Panel Paper: Identifying Students for the Education for Homeless Children & Youth Program

Friday, November 9, 2018
8219 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Daniel Shephard, Implementation Science & Communication Strategies Group, Crystal Hall, University of Washington and Cait Lamberton, University of Pittsburgh

There are over a million students experiencing homelessness in the United States. Students who lack fixed and stable housing are entitled to receive additional educational support including immediate enrollment, free meals, transportation to their school of origin regardless of a change in residence, and additional tutoring and educational supports. However, many homeless students remain unidentified and therefore do not access the supportive services that can make a difference in their education and future success. To this end, the Office of Evaluation Sciences (OES) and the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) were interested in answering the following question: could behaviorally informed communications to homeless education liaisons and district leaders impact the number of reported homeless youth in schools?

Partnering with the US Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students, and the State Education Authorities of three state partners, we implemented a randomized control trial (RCT) that was fielded between January and May of 2017. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) were blocked by (a) state, (b) if they had reported homeless students in 2016, and (c) if they were a charter school. LEAs (n = 1,732) were then randomly allocated to receiving traditional email communications or behaviorally informed email communications. Communications were sent to the homeless liaisons in the LEAs as well as superintendents. The randomized treatment included a set of new emails developed using behavioral insights to share simplified information with LEAs’ homeless liaisons and superintendents to help them accurately identify homeless students in their districts and schools. The messages also helped deliver new non-regulatory guidance on the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Program and the Every Students Succeeds Act. Emails were sent every other week, usually on Tuesdays at 9:00 in the morning.

Results from this study will focus on the number of the homeless students identified and the likelihood that an LEA reports homeless youth. Changes in the number of homeless youth reported through LEAs and corresponding state education agencies has the potential for long-run impacts on individual student access to support programs. Contributions of this study will focus on the role of a communication-based intervention as a promising mechanism to increase the identification of homeless and other traditionally marginalized student populations.