Students in foster care get the short end of nearly every stick. And one of the most damaging shortfalls for their long-term welfare is the lack of access to consistent, quality schooling. A year ago, a national study of over a thousand foster kids revealed that kids in the system moved schools an average of once a year and lost 5-6 months of academic progress with every move. More if they were moving between schools with very different performance levels (bad to good, mediocre to awful, good to bad.)
They also found that every single change in living arrangements with their attendant change in schools reduced the child’s chance of graduating by fifty percent. More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the United States, and just barely over half are statistically going to graduate at all.
When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and later No Child Left Behind stressed the importance for schools to close the gap between their high and low performers, education agencies identified foster kids as officially high-risk for the first time. In 2014, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act was passed, which gave childcare welfare agencies important access to education records (these were previously only available to legal guardians). With agencies able to keep themselves up to date, they could ease some of the frustrations (enrollment delay, having to repeat courses, credits that didn’t transfer or went missing) that increased the odds a student would drop out.
This year, a clause in the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has gone a step further. The new act contains provisions to keep students in the same schools if at all possible, even if they move from one district to another. It requires schools and state agencies to provide transportation and to expedite enrollment and record transfer if a change of schools has to happen anyway. Perhaps more importantly, schools are required to report the progress of students in state care as they would any other minority group, so that for the first time, broad national data is available to be acted upon.