Reducing Student Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention

We know that student mobility negatively impacts achievement and increases the likelihood of dropping out, not to mention the spillover effects on non-movers in high-churn schools. But can schools really do anything to curtail mobility among students? This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Rice University, seeks to answer that question by randomly assigning an intervention designed to build relationships among families and between families and school personnel. Parents are recruited into a program comprising eight weeks of gatherings after school that last two to three hours, followed by two years of monthly parent-led meetings where parents, students, and school staff have meals together, play bonding games, and engage in other family rituals. Fifty-two elementary schools in Phoenix and San Antonio—all with high proportions of Hispanic and poor children—were randomly assigned to the treatment, with half receiving the intervention and half serving as the control group. Data were collected during the students’ first- through third-grade years. In the treatment schools, 73 percent of families attended at least one gathering and half attended multiple sessions. Of those who attended at all, a third completed the full program. Analysts found that on average, attending a school with the intervention did not reduce mobility. However, there were subgroup differences; specifically, black students in the control schools were more likely to move overall, but the intervention reduced their likelihood of moving by 29 percent in intervention schools—and that percentage rose for students whose families completed the entire program. Survey data suggest that the intervention helped the black families to feel more socially connected to the Hispanic families, who were in the majority. We don’t know if these sorts of interventions curb mobility indefinitely. But we do know this: Schools are not helpless when it comes to retaining minority students.

SOURCE: Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins and Ruth N. López Turley, “Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention,” American Educational Research Journal 50 (2013): 1188–1218.

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