Homelessness Is Not a Predictor of Academic Achievement, but Remains a Risk Factor

Homelessness Is Not a Predictor of Academic Achievement, but Remains a Risk Factor
Kerri J. Tobin
Urban Education
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Homelessness is not a predictor of student success, but it is one of several risk factors for school achievement, according to Kerri J. Tobin in Urban Education. Tobin used administrative data on student test scores, demographics, and housing status in a large Northeastern city to compare the academic achievement of homeless and housed low-socioeconomic (SES) students between 2007 and 2009. Studying the differences in scores on language arts and math standardized tests, the author limited her sample to third, fourth, and fifth grade students attending the two school districts in the city with the lowest median income and highest percentage of residents living in poverty. This isolated her analysis to homeless students living with families who attend similar schools. While controlling for race and ethnicity, poverty (measured by participation in the federal free lunch program), and participation in special education, the author tested for the association between test scores and homelessness, absenteeism, and school-level factors, such as the school’s poverty rate and average overall test scores. The author considers the implications of her findings on policy, practice, and future research.

Key findings

  • Differences in performance on language arts and math tests were not significant between homeless and housed low-SES students, demonstrating that housing status was not a predictor of academic achievement.
  • School attendance can mediate effects of housing status on academic achievement. But homeless students were absent more often than other students in this city, missing nearly one full month of school each year.
  • School-level characteristics were not a predictor of homeless students’ success.
  • Academic interventions are likely most effective when they target all low-SES students, not just those experiencing homelessness.