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When You're Poor or Homeless, It Can Be a Long Trip to School, Studies Find

Update: The study of homeless youth in New York City includes a new link.

Poverty can limit students' ability to choose schools, but that doesn't mean they stay close to home, according to new studies of Chicago and New York City schools.

To the contrary: In Chicago neighborhoods where families made on average less than $25,000 per year, high school freshmen attended a pool of about 13 different schools, commuting on average nearly 3 miles to school, according to a forthcoming study by Julia Burdick-Will, sociologist at John Hopkins University. By contrast, in neighborhoods with a median income over $75,000, most students attended a pool of about three local schools, and the commute was on average 1.7 miles.

"We think of choice as a thing of privilege," said Burdick-Will in a statement, "but what we see is that there is a privilege of not having to choose."

The study, presented at the August American Sociological Association annual meeting in Chicago, builds on Burdick-Will's prior research, which has found schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods are also more likely to close, while new magnet and charter schools are more likely to open in revitalizing neighborhoods.

Homelessness Exacerbates Commute

A new spatial analysis study of homeless youth in New York City bolsters the case that poverty can scatter students. 

Researchers from the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness found 25 percent of homeless students in the Big Apple experienced mid-year school transfers—the most disruptive kind of school change—compared to only 1 in 11 students who were poor but housed.

Homeless students traveled further to school on average than poor, housed students, and they were more likely to attend school in a different New York burrough than the one in which they lived, as the chart below shows:

homeless report.JPG

"Think about how much disruption is taking place in terms of their social support network, their school network," said Jennifer Erb-Downward, a principal policy analyst and co-author of the report. "It's almost like watching a tumultuous sea; students are moving in and out and just losing any support network they had. From an education support network perspective, I think its really important to look at this. 

As Burdick-Will noted in the Chicago study, it may be equally neccessary to think of ways to support disadvantagedstudents struggling to navigate a system as a whole, rather than moving into or out of specific schools.

Chart: Researchers from the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness tracked where homeless students attended in the year before they came to one school cluster in the north Bronx. Source: Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness


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