Academic outcomes for students experiencing homelessness are far worse than those for housed students

Oct 2, 2018

Our new in-depth analysis finds that students of color are impacted disproportionately and outcomes are poor no matter the type of living situation.

The connection between students’ housing stability and their educational success is undeniable. A Schoolhouse Washington in-depth analysis of 2016-17 data from schools across the state of Washington finds that:

  • Students experiencing homelessness have academic outcomes well below those of students who are housed.
  • Six out of 10 students experiencing homelessness are students of color.
  • Students experiencing homelessness who are doubled-up (staying with others due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason) have similarly poor academic outcomes as those living in hotels/motels, in shelters and unsheltered. 

Our report, Students Experiencing Homelessness in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools: 2016-17 Trends, Characteristics and Academic Outcomes, examines overall trends of student homelessness; compares academic outcomes among students who are homeless, housed and low-income; and disaggregates outcomes by race/ethnicity and nighttime residence. This is the first in a series of reports from Schoolhouse Washington, a project of Building Changes, analyzing student homelessness data obtained from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. We hope the information will motivate education officials and government policymakers to improve services to students experiencing homelessness and their families across the state. We also hope it will add urgency to addressing the overrepresentation of students of color in the student homelessness population.

Be sure to visit our Local Data and Outcomes Dashboards to explore student homelessness data by school district, legislative district and county.

Trends and characteristics

At 40,934, the number of students experiencing homelessness in Washington is growing, particularly in the doubled-up and unsheltered categories.

  • The prevalence of student homelessness is growing faster in Washington than the national average.
  • Washington had the sixth highest number and eighth highest rate of students experiencing homelessness in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Students experiencing homelessness are in every grade level. Grade 12 has the largest number of any grade, and about half are in kindergarten through Grade 5.

Academic outcomes

Students experiencing homelessness are far more likely than housed students to score low on state proficiency tests, miss days of school and fail to graduate on time. They also fare worse academically than low-income students who are housed.

  • 34 percent of students experiencing homelessness are proficient in English language arts. This is substantially below the rate for their housed peers (60%) and below the rate for housed low-income students (44%).
  • 24 percent of students experiencing homelessness are proficient in mathematics. This is half the rate for their housed peers (49%) and below the rate for housed low-income students (34%).
  • 62 percent of students experiencing homelessness attend school regularly, which is an indicator of academic success. This is substantially lower than the rates for their housed peers (86%) and housed low-income students (81%).
  • 55 percent of students experiencing homelessness graduate within four years. This is substantially below the four-year (on-time) graduation rate for their housed peers (81%) and housed low-income students (72%).

Racial disproportionality

Statewide, six out of 10 students experiencing homelessness are students of color. 

  • The student homelessness rate is higher or substantially higher among students who are Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, or two or more races when compared to White students.
  • The rate of student homelessness is particularly high among Black/African Americans:
    • 8.8 percent of all Black/African American students experienced homelessness during the 2016-17 school year—or one in every 11.
    • 12 percent of all students experiencing homelessness in the state are Black/African American, even though Blacks/African Americans make up only 5 percent of the state’s total student population.

Nighttime residence

The traumatic experience of homelessness has a detrimental effect on academic performance regardless of category of nighttime residence.

  • 74 percent of students experiencing homelessness are in doubled-up situations.
  • Academic and disciplinary outcomes for students experiencing homelessness who are living doubled-up are similarly poor as those for students living in hotels/motels, in shelters and unsheltered for several outcomes, including English language arts proficiency, mathematics proficiency and regular attendance rate.

Infographics produced by Schoolhouse Washington and Building Changes in partnership with Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness. Graphic Designer: Madison Vucci (SU ’18)

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