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Social Problems That Place Students At Risk

Social Problems That Place Students At Risk


In the 1940's teachers might have been concerned with students talking out of turn, chewing gum, cutting in line, and running in the halls. Today,over a half of century later, educators concerns reflect the devastating changes in society such as drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, assault, and teen pregnancy.

Can schools solve society's social problems? Schools offer health, education and social service programs. Schools provide breakfast and lunch, counseling, after-school care, job placement, sex and drug education and so many more programs. The role of schools in regard to society's social problems has been vigorously debated over the years, and is still debated today.

Identifying Kids at Risk

Review the seven educational aims discussed previously: national goals, prosocial values, socialization, achievement, personal growth, social change, and equal opportunity. Should schools be concerned with academic growth only?

Activity 1

Should schools be concerned with academic growth only?

Decide your answer, and write a paragraph that would convince the reader that you are correct!



Students who are at risk of dropping out of school tend to get low grades, perform below grade level academically, are older than the average student at their grade level due to previous retention, and have behavior problems at school. There are children in the United States whose life is surrounded by problems related to alcoholism and drug abuse, family or gang violence, unemployment, poverty, poor nutrition, teenage parenthood, and many other catastrophes. Many young people live under conditions such as extreme stress, chronic poverty, crime and lack of adult guidance. Many turn to crime, drugs, gang violence and other activities that increase the risk of dropping out of school. Such dysfunctional families can't provide children with the support and guidance that they need.

Children and Poverty, and the Homeless

I know someone who was happily married. He had a beautiful home. He had a beautiful girl. He began to drink a little, and then a lot. He began to hit his wife. She took their daughter and left him. He lost his job. He lost his home. By this time he was an alcoholic. He moved in with his dad. His dad soon became tired of his drunkenness, and threw him out. He was then homeless. He lived on the streets for years. He entered a shelter, sobered up, began to work, and things were looking up. He began to drink again. He is once again living on the streets today...(A true story told by your teacher)

Taken from the NCCP (National Center for Children in Poverty)

America's children are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as Americans in any other age group (16 percent compared to 9-10 percent for working and retired adults). Since it peaked in 1993, the child poverty rate has been reduced by more than one quarter. With the recent economic downturn, there is a risk the United States will again experience sharp increases in child poverty similar to those that accompanied the recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s.

37 percent of American children** (27 million children) live in low-income families (40 percent of US children under age six-9 million children), in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line ($27,722 for a family of three). Many of the concerns of "near poor" low-income families overlap with those of the poor, such as the need for well-paying jobs and access to affordable quality child care and health care.

16 percent of children (over 11 million children) live in poverty (17 percent of children under age six-4 million children), in families with incomes below the federal poverty line ($13,861 for a family of three in 2000). About the name number of children lived in poverty in 1980.

The United States' child poverty rate is substantially higher-often two-to-three times higher-than that of most other major Western industrialized nations.***

The child poverty rate is highest for African-American (30 percent) and Latino (28 percent) children. The child poverty rate for white children is 9 percent. The poverty rate for children under age six follows a similar pattern: 33 percent for African-American children under age six, 29 percent for Latino young children, and 10 percent for white young children.

6 percent of America's children (5 million) live in extreme poverty (8 percent under age six-2 million children), in families with incomes below half the poverty line. (In 2000, the extreme poverty line was $6,930 for a family of three.)

What Preventing Poverty Means

Reducing child poverty is one of the smartest investments that Americans can make in their nation's future. Fewer children in poverty will mean:

  • more children entering school ready to learn,
  • more successful schools and fewer school dropouts,
  • better child health and less strain on hospitals and public health systems,
  • less stress on the juvenile justice system, and
  • less child hunger and malnutrition, and other important advances.

What About the Homeless?

Taken from the following site: Education of Homeless Children and Youth

NCH Fact Sheet #10
Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, June 1999

This fact sheet examines the barriers to public education faced by homeless children and youth, the progress states have made in removing those barriers, and current policy issues. A list of resources for further study is also provided.


Homeless children are by most accounts among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. Families with children constitute approximately 40% of people who become homeless (Shinn and Weitzman, 1996). A survey of 30 U.S. cities found that in 1998, children accounted for 25% of the urban homeless population and unaccompanied minors accounted for 3% of the urban homeless population (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1998). These proportions are likely to be higher in rural areas; research indicates that families, single mothers, and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas (Vissing, 1996).
When families become homeless, they are often forced to move frequently. Length-of-stay restrictions in shelters, short stays with friends and relatives, and/or relocation to seek employment make it difficult for homeless children to attend school regularly. In addition, guardianship requirements, delays in transfer of school records, lack of a permanent address and/or immunization records often prevent homeless children from enrolling in school. Often, homeless children and youth who are able to enroll in school face another obstacle: inability to get to their school because of lack of transportation. Homeless families may not have a family car or money for public transportation, and many shelters are unable to provide transportation. Children who miss school frequently fall behind very quickly. Without an opportunity to receive an education, homeless children are much less likely to acquire the skills they need to escape poverty as adults.


