Five Things You Should Know About Student Mobility in DC

When a lot of students change schools mid-year, it can be disruptive for them – and for their schools. We often hear anecdotes about the large numbers of students who move in and out of DC public schools during the year, creating funding challenges for school leaders and a lack of educational continuity for students. The available information on DC school “churn” – from OSSE’s Mid-Year Student Movement in DC report – shows that student mobility is not as substantial as you might think, but large enough that we should do something to improve student stability.

Here’s what the data shows:

1. The majority of DC students are stable. About 92 percent of DC students stay in their school all year. That said, the 8 percent of DC students who change schools represented 6,118 students in the 2013-14 school year.

2. Three-fourths of students who change schools mid-year are moving in or out of the city’s public school system altogether. Most mid-year school movement represent students newly coming to a publicly funded school – DCPS or a public charter school – or students leaving for a private school or a school outside of DC.

3. The number of students who switch schools within the same sector (DCPS or charter) is about the same as the number who change sectors.

4. More students transferred from public charter schools to DCPS schools mid-year than vice versa. Of the students who switch sectors, the vast majority leave a public charter school to go to a DCPS school. DCPS schools gained 2 percent, or 890 students, in 2013-14, while public charter schools saw a net loss of 4 percent, or 1,330 students.

5. The majority of movement within the same school sector occurs in DCPS. Out of the 743 students who switched schools but stayed in the same sector, 673 were moving from one DCPS school to another. Notably, comprehensive DCPS high schools are disproportionately affected by high rates of churn when compared to all other types of schools.

The negative effects of churn are also seen in our low-income communities and are linked to student achievement. Schools with “high churn” are mostly located in Wards 7 and 8, serve larger shares of at-risk students, and show lower levels of student performance compared to low churn schools.

These findings suggest that it is important to take steps to reduce student mobility between and among the city’s public schools. We hope that this issue will be tackled in the coming months – both in the recommendations coming out of the Deputy Mayor’s Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force meetings and the State Superintendent Office’s working group created to examine the school funding formula.