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Federal Data Give the Clearest Look Yet at America's Homeless Students

Some 1.3 million American students don't have a safe, stable place to sleep at night, according to the latest federal Condition of Education report.

The Condition of Education provides data on public and private school students, teachers, and schools, from trends in enrollment to achievement. This year it provided a detailed picture of K-12 public school students who were homeless—including students living on the street, in shelters, hotels, or doubled up with family or friends—in the 2014-15 school year.

Two and a half percent of students were homeless that year, a slight decline from 2013 but still significantly higher than before the 2008 recession. Some 578,000 urban students were homeless in 2014, representing 3.7 percent of all students in city districts. While only 2 percent of suburban students were homeless, that still represented 422,000 students. Some of the nation's largest school districts had enough homeless students to make up large school districts all on their own: In New York CIty, for example, 100,000 students were homeless, while Chicago had nearly 20,000.

As a prior federal study shows, living in a shelter can hinder young children's academic progress even two years after gaining a stable home. As the chart below shows, early elementary-age children are often particularly likely to lack a stable home:

homelessness public K12 2014-15.JPG

While an influx of unaccompanied immigrant children have garnered significant attention in recent years, the data show that overall, homeless children who are not in the care of a parent or guardian make up only 8 percent of all homeless students, and migrant children make up only 1 percent. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act creates significantly more accountability for schools in supporting their homeless students. All states will have to report not just the number of homeless students, but their academic achievement and graduation rates as a separate student group.

For a homeless student's perspective on navigating school and life, see Education Week's recent video with PBS NewsHour:

Preschool Poverty's Effects Linger Through 3rd Grade

In a separate highlight report for the 2017 Condition of Education, federal data show children whose parents did not graduate from high school and who are poor enter kindergarten less prepared than pupils without those risk factors, and they trail other students academically through 3rd grade, according to the report.

The data show students with both family-income and education-risk factors performed consistently worse in reading and math than those with fewer or no risk factors. Of students with one risk factor, those whose parents had less education performed slightly worse than those who were poor.


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