NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Special Schools for Homeless Spark Educators' Debate

September 19, 2001

Children of homeless parents often have a difficult time getting an education. They cannot always get to school, and when their parents move frequently they're often absent for long periods. When they attend mainstream public schools, they are frequently subject to the taunts of other students. An answer has been found in schools specifically for homeless children.

  • The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reports there are about 40 schools for homeless children in 19 states.
  • The largest, Thomas J. Pappas School, with three sites in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., has 500 students in grades K-12.
  • In addition to an education, schools for the homeless provide meals, clean clothes, medical attention, school supplies, transportation and even birthday gifts.

Critics believe that special schools for the homeless do not provide an adequate education to children whose lives are destabilized by poverty, itinerant parents and low self esteem. They argue that social discomfort in the classroom is a small price to pay for the superior level of education in a mainstream school -- and that homeless school test results are below those of public schools.

Supporters counter they are interested in gap reduction, not test scores: if they can bring a sixth-grader with first-grade reading skills up to a fourth-grade level, they say, they've done their job.

Source: Michael Janofsky, "Debate Weighs Merits of Schools for Homeless," New York Times, September 19, 2000.


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