In this New York Times piece, published on January 13, 1991, Al Shanker discusses the persistent problem of student mobility, how it disrupts children's lives and educational prospects, and what schools and school systems might do to help.
Once upon a time, people talked about student achievement in terms of the kids' responsibility for what they leaned. Some youngsters were smart, and others were dummies. Some worked hard; some were lazy. Nowadays, we've discarded these crude yardsticks because we understand that many things can influence a child's success in school. But we've substituted something just as crude. I mean the notion of accountability that makes schools totally responsible for student learning.
Of course, people have the right—the responsibility—to find out whether schools are doing a good job. And they have the right to call for the changes that are needed. But people should also understand that schools face some big problems over which they have no control.
Take the problem of student mobility, especially among poor children in urban school systems. Every year between September and June, an enormous number of students transfer in and out of these schools, often because their families are in a state of collapse or because they've lost their current housing and have to find somewhere else to live. A recent Wall Street Journal article (November 14, 1990) about the Rochester, NY, schools says that in 1987 annual student mobility—that is, the number of student transfers in relation to the entire student population—reached 64 percent. In one elementary school, it was 100 percent. And if this is true in Rochester, there's no question that something like it goes on in other urban school systems. What does it mean for teaching and learning in these schools?