Email Status

Volume 29, Number 2
March/April 2013

Addressing the High Costs of Student Mobility

Military-connected schools show how to ease the burden of frequent moves


Transition specialist Anne Gonzales meets with a new family at a school near California’s Naval Air Station Lemoore.

Research has shown that frequent school transitions hurt students’ academic performance, but work with some of the most mobile students is revealing some simple strategies that may help.

In a recent review of the literature, Arthur J. Reynolds of the University of Minnesota and colleagues concluded that “mobility was consistently associated with lower achievement and higher rates of high school dropout.” A pair of studies from Chicago and Baltimore completed in the 1990s quantified the negative impact of moves on reading achievement in particular: In the Baltimore study, “each additional move” was associated with a .11 standard deviation in reading achievement; in the Chicago study, students with four or more moves had a .39 standard deviation. Another study published in 1993 by David Kerbow of the University of Chicago made it even more concrete: Highly mobile students were as much as four months behind their peers academically in fourth grade and as much as a full year behind by sixth grade.

The potential costs of student mobility overall are even more sobering considering the number and frequency with which students move. According to a 2010 Government Accountability Office analysis, about 13 percent of students in the United States change schools four or more times between kindergarten and eighth grade.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    K. L. Alexander, D. R. Entwisle, and S. L. Dauber. “Children in Motion: School Transfers and Elementary School Performance.” Journal of Educational Research 90, no. 1 (1996): 3–12.

    Building Capacity in ­Military-Connected Schools.

    Many Challenges Arise in Educating Students Who Change Schools Frequently. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2010.

    A. J. Reynolds, C.-C. Chen, and J. E. Herbers. School Mobility and Educational Success: A Research Synthesis and Evidence on Prevention. Paper prepared for the Workshop on the Impact of Mobility and Change on the Lives of Young Children, Schools, and Neighborhoods, June 29–30, 2009, the National Academies, Washington, DC.

    C. E. Smrekar and D. E. Owens. “‘It’s a Way of Life for Us’: High Mobility and High Achievement in Department of Defense Schools.” Journal of Negro Education 72, no. 1 (2003): 165–177.