Student nomads in Ohio's heartland

There’s no question about it: Students are on the move in the Buckeye State. Fordham and Community Research Partners’ recent mobility study shows the near-ubiquity of student mobility in Ohio’s metro areas (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo).

But student mobility isn’t only occurring in urban schools; mobility happens frequently in rural schools also. (Our research examines mobility in schools across all of Ohio.)

A roundup of recent newspaper reports underscores the growing need to understand mobility in all areas of Ohio--rural districts included. In addition, these news articles also begin to answer the all-important questions of what’s causing mobility (or conversely, stability) in our schools, and what the effects of mobility are.

The Chillicothe Gazette examines some of the reasons why students move among schools in the rural, blue-collar counties surrounding Columbus. District administrators pointed to the lack of job opportunities in declining rural townships as the trigger for student mobility.

For example, the Crestline Exempted Village (Crawford County) superintendent attributed a large amount of its mobility to the loss of a General Motors plant in their area. A school official at Eastern Local (Pike County) pointed to another cause of mobility, in addition to economic decline: The large number of highly-mobile, foster students living in temporary homes in her district.

The Lima News, which covers several rural counties in northwestern Ohio, focused on student mobility via open enrollment at Perry Local School District (Allen County). Perry is the state’s largest recipient of open enrollees, as a percentage of enrollment. Nearly 50 percent of Perry’s 882 students were open enrollees—students who reside within the attendance area of another district.

Is open enrollment--a type of student mobility--helping or hurting Perry Local?

Perry’s superintendent remarked that it's actually helping the district survive: Open enrollment is the district’s “lifeblood,” as the number of its traditionally-enrolled students has dwindled. When asked whether open enrollment has destabilized Perry’s schools, one elementary principal argued just the opposite: Open enrollment increases stability, since it’s “not an easy process [for parents] . . . [it] makes sure a child gets to school every day.” 

The Zanesville Times-Recorder looks at the challenges that student mobility poses for schools and students in rural eastern Ohio. The Zanesville City (Muskingum County) superintendent, whose district faces high mobility rates, talked about the effect of mobility on student learning. He said that mobility “has an effect on students’ learning ability," because "there’s an adjustment period.”

East Muskingum Local's superintendent echoed her colleague’s view on the adverse effects of mobility, stating that mobility “impacts what happens in the classroom. It doesn’t just hurt the child, but how education is interpreted for all students in that classroom.”

The reports from Ohio’s heartland indicate that student mobility isn’t an issue isolated to inner-city schools. Mobility is an issue for schools all across the Buckeye State—whether it’s student mobility prompted by economic turmoil, by open enrollment, or even by the foster care system. And it’s the schools that manage, and perhaps even embrace, student mobility (think, Perry Local which has embraced open enrollment) that may best ensure that all students—from the mobile to the stable student—have opportunities to thrive.

- Fordham intern Danyell Lewis contributed to this article

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