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Contextualizing the Impacts of Homelessness on Academic Growth

by Alexandra E. Pavlakis, Peter Goff & Peter M. Miller - 2017

Background/Context: Students experiencing homelessness are also often living in poverty and may share many of the same characteristics and experiences with children in low-income housing. Scholars aim to understand the impacts of homelessness above and beyond the effects of poverty, but studies are mixed. Contextual factors—such as the localized implementation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento), which aims to reduce barriers to school success for students experiencing homelessness—are often overlooked by scholars but may play an important role in explaining inconsistencies between single-site studies.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our purpose is to examine the impacts of homelessness above and beyond poverty. We ask two questions: “To what extent does homelessness impact students’ academic growth?” and “To what extent does chronic homelessness impact students’ academic growth?” In making sense of our findings, we consider the unique context of our study site.

Setting: We draw data from Midtown, a pseudonym for a Midwestern city that has experienced rising homelessness. Midtown has a nationally recognized program aimed at overseeing McKinney-Vento.

Research Design: We conducted a secondary analysis of a longitudinal administrative district dataset. For our first question, we used ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, with and without student fixed effects, with standard errors clustered at the school level. To help isolate the impact of homelessness apart from poverty, we (a) limited our sample to include only those students who have experienced sustained poverty (history of free lunch status) and stable housing prior to fourth grade, (b) included relevant covariates to adjust for other between-group differences, (c) used student fixed effects to control for any remaining time-invariant, unobserved between-group differences, and (d) examined achievement growth (rather than absolute achievement). To examine our second research question (chronic homelessness), we used OLS regression, with standard errors clustered at the school level.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Notwithstanding the fact that Midtown devotes considerable resources toward McKinney-Vento, the impact of homelessness remains evident in our fixed effects model. Turning to chronic homelessness, our results showed no discernible impact on achievement growth. We speculate that as time goes on, the Midtown district may play an important role in buffering families. Our study suggests that in order to reduce the impact of homelessness on academic achievement, it is important to be aware of when students become homeless—so that their needs can be met right at this critical juncture. Specific recommendations, such as the ongoing use of residency questionnaires and surveys, are discussed.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 10, 2017, p. 1-23
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21840, Date Accessed: 7/24/2021 2:27:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Alexandra Pavlakis
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    ALEXANDRA E. PAVLAKIS is Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership at Southern Methodist University. Her research addresses educational leadership, student homelessness, and family poverty. Her work can be found in Urban Education, Urban Review, and Journal of Research on Leadership Education.
  • Peter Goff
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    PETER GOFF is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, where he teaches classes on quantitative analysis, research methods, and k–12 finance policy. Dr. Goff’s research examines the policies and practices surrounding the strategic management of human capital (SMHC). Using a combination of experimental, quasi-experimental, and graphical-descriptive methods, his work explores SMHC policies at the school, district, and state level, with a particular focus on the two-sided selection process that arises during hiring. His current research projects examine teacher-student assignment practices, the impact of within-school teacher mobility on instructional growth, and bias in the education labor market.
  • Peter Miller
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    PETER MILLER is an associate professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on leadership, cross-sector education reform, and homelessness and has been published in venues such as Educational Researcher, Review of Educational Research, and Educational Administration Quarterly.
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