Frequent moves hinder children’s early education

The present housing crisis has disrupted the residential stability of families, which is adversely affecting many children’s educational development, according to researchers at Peabody College.

“The disruption of changing homes correlates with lower test scores across elementary and middle school,” said Adam Voight, lead author of a study whose results were published in the journal Educational Researcher.

“Moving during the foundational years of one’s reading education (K-2) is associated with a lower trajectory of reading scores from third to eighth grade. Math scores are more sensitive to same-year moves,” he said.

The rising tide of homelessness and mobility among low-income students in America poses a serious challenge for educators and policy makers at every level, from the classroom to the state and federal departments of education, according to researcher Beth Shinn, professor of human and organizational development.

“Affordable housing is critical to children’s success in school,” she said. “When families have to move around or when they become homeless, children’s test scores suffer.”

The study examined how changing residences affected math and reading achievement in a sampling of urban elementary and middle-school students in Tennessee. It was conducted by Voight, a Peabody doctoral student, along with Shinn, who is chair of the department of Human and Organizational Development at Peabody; and associate professor Maury Nation.

The researchers observed some differences in the natures of the declines between reading and math.

Students who moved one or more times in the first few years of schooling suffered steeper declines in reading achievement that persisted from third through eighth grade. The persistence of the effect suggests how important it is for children to have stable routines and access to books, toys and other resources to establish foundational reading skills.

Moves between third and eighth grade tended to affect math scores more than reading scores, with negative effects that outweighed the growth that might typically be expected in a single school year.

The research provides compelling evidence that homelessness and mobility are risk factors for academic achievement, with gaps beginning early and persisting. Findings also confirmed that reading is an important foundation for later achievement in residentially mobile students.