Homeless and formerly homeless students in New York are half as likely to meet state academic standards as their peers

by | Dec 11, 2017 | Press Release

Coalition of civil rights, education, parent and business organizations calls on New York State to focus on the needs of students in temporary housing

NEW YORK – Ten percent of all students who took the New York State grade 3-8 assessments in 2015-2016 were either homeless or formerly homeless, and those students were half as likely to meet state benchmarks as their peers who had never been homeless, according to a new analysis published by a statewide equity-focused coalition of civil rights, education, parent and business organizations.

The coalition’s latest policy brief, Improving Opportunity & Achievement for Students Experiencing Homelessness: Recommendations for New York’s Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is part of the groups’ efforts to use the new federal education law as an opportunity for New York to provide the urgency and support to improve achievement for all groups of students.

ESSA enables New York State to define what it means to be a successful school, set clear expectations that schools must raise achievement for all of their students — not just some — and help schools and school districts by targeting attention and resources to the places where students are struggling. Students in temporary housing — commonly referred to as homeless students — are a particularly vulnerable population, given the trauma they have been exposed to both before and as a result of their homelessness. Yet their needs often go unrecognized, or worse yet, ignored in schools.

The coalition’s policy brief finds that homeless and formerly homeless students are enrolled in schools across New York State, with more than one in four formerly homeless students attending school outside of the state’s largest urban districts. While at least three-quarters of students in temporary housing are in New York City, more than 40 percent of formerly homeless students are educated in other parts of the state.

According to the coalition’s analysis, based on unpublished data from the results of the 2015-2016 state assessments in English language arts (ELA) and math:

  • Statewide, homeless students are half as likely to meet state academic standards compared to students who have never been homeless.
  • The proficiency rates for formerly homeless students are nearly the same as achievement levels for currently homeless students.
  • Students in temporary housing can and do achieve at high levels in New York State, with enormous variability in how schools are serving homeless students. Our analysis found 164 schools where proficiency levels for homeless students exceeded the statewide average for all students in ELA (38 percent proficiency in 2015-16) and 169 schools where proficiency levels for homeless students exceeded the statewide average for all students in math (39 percent proficiency in 2015-16).

ESSA draws attention to the needs of students experiencing homelessness in two important ways:

  • Under ESSA, states are now required to separately report on academic outcomes for students in temporary housing, including grade 3-8 assessments and high school graduation rates. This reporting transparency can help ensure that homeless students’ performance and needs will be considered as part of the school improvement process.
  • A number of changes to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal law promoting school stability for students in temporary housing, were also included in ESSA. These changes provide additional protections for students experiencing homelessness to ensure that they have access to the same educational programs and services as their permanently housed peers, such as access to early childhood education and school transportation.

The coalition’s policy brief calls on the state to use the levers in ESSA to take specific steps to improve outcomes for students experiencing homeless, including:

  • Improving transparency on student outcomes, resources, and access
  • Ensuring that school improvement plans address the needs of students experiencing homelessness or who previously experienced homelessness
  • Leveraging the new chronic absenteeism and school discipline accountability indicators
  • Improving equity in high school course access and transition to postsecondary education
  • Making transportation more accessible
  • Improving access to early childhood education

The coalition includes Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, the Buffalo Urban League, The Business Council of New York State, Business Council of Westchester, Capital Region Chamber, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Democrats for Education Reform-NY, District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, The Education Trust–New York, Educators for Excellence, EPIC-Every Person Influences Children, High Achievement New York, Hispanic Federation, National Center for Learning Disabilities, New York Urban League, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, Public Policy Institute of New York State, UnidosUS, United Way of New York City and the Urban League of Rochester.

“Buffalo has a long history of underserving its neediest students, and this new data underscore just how far the city has to go filling the opportunity gaps that hold too many children back from a bright future,” said Samuel L. Radford III, Director of Better Schools Better Neighborhoods and President of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo. “These sobering numbers should serve as a wake-up call to the entire community that we need to act with urgency to ensure all children can achieve at the highest levels. The economic Renaissance of this city depends on it.”

