Student homelessness data (Chapin Hall Study) in America’s schools is extremely disheartening. Nearly 700,000 students annually (see graph above) will be faced with some degree of homelessness while in school. In a 2016 report from America’s Promise the numbers are much higher. They report:
Student homelessness is on the rise, with more than 1.3 million homeless students identified during the 2013-14 school year. This is a 7 percent increase from the previous year and more than double the number of homeless students in 2006-07.
This report from National Public Radio, As The Number Of Homeless Students Soars, How Schools Can Serve Them Better, summarizes the problem in a comprehensive way.
More than 1 million public school students in the United States have no room to call their own, no desk to do their homework, no bed to rely on at night. State data collection, required by federal law and aggregated by the National Center for Homeless Education, shows the number of homeless students has doubled in the past decade, to 1.3 million in 2013-2014.
We should listen to the voices of these homeless children and adolescence, and determine whether our national conversation is focused on the right issues. How can we expect students to learn, growth, and thrive in school if they are unable to feel as though they have a safe and secure roof over their heads. While 1.3 million homeless students out of about 55 million total students in America’s schools is not a larger percentage (about 2%), we shouldn’t be satisfied with even one student being homeless.
Now if that were not a large enough problem to tackle, what about the health and well-being of our children. Childhood obesity trends are going in the wrong direction. According to statistics from State of Obesity, nearly 20% of students in America are obese. That would translate into 11 million school-age children are struggling with obesity. State of Obesity reports:
The rate varies among different age groups and rises as children get older: 13.9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds are obese. There also are striking racial and ethnic disparities, 25.8 percent of Hispanic children and 22 percent of Black children are obese. Learn more from the latest surveys and trends.
We know obesity is a precursor to all sorts of health conditions that compromise a child’s ability to attend school and be a successful learner. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity can have major consequences for a child’s ongoing health and readiness to engage in life’s work. They write that “obesity during childhood can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways.”
Children who have obesity are more likely to have:
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
- Increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
- Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
- Joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, and gastro-esophageal reflux (i.e., heartburn).
Childhood obesity is also related to:
- Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
- Low self-esteem and lower self-reported quality of life.
- Social problems such as bullying and stigma.
We talk a lot about national standards, taxes for school budgets and buildings, adequate teacher preparation, evaluation and autonomy, and high-stakes test results to measure school effectiveness, but we never seem to talk about things that really could make a difference for so many of our school-age children. We should be solving the homeless problem for students so they can learn without worrying about the roof over their head. We should be addressing the nutrition problems of a large percentage of school age children so that they don’t become victims of diabetes, heart disease, and depression. These are the issues that should consume our national conversation about schooling in America. Until we change the narrative, getting our public officials to address the real problems facing our schools, we will struggle seeing real progress.