Nomadic students hard to teach City system: Learning difficult for children who transfer from school to school to school.

March 27, 1997

YOU CAN tell a lot about life for many Baltimore families by looking at the high number of student transfers in city schools. Beginning the 1995-96 school year with about 110,000 students, city schools recorded more than 66,000 student transfers before the academic year ended.

A long-term Johns Hopkins study of 767 city school children showed them starting their educations in 20 schools and having attended 112 schools by the time they had reached fifth grade. About 40 percent of the children in the study had transferred to a new school at least once and some had transferred up to six times.

Teachers told Sun reporter Jean Thompson they never know when a child will suddenly stop showing up or a new face will appear. By the time a teacher has some idea of a child's learning capabilities, he may be gone. That can't help but affect the schools' poor test scores. And rootless children who don't have time to make friends frequently become a classroom's most frequent disciplinary problems.

The children, of course, are not responsible for their constant moving. That is the result of their parents going from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of housing, or a job, or to escape a situation that has become intolerable. Schools can't do much about the reasons families move. They have to find ways to teach nomadic children regardless of the difficulties caused by their frequent transfers.

Three city elementary schools on the South Baltimore peninsula -- Farring, Curtis Bay and Bay Brook -- are working with Park Elementary in nearby Anne Arundel County to develop strategies to handle transferring students. Most important, the schools want to test students as soon as possible for class placement and to recognize possible learning disabilities.

To handle the problem systemwide, some suggest open enrollment, which would allow a child to remain in a school even if he or she moves away. But transportation difficulties would still force many parents to transfer their children to the closest school. Even a systemwide core curriculum has shortcomings. Learning would still be difficult for children whose lives are disrupted by frequent moves.

The best answer is to stabilize city families so they don't move so often. That's a problem, though, that the schools can't solve.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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