Elementary School Children:

Many Change Schools Frequently, Harming Their Education

HEHS-94-45: Published: Feb 4, 1994. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 1994.

Additional Materials:


Carlotta C. Joyner
(202) 512-7014


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the number and characteristics of children who change schools frequently, focusing on: (1) their success in school compared to children who have never changed schools; (2) whether federal educational programs provide adequate assistance to mobile children; and (3) whether improved student record systems help schools make informed judgments about the services these students need.

GAO found that: (1) 17 percent of third graders have attended at least three different schools since the beginning of first grade; (2) low-income, inner city, migrant, and limited English-proficient children are more likely to change schools frequently than other children and are more likely to continue to be low achievers in reading and math; (3) children who change schools frequently are more likely to have behavioral, nutritional, and health or hygiene problems; (4) mobile children of all income levels are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school than nonmobile children; (5) local school districts and teachers in general provide little additional help to assist mobile children; (6) formerly migrant children have average achievement rates, but they continue to receive services through the migrant education program; (7) migrant children who change schools frequently are less likely to receive Chapter 1 services than nonmobile children; (8) the Department of Education could help mobile children by ensuring that all eligible children have access to federally funded services; (9) school records systems that provide timely, complete, and comparable records could ensure that mobile children receive services and are placed appropriately in school; and (10) some states are piloting an electronic student record transfer system that could improve recordkeeping.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress took action when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, was reauthorized.

    Matter: Given the great educational needs of migrant children who have changed school districts recently, Congress may wish to consider focusing migrant education funding to give higher priority to such children. This could be accomplished, for example, by limiting eligibility for federal Migrant Education Program services only to migrant children who have changed school districts within the last 2 years, rather than continuing program eligibility to formerly migrant children who have not changed school districts for as many as 6 years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On the basis of a recent Chapter 1 program study, the Department has examined some of the reasons for limited Chapter 1 services to highly mobile students; it has also examined additional information from its ongoing study of how states are meeting the educational needs of homeless children, a highly mobile population. Based on GAO's report concerning the extent of student mobility, legislation was enacted as part of Title X of the Improving America's Schools Act, to allow support from the Fund for the improvement of Education to be used to address the problem of student mobility.

    Recommendation: The Department of Education should determine the reason(s) for the low Chapter 1 participation rates of low-achieving children who have changed schools frequently.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department has, in numerous presentations at national conferences, monitoring reviews, and responses to policy questions, stressed that it is important for states and districts, particularly when a highly mobile population is the norm in their locations, to consider this population's needs when designing the Chapter 1 educational program. The Department proposed language, which was later included in the Improving America's Schools Act, to promote systemic planning at the state and local levels to coordinate better the delivery of federally funded educational services to all eligible participants, explicitly including migrant children.

    Recommendation: The Department of Education should develop strategies so that all eligible children who have changed schools frequently, including migrant children, will have access to Chapter 1 services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department strongly agrees that MSRTS has outlived its usefulness and has considered other, broader and more cost-effective mechanisms for transmitting education and health records on mobile children. One such mechanism is SPEEDE/ExPRESS, which is currently being developed jointly by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Department's National Center for Education Statistics, to facilitate the electronic transfer of student records from school to school. The Assistant Secretary for Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education met with state and local officials to announce the end of MSRTS and to examine the use of SPEEDE/ExPRESS. The Department has also funded the pilot testing of SPEEDE/ExPRESS in a few local school districts.

    Recommendation: The Department of Education should determine the feasibility of using electronic student record systems, such as those currently being adopted by some states and school districts for all students, instead of the Migrant Student Record Transfer System (MSRTS).

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 6, 2020

Jul 24, 2020

Jul 9, 2020

Jun 5, 2020

Jun 4, 2020

May 21, 2020

Apr 27, 2020

Apr 21, 2020

Apr 10, 2020

Dec 3, 2019

Looking for more? Browse all our products here