Data Shows Why Your Kid Probably Shouldn’t Change Schools

Data suggests students perform poorly when they have to switch schools, even when those cases of student mobility are due to graduating elementary school and moving on to junior high.

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A kid at a school desk writes on paper while pouting.
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Considering a move? First, consider this: Children who switch schools after the 8th grade tend to have lower school engagement, poorer grades in reading and math, and a higher risk of dropping out of high school altogether. In fact, studies suggest even normal transitions between elementary school and middle school can do academic damage — and that students are better off attending K-8 schools and minimizing changes in those formative years. The negative impacts of student mobility are so pronounced that some studies suggest entire school districts with high student churn rates can expect to have lower high school graduation rates, overall.

Here’s the data behind these conclusions:

Changing Schools Hurts Academic Performance

Scientists have long suspected that students who switch schools tend to have poor academic outcomes. One of the most definitive studies of this phenomenon was published in 1998 in the American Journal of Education. Researchers analyzed data from 13,000 eighth graders, and concluded that “measures of social and academic engagement, such as low grades, misbehavior, and high absenteeism, predicted both whether students changed schools or dropped out,” and that students who switched schools even once between eighth and twelfth grade were “twice as likely to not complete high school.” Here’s a breakdown of their results:

Even Normal School Transitions Do Damage

The 1998 study specifically looked at “non-promotional changes” — student mobility due to factors besides moving from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school. But a more recent study highlighted the issues with even routine school changes.

Researchers followed nearly 6,000 kindergarteners through high school, and concluded that preteens who attend K-8 schools (and thereby transfer only once, rather than twice, on the way to high school) have superior self-perception and higher grades, in general. Those few areas in which junior high school students excelled were not statistically significant. “We find a negative impact of middle and junior high school as compared to K-8 schools,” coauthor on the study Elise Cappella of New York University told Fatherly. Here’s the data:

Nobody Benefits From High Churn In Schools

A 2014 report by the State of Georgia concluded that “high churn in schools not only can hurt the students who leave, but also those who remain enrolled.” This surprising report analyzed the percentage of students who switched schools more than once between eighth and twelfth grade, and found that districts with more student mobility also had lower high school graduation rates—suggesting that an entire district may be dragged down by high student mobility. We’ve illustrated these findings with a scatterplot. Notice how most districts have a 10 to 20 percent “churn rate”, and a roughly 75 percent high school graduation rate. Districts with lower churn rates creep closer to 100 percent; those with higher churn rates experience the opposite effect.

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