“This data should serve as the starting point for a serious conversation about how we can better serve all students in our community, particularly those who are most vulnerable,” said Brenda McDuffie, President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. “We should look at best practices for supporting homeless students and preparing them for the brightest possible future. The overall well-being of the Western New York Region is dependent on all of our children having an equitable opportunity to be successful.”

“Making sure that the 150,000 youngsters who live in New York State who are either homeless or formally homeless are given every opportunity to succeed in the classroom must be a priority for the education and business community,” said John Ravitz, Executive Vice President and COO of the Business Council of Westchester. “I applaud the coalition’s recommendation which will create the necessary tools to prevent those young people from falling between the cracks.”

“ESSA has presented New York State with the opportunity to improve educational outcomes, maintain high academic standards and ensure that all students are college and career ready,” said Mark Eagan, Chief Executive Officer of the Capital Region Chamber. “The data on homeless students clearly indicate that the state must be laser focused in directing its attention and resources to ensure that all students, regardless of their circumstance, have the opportunity to succeed.”

“Educational equity requires increased investments to support our most vulnerable populations,” said Ramon Peguero, CEO and President of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. “As the report states, school context matters. The research shows that when you provide holistic interventions to students, in this case those experiencing homelessness, they will rise to the occasion and succeed. With the New York State ESSA plan, we have the opportunity to encourage inclusive dialogues in developing school improvement plans to better address the barriers that homeless students face and to meet their needs.”

“The housing crisis is affecting more students in NYC every year with one in 10 students facing homelessness at some point last year,” said Nicole Brisbane, Director of Democrats for Education Reform-NY. “Schools can serve as pillars of support and stability for students and families but we must get serious about sharing what works.”

“For the first time, ESSA allows the public to see the incredible gaps in how our education system is serving students who experience homelessness,” said Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York. “We need to act with urgency to ensure that schools better serve these vulnerable students and provide them with the supports they need to succeed academically. New York should seize the opportunity its new accountability system offers to ensure that all schools are meeting the needs of homeless and formerly homeless students.”

“Educational equity will only be achieved when every student has the supports necessary to succeed,” said Evan Stone, Co-CEO and Founder of Educators for Excellence. “This is most acutely true for students experiencing homelessness and the significant barriers to a quality education that come with housing instability. This report shows that New York’s ESSA plan can and should be used to support our most vulnerable students through making transparent the impact of chronic absenteeism, high suspensions rates, and limited high-quality course access has on students experiencing homelessness. Furthermore, the recommendations in this report help teachers identify the need and get the supports all of our students require. We look forward to working with the state to implement these recommendations.”

“EPIC (Every Person Influences Children, Inc.) applauds the focus that ESSA takes in committing to the education and achievement of homeless students,” said Michelle Urbanczyk, President of EPIC. “EPIC pledges to help the parents we currently serve who are homeless or at risk for homelessness, understand their rights and resources when they find themselves under these difficult circumstances. Equally as important, we will help them understand how to support their children in continuing their educational pursuits. We are committed to providing this information in person, via our school based partners, as well as the internet and social media.”

“Temporary housing shouldn’t equal diminished education opportunities for tens of thousands of children, but unfortunately too often it does,” said Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director of High Achievement New York. “Under ESSA, New York has an opportunity to improve transparency, leverage best practices statewide, and increase access to early childhood programs and better transportation. It’s imperative that we do everything possible for these students, so we can keep them on a path to success.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act provides us with the opportunity to examine how well our schools are serving students who experience homelessness, and to identify areas where we can direct more resources and support to help this vulnerable population,” said Arva Rice, President and CEO of New York Urban League. “The data make it clear that state leaders must act with urgency and put their focus on ensuring these students have access to the educational opportunities that will set them up for a successful future.”

“The implementation of ESSA presents a new opportunity to focus on the needs of students in temporary housing so that they can succeed,” said Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City. “We feel strongly that the New York State Education Department ensure that schools have the data and resources to actively engage with homeless students as well as to build connections between community organizations and schools, connecting homeless families and students to critical outside supports.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act presents us with some unique opportunities to improve upon educational outcomes for previously marginalized populations,” said William Clark, President and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester. “To ignore these opportunities would be unconscionable. Recommendations for transparency, varied course access and better transportation options are among the basic steps needed to be taken in order to lessen the achievement gaps found between homeless students and those students who have never been homeless.”