By Eliza Shapiro
New York City’s roughly 82,000 homeless students face more academic obstacles than their peers in almost every way, according to a study released Thursday by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness.
Homeless students have lower rates of proficiency in English and math compared to non-homeless children, are more likely to be chronically absent from school and are suspended more often than their peers.
The report, which examined the 2014-2015, academic year, puts the depth and breadth of homeless students’ needs on stark display.
The vast majority — 86 percent — are black or Latino (about half are Latino). And while there are homeless students enrolled in schools in all 32 community school districts, most students living in temporary housing are clustered in a few districts in poor areas of the Bronx, Harlem and central Brooklyn.
Districts 9 and 10 in the Bronx, encompassing the Fordham and Highbridge neighborhoods, have the highest concentration of homeless students — about 20 percent of the city’s population, according to the report found. There were 8,557 students in temporary housing enrolled in District 10 schools in the 2014-2015 school year, and 6,899 students in District 9.
According to the report by the local advocacy group, 42 percent of homeless students in District 9 missed 20 or more days of school in the 2014-2015 academic year. The overall chronic absenteeism rate for homeless students is 37 percent. Fordham and Highbridge also have a larger share of family shelters and overall shelter units than most other parts of the city, according to the report.
The two Bronx neighborhoods are home to a large number of the city’s struggling schools; 20 of the 94 Renewal Schools are Districts 9 and 10, meaning they make up more than 20 percent of the overall Renewal program.
Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has said schools with large populations of homeless students should be judged differently than other schools, since homeless students have so many non-academic needs the city must address before those students can thrive academically.
Beyond Fordham and Highbridge, students in temporary housing are also clustered in the districts encompassing east and central Harlem, Mott Haven, East Tremont, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, all of which also have a large concentration of Renewal schools. Areas with large populations of homeless students also often struggle with late enrollment, which can lead to financial penalties.
Neighborhoods with the fewest homeless children include Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and all of Staten Island.
The report found that, on average, homeless students are less proficient than their peers on state math exams by about 13 percentage points and on English exams by about 12 percent points.
Many homeless students don’t finish school at all; their dropout rate is about double that of their peers. About 40 percent of homeless students in elementary school transferred schools mid-year, compared to about 9 percent of the total student population. Still, homeless students living in shelters for all four years of high school dropped out at about the same rate as non-homeless students in high school. In general, students are more likely to experience homelessness before third grade, according to the report.
While the suspension rate for homeless students has fallen along with the dramatic overall drop in suspensions over the last year, homeless children are still suspended at a higher rate than their peers. Homeless students living in shelters were suspended at about twice the rate of non-homeless students, and the gap widens for middle school students. Nearly 4 percent of homeless students were suspended last year.
Homeless students with special needs face a daunting and unique set of challenges, the report found.
Homeless children are typically diagnosed with a special need later in their academic careers, meaning many don’t get the services they need when they need them. About a third of homeless students receive their individualized education plans (IEPs) by the end of kindergarten, compared to about half of the general student population.
Overall, about 36,500 children with a variety of special needs were homeless during the 2014-2015 school year. District 75, the school district for children with the most advanced special needs, enrolled 1,808 homeless children in the 2014-2015 academic year, and those students had a 68 percent rate of chronic absenteeism.
The report found that more students are enrolling in pre-kindergarten, in part because of the mayor’s universal pre-K program. Enrollment increased 17 percent or about 750 students in the first year of the program. But there were still many homeless children who did not take advantage of pre-K — about 2,000 who were eligible to enroll did not. Crown Heights and East New York saw the largest gaps between homeless students who could have enrolled in pre-K but did not, while more homeless students enrolled in pre-K programs in Washington Heights and the Upper West Side than originally projected.
Even as the city’s homeless student crisis has grown over the last year, many advocacy groups have remained quiet on the subject. Charter school leaders who claim their schools are solving New York City’s “educational crisis” have not mentioned possible supports for homeless students in their neighborhoods during their frequent press releases and rallies. And the United Federation of Teachers has so far not made helping homeless students a priority.
The de Blasio administration is spending $30 million to place social workers in schools and create new school-based health centers in schools with high homeless populations, and to hire attendance teachers and literacy coaches in family shelters across the city.
“Students in temporary housing are among our most vulnerable populations, and we are dedicated to ensuring they receive the same equitable and excellent education as their permanently-housed peers,” Toya Holness, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said in a statement.