Summary of the State of Research on the Relationship Between Homelessness and Academic Achievement Among School-Aged Children and Youth

The purpose of this publication is to provide an overview of research that studies the relationship between homelessness and academic achievement among school-aged children and youth in the United States. For readers interested in conducting research on the education of homeless children and youth, this publication (1) provides context on child, youth, and family homelessness from the late 1980s to the present; (2) summarizes policies and practices that link homeless children and youth to educational supports and services; (3) provides an overview of selected research studies that examine the relationship between homelessness and academic achievement; (4) describes commonly utilized methodologies and challenges in conducting research on homeless and highly mobile populations; and (5) offers direction for further research. The authors of this publication identified a set of 16 published articles dating from 1987 to 2011. Studies were selected on the basis of the following criteria: (1) homeless children or youth were the subjects examined; (2) the article described a formal research study with an articulated research question and methodology; (3) the research questions examined the relationship between homelessness and the educational success of homeless children and youth; and (4) the article was published in a peer-reviewed journal or referenced in an article in a peer-reviewed journal. While the selected studies do not constitute a comprehensive literature review, they nevertheless represent some of the most frequently cited studies in the field and provide a snapshot of approaches to examining the relationship between homelessness and academic achievement. In addition, the authors reviewed four articles that provided overviews of the state of research on homeless children, which cited many of the same studies that were reviewed in this publication (Buckner, 2008; Cunningham, Harwood, & Hall, 2010; Miller, 2011; Samuels, Shinn, & Buckner, 2010). These four articles provided historical perspectives on research on homeless children, including their educational outcomes, as well as summaries of findings in various studies and recommendations for further research. Homeless education is a relatively new field for research; as such, studies in this area are limited both in number and scope. Responding to the increased awareness of child and family homelessness that occurred in the 1980s, researchers primarily from the field of behavioral science began to conduct studies to describe a heretofore unexamined population – children and youth in homeless families. Studies attempted to describe this population, oftentimes in comparison with similar populations, such as housed children living in impoverished conditions. Studying highly mobile populations posed many challenges, resulting in most studies collecting data on families and children living in homeless shelters in urban areas. Many studies viewed homeless children or youth as a homogeneous population, with only a few recent studies attempting to identify subgroups within a sample of homeless children and youth. Questions in the research studies included in this review address ways in which homeless students are similar to or different from housed peers; describe relationships among homelessness, cognition, and academic achievement; and identify variables that are associated with adaptability. Conducting successful research on homeless students continues to be a moving target: Homeless children and families are highly mobile; changing economic climates impact the demographics and numbers of homeless children and families; and ever-evolving laws and policies result in significant changes in services over time. For these reasons, studies are very contextual and difficult to generalize beyond the sample, time, and setting studied.

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