Panel Paper: Chronic and Acute Risks of Student Homelessness: Implications for Education

Friday, November 9, 2018
8226 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

J. J. Cutuli, Rutgers University, Camden and Janette E. Herbers, Villanova University

Students who experience homelessness are widely recognized as being at-risk for a variety of poor developmental outcomes, including academic achievement and other indicators of educational wellbeing. Modern studies have begun to investigate how this risk operates, leading conceptualizations of homelessness as acute risks (e.g., relatively short-term experiences associated with residential moves and shelter stays) overlaid on long-standing chronic risks associated with deep poverty. Understanding if and how acute versus chronic sources of risk impact education for homeless students informs practitioners, policymakers, and other stakeholders in choosing the most effective avenues to support resilience (e.g., acute crisis services versus efforts to combat deep poverty).

This paper will first present evidence utilizing individual student level, district-wide data from Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) over five academic years testing for chronic and acute risk components. Analyses examined academic achievement data across 3rd through 8th grades (N = 26,474), comparing students identified as homeless or highly mobile (HHM) to other students in the National School Lunch Program receiving free meals (FM), reduced‐price meals (RM), or neither (General). Achievement was lower as a function of rising risk status (General > RM > FM > HHM). Achievement gaps appeared stable or widened between HHM students and lower‐risk groups. Math and reading achievement were lower and growth in math was slower in years of HHM identification, suggesting acute consequences of residential instability. Nonetheless, 45% of HHM students scored within or above the average range, suggesting academic resilience. Results underscore the need for research on risk and resilience processes among HHM students to address achievement disparities.

Second, I will present experimental evidence using a randomized-controlled design testing for differential impacts on education outcomes across four years using data from the Hennepin County site of the Family Options Study linked at the individual student level to education records from MPS. Students in homeless families (N = 172; mean age: 7.31; SD: 4.15) were randomized to housing interventions that focus on acute risks (community-based rapid rehousing), chronic risks (permanent subsidy), or usual care. A matched group of low-income, housed students served as an additional reference for effects on attendance, school mobility, and reading and math achievement across four years. Findings partially support the view that the educational risk associated with homelessness operates through chronic risk factors like those associated with deep poverty. Children randomly assigned to usual care perform as well or better than children assigned to housing interventions in this municipality.

The paper will contextualize these findings in light of other work from the Family Options Study as well the multisystem response to homelessness in Hennepin County and the Minneapolis Public Schools. I will also underscore importance of considering indicators of developmental competence (e.g., educational functioning of children) when evaluating the impacts of practice and policy change in other sectors that serve children.