in the area, followed by the Hickman School District which has a 61percent mobility rate.

The study found that one in five students move to different schools at least once during the school year, and that children in low income neighborhoods are frequently forced to move. Children who change schools have poorer attendance and lower achievements than students who don’t move, but even they are affected by a changing classroom. 

 Second grade teacher Aubrey Paine helps students Ahraya and Rosemary with an assignment. ELLE MOXLEY / KCUR 89.3

Second grade teacher Aubrey Paine helps students Ahraya and Rosemary with an assignment. ELLE MOXLEY / KCUR 89.3

The consequences of student mobility has not gone unnoticed by teachers in areas with high student mobility, such as the Hickman School District. For example, Aubrey Paine’s second grade classroom at Ingels Elementary School gained thirteen new student over the course of the school year and lost five. Maintaining routines in the classroom is important to Paine, but with the ever changing dynamics of her classroom this has been brushed to the side to make room forthe constant need of basic classroom management. Even getting through the lesson plans has been a challenge because her students aren’t all at the same level, and it is difficult to invest the necessary time in catching them up when they could leave or someone else could come at any time, causing the process to start over. 

Published on