NYTimes 3/16/95 Metro section has a timely article.
PS 8 in Jersey City, NJ, according to State Dept of Edu. had a 'mobility rate' of 89%, meaning that 89% of the children spent part of the year elsewhere. PS 8 is not alone. Throughout the country, especially in poor areas, schools are struggling with turnover rates of 70, 80, 90% A 1994 GAO report found that, nationwide, 17% of the third graders had attended three or more schools since first grade. At many urban schools, that third grade percentage if often double. For some families, moving means enhanced fortunes. But among the nation's most transient families, it is often poverty and its complications that lead to a change in address. For example, moving may be a means of trying to escape the past.
Joann Kirby's 32 schools must hold some kind of records. She and her family obviously managed to cope. It would be very helpful if she would be willing to tell us her experience. For example, were her classes more or less stable while she was among the exceptional cases in her class; how did her teachers or schools handled her case, (good and bad methods are both important).
As long as the placement of students in a class is based on something like "age", or "previous grade level" as recorded on a piece of paper rather then some sort of test plus flexibitlity, the transient students will remain to be a serious problem all around.
In many universities, the problem has been tackled in the form of "placement tests" plus extended add/drop periods. In some cases, the placement test scores are taken very seriously, in other cases, they are viewed as advisory. It is not perfect, but it has cut down the number of mis-placed students. Such solutions may not be feasible in public schools. In the case of more advanced transfer students, we have a faculty member in the math dept in charge of transfer credits. Over the years, I had been assigned the chore of evaluating the oriental students. The procedure I follow has been:
Step 1. Scan the transcript to get a rough idea what the students had studied (not just in mathematics, but overall). Step 2. Find out from the student what her/his future plans are. Step 3. Ask the students to show me the textbook, or syllabus, or notebooks for the course(s) in question.
[Observation: Over the years, my experience was that most oriental students were able to produce brown paperback texts which are about 150 pages in length. There were no glossy pictures. Many notes were scribbled into the margins and between the lines by students. These contrasted sharply with the U.S. students. The latter typically were not able to produce used texts--they have sold them back to the bookstores. As a result, most U.S. students were not able to describe what they had learned.]
If the students were not able to produce any kind of documentation, I give them an impromptu exam on the blackboard. Some oriental students have tried to begin the interview with the request that it be conducted in Chinese. I would immediately put a stop to this request by saying quite firmly that part of the evaluation process consisted of finding out just how good is their mastery of the English language. Namely, when their language skills are not adequate, I would recommend a math class where the contents are mostly known to the student and then tell the student that the purpose of the class was to provide them a chance to improve their language skill through their knowledge of mathematics. It was imperative that they obtain a reasonable degree of fluency in English as fast as possible because the classes will be conducted in English, the texts will be written in English, most of their classmates speak some form of English, their future employment will most likely require them to know English, etc.
Step 4. Make my recommendation known to the student. A written memo is given to the student to be submitted to the colleague for final disposition.
On the average, the entire process takes about 15 minutes. On the few occasions when I pitched in with U.S. students, the process often takes twice as long. In a few cases, I agreed to put the student in a more advanced class but withheld recommendation for credit in an earlier course. The student would be told that if s/he passes the more advanced course, then I would recommend granting credit for the earlier course. A written note would be given to the student to be brought back to me at the end of the term. (I tell the student that I will not keep a record of the understanding. It is her/his job to keep track of that piece of paper if s/he wants credit. The double whammy usually worked.)
As for the problem where parents from lower socio-economic families not attending parent information nights, I would like to recall an item I read a few years ago.
In a number of places, low cost pre-natal clinics were established. (Something like $5 per visit regardless of whether the visiting mother has insurance coverage or not.) It did not work as expected. One administrator got a grant to try out the idea of *giving* each visiting mother $10 for each visit. This was a great success. However, there were many detractors making the claim: Common sense says that pre-natal care will lead to healthier children later on. We should not have to pay the mothers to do something that is clearly to their benefit. The administrator pointed out that their survey showed that many of the mothers could not visit the clinic because:
a) they could not afford the transportation cost. b) they could not afford the baby sitter. etc.
In other words: "whose common senses are we talking about"?