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Grant Program: Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students
Contact: Dr. Katina Stapleton
(202) 245–6181

The Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students (Highly Mobile Students) special topic supports research to improve the education outcomes of students who face social/behavioral and academic challenges because they frequently move from school to school due to changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This category of students, typically referred to as highly-mobile students, includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. Definitions of highly mobile students vary and can be based on the number of times students change schools and/or residences. For example, an analysis of the 1998-99 kindergarten cohort of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that about 13 percent of all K-8 students in this cohort changed schools four or more times in a given school year, and that these students are disproportionately poor, African American, and from families that do not own their home.

Through this special topic, the Institute seeks to support research on policies and practices that help highly mobile students succeed in school despite residential and/or school mobility. The long-term outcome of this research will be a body of evidence on effective policies and practices that support the education needs of highly mobile students.

IES has funded research on highly mobile students for many years. The first two research projects on highly mobile students focused on promoting executive function to enhance learning in homeless/highly mobile children and developing a model for delivering school-based mentoring to students in military families. Starting in FY 2017, IES created the Highly Mobile special topic to encourage additional research in this area. Now that the Highly Mobile special topic is no longer being competed, the Institute encourages researchers to submit applications pertaining to this category of students to one of the Institute’s other grant competitions.

There are a number of factors that can potentially negatively impact the education outcomes of highly mobile students. For example, while federal policies such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 give students enrollment rights, frequent changes in schools and districts cause students to face changing curricula and subject matter, and older students may have difficulty accruing credits. Highly mobile students may also struggle with other family issues that accompany the source of their mobility (e.g. parental deployment, transferring between foster families, the need to work to help support family or self). More research is needed on support services that reduce these barriers in order to increase student achievement. More research is also needed on policies designed to stabilize school placements of highly mobile students.

Because highly mobile students interact with multiple education systems, the Institute encourages collaboration amongst these systems to develop and evaluate practices and policies to assist highly mobile students in enrolling in, attending, and succeeding in school. For example, the Institute invites research on policies that facilitate students receiving credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools. Researchers could also propose to study policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions or policies designed to help students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state.

The Institute also invites research on policies and programs that address the physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma in addition to addressing required academic outcomes. The Institute encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and also to identify factors that could potentially be used to improve these students’ outcomes. Finally, the Institute encourages the development and evaluation of state and local policies and programs to implement services for highly mobile student populations required by federal law, or provided through federally funded programs (e.g., Migrant Education Program) or interstate agreements (e.g., Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission).

There are numerous options for researchers who are interested in studying highly-mobile K-12 students through the Education Research Grants program (84.305A). The most likely "fits" for K-12 highly mobile research studies are the Improving Education Systems and Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning topics. However, researchers who are interested in studying highly mobile pre-K students are invited to apply through the Early Learning Programs and Policies topic. Similarly, researchers who are interested increasing highly mobile students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary education are invited to apply through the Postsecondary and Adult Education Research topic. IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on highly mobile students and develop a plan for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic in the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy program (84.305H).

If you have any questions about submitting an application to study highly mobile students, please contact Katina Stapleton (