Academic outcomes for students experiencing homelessness are low across the state of Washington

Published: September 29, 2019

Our in-depth data analysis finds academic outcomes for students experiencing homelessness far below their housed peers 

Our latest in-depth analysis of public school data finds that academic outcomes for students experiencing homelessness continue to lag behind those of their housed peers in all academic measures ranging from English language arts and mathematics proficiency to on-time graduation.

The analysis also provides further evidence that student homelessness is a statewide issue, as students experiencing homelessness fare worse by comparison regardless of whether they go to school in a city, town, suburb, or rural community.

The report by Schoolhouse Washington, a project of Building Changes, is the second in our annual series analyzing public school data in depth. Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools: Trends, Characteristics, and Academic Outcomes, 2015-2018 examines overall trends of student homelessness. It compares academic outcomes among students experiencing homelessness, students living in low-income households, and those in stable housing. It also disaggregates outcomes by race/ethnicity, nighttime residence, and—new to this year’s report—geographic location.

The report also tracks and compares student outcomes over four school years, from 2014-15 to 2017-18, revealing both encouraging and discouraging trends:

  • On-time graduation rates have improved for students experiencing homelessness, and the gap compared to their housed peers has narrowed.
  • English language arts and math proficiency rates have improved for students experiencing homelessness, but the gaps in those outcomes compared to their housed peers have grown larger.
  • Outcomes related to social-emotional learning (regular attendance and suspension rates) have gotten worse for students experiencing homelessness.

As a direct consequence of their housing instability, students experiencing homelessness face a variety of barriers outside of their control that get in the way of their goals of achieving academic success. The federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and Washington’s Homeless Student Stability Program have been crucial in establishing and protecting the rights of students experiencing homelessness – and in making progress toward eliminating those barriers to success. Nevertheless, the resources invested across the state toward student homelessness fall short in addressing the magnitude of the issue.

“Given what the data are telling us, it is evident that the needs of many students experiencing homelessness are not adequately being met,” said D’Artagnan Caliman, executive director of Building Changes.

Other key findings of our report include:

  • More than 60% of students experiencing homelessness are students of color. Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students have experienced the largest increases in student homelessness rates since 2015.

  • Student homelessness has risen sharply in Washington. More than 40,000 students experienced homelessness during the 2017-18 academic year?a total that is almost twice that of 10 years ago.
  • Student homelessness on a per-capita basis is highest in rural communities at a rate of 4.8%. Looking at sheer numbers, however, more than 40% of all students experiencing homelessness are enrolled in school districts located inside a city (such as Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, etc.).
  • Students experiencing homelessness who are living doubled-up have similarly poor academic outcomes as those living in hotels/motels, in shelters, and unsheltered. This pattern holds true for all academic outcomes.
  • Unsheltered homelessness is the fastest growing nighttime residence category. The proportion living unsheltered has increased in every grade, among almost every racial/ethnic group, and in every type of geographic location (city, rural, suburban, town) since 2015.

In addition to the statewide data presented within this report, we updated our set of interactive dashboards, an online tool to view localized student homelessness data broken down by school district, legislative district, and county.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction provided all raw data analyzed for our report and dashboards. All analyses and interpretations within the report and dashboards are those of Schoolhouse Washington, a project of Building Changes, and do not necessarily reflect the views of OSPI.

Infographics produced by Schoolhouse Washington and Building Changes, in partnership with Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness. Graphic Designer: Anneke Karreman (SU ’20)

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