The McKinney Act's Education of Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program was established by Congress in 1987 in response to reports that over 50% of homeless children were not attending school regularly. The EHCY Program provides formula grants to state educational agencies to ensure that all homeless children and youth have equal access to the same free, appropriate education, including preschool education, provided to other children and youth. State and local educational agencies receive McKinney funds to review and revise laws, regulations, practices, or policies that may act as a barrier to the enrollment, attendance, and success in school of homeless children and youth. In 1990, the McKinney program was amended and its authorized funding level was increased to enable states to provide grants to local educational agencies for direct services to carry out the purposes of the program.
Recent evaluations of the EHCY program reveal that while much progress has been made in ensuring homeless children's access to education, many barriers remain.. A 1995 national evaluation found that approximately 86% of homeless children and youth attended school regularly, a remarkable increase in school access (Anderson et al., 1995). The same study also noted that almost all states have revised laws and policies to improve access to education for homeless students, but that the remaining barriers to enrollment in school include guardianship and immunization requirements, transportation problems, and school fees. Barriers to success in school were found to include family mobility, poor health, and lack of food, clothing, and school supplies. Similarly, a 1995 survey found that shelter providers now view residency requirements as a minor barrier to school enrollment. A majority of the service providers and shelter operators surveyed, however, felt that homeless children faced difficulties in being evaluated for special education programs and services, participating in after-school events and extracurricular activities, obtaining counseling and psychological services, and accessing before- and after-school care programs (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 1995).


Homeless children's access to education has significantly improved as a result of the McKinney EHCY program. However, many obstacles to the enrollment, attendance, and success of homeless children in school persist. One of the largest obstacles is the extremely limited resources available to implement the McKinney Act. When Congress first passed the McKinney Act in 1987, it authorized states to receive $50 million for the education of homeless children and youth. In the ten years since its passage, the EHCY program has yet to receive full funding. The program's FY99 funding level ($28.8 million) is the same as the FY95 funding level, despite reports of increasing homelessness among children. As a result of lack of funds for the EHCY program, many states are serving only a small portion of their estimated population of homeless children. Only 3% of all local education agencies receive McKinney funds (Anderson et al., 1995).
Another policy issue that continues to pose problems for homeless children's and youth's education is lack of clarity in the law regarding the determination of school enrollment and responsibility for transportation. Current language states that "to the extent feasible," the local educational agency shall comply with the request made by a parent or guardian regarding school selection. This ambiguity weakens the mandate to enroll homeless children and youth according to the child's best interest, as school districts may claim that transportation or other costs render the parental choice not "feasible." In addition, while the law orders state and local educational agencies to remove barriers to enrollment, it does not specify that homeless children and youth be enrolled immediately; thus, many homeless children are still forced to wait while records are gathered and other requirements are met.

Two subpopulations of children who face increased policy barriers to education are unaccompanied homeless youth and homeless pre-schoolers. Homeless youth are often prevented from enrolling in and attending school by curfew laws, liability concerns, and legal guardianship requirements (Anderson et al., 1995). Homeless pre-schoolers also face difficulty accessing public preschool education. According to a 1997 survey conducted by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 30% of state coordinators estimated that few or no homeless children were enrolled in preschool. In addition, 70% of all respondents (state coordinators and service providers) reported that funding was inadequate to meet the preschool needs of homeless children, and 80% of all respondents indicated that public preschool programs have waiting lists from less than 30 days to more than 12 months (National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 1997). Findings from a three-year Head Start Demonstration Project reveal numerous challenges in serving homeless children and their families, including recruiting and enrolling homeless families; retaining homeless families and children in project services; involving homeless parents; and meeting the unique needs of homeless children and parents (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).

The McKinney Education of Homeless Children and Youth program will be reauthorized by Congress in 1999, along with other Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs. For more information on reauthorization, please contact Barbara Duffield at 202.737.6444, ext. 312, or email: nch@ari.net.


What homeless children need most of all is a home. While they are experiencing homelessness, however, children desperately need to remain in school. School is one of the few stable, secure places in the lives of homeless children and youth -- a place where they can acquire the skills needed to help them escape poverty.

At our school, homeless children are reported to the social worker.


Every state has a state coordinator for the education of homeless children and youth. To locate the coordinator in your state, see the Directory of State Contacts for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

In addition, the National Center for Homeless Education serves as a clearinghouse for information and resources on the educational rights of homeless children and youth. The web site contains the full text of the McKinney Act as well as numerous educational resources.

Visit the site The National Coalition for the Homeless

Anderson, Leslie et al. An Evaluation of State and Local Efforts to Serve the Educational Needs of Homeless Children and Youth, 1995. Available, free, from the U.S. Department of Education, 600 Independence Ave., SW, Room 4168, Washington, DC 20202-8240; 202/401-0590.

National Association of State Coordinators for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Making the Grade: Successes and Challenges in Educating Homeless Children and Youth, 1996. Available, free, at http://nch.ari.net/education/.

National Coalition for the Homeless. America's Homeless Children: Will Their Future Be Different?, 1997. Available, free, at http://nch.ari.net/edsurvey97.

U.S. Department of Education. Meeting the Needs of Homeless Children and Youth: A Resource for Schools and Communities, 1997. Available, free, from the U.S. Department of Education, Compensatory Education Programs, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, 600 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202-6132; 1-800-879-5327.

U.S. Department of Education. 1995 Report to Congress on the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, 1995. Available, free, from the Office of Compensatory Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, 1250 Maryland Ave., SW (4400 Portals), Washington, DC 20024; 202/260-0826.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Head Start Bureau. Serving Homeless Families: Descriptions, Effective Practices, and Lessons Learned, 1999. Available, free, from the Head Start Publications Management Center, by email at HSPMC9@idt.net or by fax at 703.683.5769.


Activity 2

Read these Personal Experiences of the Homelessness

***Look for final exam questions and answers that were created by students in Ms. Brady's room! These questions will really be used on the final exam! I will keep them hanging up until winter break. These questions will be about the personal experiences of the homeless.

Choose one experience, and answer the following questions.

1. Who did you choose to read about? Convince the reader that this person is a hero.

2. How did this person become homeless?

3. Could this happen to you? Explain why or why not.

4. What do homeless children need most of all? Do they need to go to school? Explain your answer.

5.. Do you know anyone who is homeless? Elaborate on your answer

6. Who is our State Coordinator for the Homeless?




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