Student mobility refers to children who transfer into or out of a school for reasons other than academic promotion.  The US has one of the highest rates of student mobility among industrialized nations, though rates vary substantially by economic status, age, family configuration, type and frequency, and social context.1 Among school-age children aged 5 to 19, 14 percent changed residences between 2002 and 2003, the most recent data available.2 While a simple, planned change in residence or school has little lasting impact on student achievement, multiple transfers, unstable housing situations, and interrupted curriculum carries a greater toll.

It is well-documented that high student mobility rates are associated with lower levels of student achievement and higher risks for behavior problems.  Recent research is beginning to outline some of the nuances of student mobility and its effects on particular populations of students.

Findings from a June 2009 meta-analysis report recently published include the following:

  • Children who moved 3 or more times between kindergarten and high school had higher rates of school dropout.
  • Frequent mobility was associated with significantly lower reading and math achievement.
  • A Chicago study which controlled for residential moves and school factors in an urban context found that students who move frequently or beyond third grade experience the most detrimental effects, while younger students and those who moved only a few times were less affected.1

Migrant Students

Few national organizations focus specifically on student mobility, but information on mobile students can often be located by searching for related topical areas.  Some data and information can be found on “migrant students” or children of migratory workers.  These students are largely of Hispanic origin and predominantly reside in rural areas.  English as a second language is often one of the larger barriers to student achievement.

While many states are seeing an increase in migrant student populations, Missouri’s population of migrant students, predominantly Latinos from the Texas Valley region, has steadily decreased since 1999.  In 2006-2007 there were approximately 1,209 migrant students overwhelmingly represented in rural counties, according to OSEDA,(Missouri’s Migrant Students: The Invisible Population). For information on migrant students in Illinois, refer to the Migrant Education Program (MEP) of the Illinois State Board of Education.

Homeless Students

A second topical area involves the education of homeless children, which can refer to either children who are members of homeless families or to unaccompanied youth – teenagers and young adults who are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian and may reside without parents in shelters, in homes for unwed mothers or who are runaways.  The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (1987)authorizes the creation of the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program.  In addition to McKinney-Vento allocations, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides a one-time $70 million to the Homeless Children and Youth Program, more than doubling the previous year’s expenditures.  Missouri received over $1 million in homeless ARRA funding.

Local school districts in St. Louis, MO and IL have programs and policies in place to aid homeless students and reduce the impact of high mobility.  For Illinois, see the ISBE section on Homeless Education.

The MO DESE website on the Homeless Children and Youth Programhas a great deal of information on homeless students available online.  According to their statistics, there were a total of 14,350 homeless students in the state of Missouri for the 2008-09 school year, a number that has almost doubled since 1996-97.  Of this group, 1,755 of these students were attending the St. Louis Public Schools within the city limits.3

Night Time Residence of MO Homeless Children Enrolled in Public Schools, SY 2008-2009

Night Time Residence Homeless Students
Shelters 1,768
Doubled Up 11,422
Unsheltered 219
Hotels/Motels 941
Total 14,350


The Illinois mobility rate (grades K-12) for 2009 was 13.5%.  Missouri collects mobility data only on secondary school students (grades 9-12) and the data is not comparable with Illinois figures.

Missouri data from 2006 (the most recently available) show higher rates among metropolitan areas and among non-accredited school districts.

Overall Student Mobility 31.3%
Accredited School Districts 27.7%
Provisionally Accredited School Districts 69.6%
Unaccredited School Districts 59.7%
Kansas City and St. Louis 78.5%

Metro Area

Student mobility in St. Louis, MO is higher among school district in the City of St. Louis and areas of North St. Louis County.  In the metro east, the highest mobility rates are among school districts most proximate to downtown St. Louis, though a few of the more rural districts have rates that are notably higher than the state average.

1Reynolds, A.J., Chen, C.C., & Herbers, J.E. (June 22, 2009). School Mobility and Educational Success: A Research Synthesis and Evidence on Prevention. Retrieved on June 23, 2010.

2Schachter, J. P. (2004, March). Geographic mobility: 2002-2003. Current Population Reports.
 Washington, DC: U. S. Bureau of the Census.

3MO DESE. (December 2, 2009). Homeless Census School Year 2008-09: MOSIS Data.