CityViews: New Chancellor Should Launch a Charter School for Homeless Students

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Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carranza visit Pre-K and 3-K classrooms at P.S. 25, The Bilingual School, on April 9.

A recent report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness revealed some devastating facts about homeless students in New York City. In the last year alone, their numbers grew by more than 20 percent from 80,000 to over 110,000. They are absent from school almost half the entire academic year. They transfer schools at least once a year; over half transfer three times or more, with each move resulting in academic setbacks. They perform significantly worse than their housed peers in math and English language arts, and they repeat grades and drop out at higher rates, with only half ever graduating from high school.
 
While these facts are devastating, what they project is even worse. If the apparent policy failures in educating homeless students are not addressed, we can expect more generations of children growing up with incomplete educations, in severe poverty, and spending much of their adult years moving in and out of homeless shelters—repeating cycles of homelessness with families of their own.
 

At present, homeless students are scattered throughout the citywide school system. Some 62 public schools have homeless student populations of over 30 percent—and the percentage is significantly higher at 40 of these schools. The placement of these students throughout the city has created a significant, yet ignored, policy challenge.

Homeless students have a unique set of educational, physical, and emotional needs which are not being addressed in any significant or systematic way.  As a result, most of them experience educational setbacks for no other reason than being homeless. Because they miss school so often they get labeled disruptive, problematic, or slow learners. In fact, many if not most of these students are—at their core—none of the above. They are placed in schools far from where they are sheltered, resulting in long hours of travel time and directly impacting their academic performance. In short, homeless students are often tired, hungry, stressed, and traumatized when they arrive to a new school and become, yet again, victims—this time of an educational process that is leaving them behind.
 
Homeless students must be meaningfully recognized as a special needs population within the public-school system. They require intensive academic services to get them to grade level, and to keep them from falling further behind or dropping out altogether. If we are ever to reverse the impacts of homelessness on the education of these vulnerable students, particularly at a time when their population is growing exponentially, we are going to have to rethink the way we approach and manage their educations.

In New York City, innovative charter schools are constantly being created to experiment and improve the educational outcomes of its students. Why not establish a charter school as an opportunity for homeless students to catch up and thrive—a Jump Start School? With a new chancellor now at the helm of the public school system, the time is right for a bold policy approach to the education of homeless students.

Alternatively, NYC’s DOE could designate a number of schools with overwhelming numbers of homeless students as Jump Start Schools that could be staffed and resourced to rapidly address the educational setbacks these students face. The academic programming in these schools could be tiered to students’ specific academic needs; some could attend these facilities for short periods, others may be there longer. The bottom line is that as students begin to perform at grade level many more school options and opportunities will be available to them.
 
With almost 10 percent of NYC’s students living in a state of homelessness, creating a discrete group of Jump Start schools makes sense. It should not be seen as an effort to segregate these students, but to elevate them. Equally important, it would add little, if any, cost to the current system—considering that each year roughly 3,000 homeless students repeat a grade, at an average cost to the city of over $200 million annually. Those funds would be better spent accelerating those students’ educations.

For decades, city government implemented numerous policy initiatives to move homeless families to permanent housing. Now they should pilot Jump Start charter schools to move homeless students to promising futures.

Ralph da Costa Nunez, Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.

7 thoughts on “CityViews: New Chancellor Should Launch a Charter School for Homeless Students

  1. Don’t you love when policy wonks’ answers to failures of a school system to immediately privatize the schools and segregate the problem. I find it absolutely repugnant to our societal responsibility to these vulnerable children to unleash privateers upon them. I don’t think anyone would argue that meeting the needs of these children is not often met by a panoply of governmental services but, as a teacher with many years of teaching this population in both incarcerated and other settings I can tell you that the answer does not lie here.

  2. One problem Dr. Nunez. The McKinney-Vento Act specifically forbids this approach.

    It says:
    “(3) Homelessness alone is not sufficient reason to separate students from the mainstream school environment.”

    And in several others ways iterates that homelessness should not be used to segregate students in any way.

    To take this approach, would be to establish a school program that directly breaks federal law.

  3. NOT a charter school – we really need to stop the ongoing “financialization of everything” nonsense! Why not use the same mechanism for students unable to attend a brick and mortar facility? Akin to D75’s in-home or in-hospital programs?

  4. There already exists such a school– it’s Broome Street Academy (BSA). It’s a tuition free, open enrollment public charter school founded on the belief that there’s a better way to educate young New Yorkers who face unique challenges. Our admissions policy prioritizes students who are or have been homeless or in foster care – in fact, they make up 50% of our student body. Many of our students also come from low performing schools.

    Our goal has not only been to give our students an outstanding education that leads to high school graduation, but also to ensure that they’re prepared for a successful future. BSA is embedded in a unique, nationally-recognized youth development organization, The Door. This means that our students have all the additional supports they need – for free –
    within the same building. That includes health and wellness care, programs designed for homeless youth, legal services, free nutritious meals, tutoring and college prep, to name just a few.

  5. Segregating homeless students would violate federal law. New York City schools are the most segregated in the country. This is already harmful to the vast number of students attending inferior schools, primarily poor students of color. Segregating homeless students would simply take us further back from achieving the vision of creating an education system that serves all students adequately. Instead, we should ensure educators and school staff are informed about the challenges homeless students face and continue to provide them with adequate tools to best meet the needs of students experiencing housing instability.

  6. Ralph, Ralph Ralph….
    When a family is placed in shelter, DHS tries to keep them close to where they became homeless thus allowing them to stay close to their school of origin. If a child is sheltered far from their hometown it is due to available space or lack thereof.
    If the child were making the long journey to school, it would be to go back to their school of origin not a new school. Yes, I imagine that they would be tired, hungry, stressed, and traumatized when they arrive to their old school not the new school. If that were the case, the parent would be walking them to school as the logical choice if the parent decided to take them out of the school of origin would be to a feeder school near the shelter.
    You wrote:
    “In fact, many if not most of these students are—at their core—none of the above. They are placed in schools far from where they are sheltered, resulting in long hours of travel time and directly impacting their academic performance. In short, homeless students are often tired, hungry, stressed, and traumatized when they arrive to a new school and become, yet again, victims¬—this time of an educational process that is leaving them behind.”
    Moreover, I feel creating a Charter school or schools for homeless children is a horrible idea. That would place a label on them. While I do agree that these innocent children do need extra protections, singling them out is not the answer.
    Ralph thanks for all the good work you do. Coming up with new ideas is great so keep it up. The answer, though we may not like, it is somewhere out there.

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