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New study examines outcome when students change schools

New study examines outcome when students change schools

DECEMBER 3, 2020 — Each time children change schools, they leave behind friends and must adapt to new environments. In Bexar County, new evidence suggests educational achievement declines and students lose services essential to learning and development when they change schools unrelated to factors such as grade promotion—a phenomenon known as school mobility.  

The UTSA Urban Education Institute (UEI) study “School Mobility: A Growing and Inequitable Headwind to Educational Achievement” analyzed public K-12 schools in Bexar County (both traditional public schools and public charters). It found that mobility disrupts learning and negatively impacts rates of local high school graduation, college enrollment and college degree completion.  

“If policy changes are not made, our most vulnerable students will be left behind.”

The most severe effects were felt by students in charter schools and those considered economically disadvantaged. The study found that charter schools in Bexar County were more likely to declassify and less likely to classify mobile students needing special education services than traditional public schools. That’s despite protections in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) against such processes, said Mike Villarreal, UEI director and author of the report.   

“Our study is very timely considering the policies we’re seeing at the state level of opening more charter schools with very little oversight. These actions are putting our state at risk of once again violating federal law that protects students with special needs.” Villarreal said. “If policy changes are not made, our most vulnerable students will be left behind.” 

A federal investigation in 2018 found Texas in violation of IDEA when the state arbitrarily capped the number of students with disabilities it served at 8.5 percent.  

Villarreal said economic trends in Bexar County and across Texas forewarn of continued high rates of school mobility. Rising income inequality, declining access to affordable housing and increasing school-choice opportunities under current accountability and funding rules are combining to make school mobility more likely and more severe. If the issue is ignored, any increased investments and efforts to improve education will be met by a growing headwind, preventing real forward progress in raising educational attainment rates, he said.  

Other key findings in the full report include:

  • One in five Bexar County students changes schools annually. That’s an 18.3 percent probability of school mobility.

  • Students at public charter schools were at the highest risk of changing schools. Their overall mobility rate of 29.5 percent was almost double that of their traditional public school counterparts’ of 17.9 percent.

  • Public charter schools in Bexar County were more likely to declassify and less likely to classify mobile students needing special education services than traditional public schools. For example, students changing schools faced a 19.2 percent probability of losing special education services if they moved from traditional public schools into charters. Change the destination—move charter students to traditional public schools—and their chance of gaining special education services increased to 1.8 percent.

  • At the next highest risk of changing schools were public school students who received school disciplinary reports. Those students’ overall mobility rate was 26.8 percent, compared to those who received no school disciplinary action, at 16.9 percent.

  • The subgroup of charter students most likely to change schools was comprised of those receiving disciplinary reports. When these students were written up for disciplinary actions, their probability of changing schools increased from 27.5 percent to 41.3 percent.


Recent UEI studies include three reports on K-12 pandemic learning titled Teaching and Learning in the Time of COVID-19:

The full report includes both broad policy recommendations and technical fixes to the existing educational system to prevent unintended consequences of school mobility. Each recommendation aims to prevent schools from being rewarded for meeting accountability standards through strategic enrollment. The study also highlights specific Bexar County schools with above average school mobility for students with special needs—a phenomenon that can indicate potential IDEA violations.

“Untangling the various causes of school mobility will help marshal the attention of policymakers to address school mobility from multiple perspectives—not just education, but also housing, neighborhood safety, juvenile justice reform, and disability rights,” Villarreal said. “Equity in education cannot be attained without addressing these causes that push our most vulnerable students out of their school communities.”

Nicole Foy

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