Cover: Student Displacement in Louisiana After the Hurricanes of 2005

Student Displacement in Louisiana After the Hurricanes of 2005

Experiences of Public Schools and Their Students

Published Nov 27, 2006

by John F. Pane, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Shannah Tharp-Gilliam, Gary J. Asmus, Billy R. Stokes


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Hurricane Katrina was the most costly and devastating natural disaster in U.S. history. It and Hurricane Rita combined left the Gulf region with tremendous challenges for recovery and the need to rebuild infrastructure and reestablish services. This report focuses on the displacement of approximately 200,000 public school students in Louisiana.

To help guide educators and policymakers in their ongoing responses to this disaster and in their preparations for future events, this technical report documents many of the short-term effects of the movements of students caused by the storms. Focusing on the Louisiana public school system, it explores the experiences of displaced students during the first academic year following the hurricanes: their movements among schools, the durations of enrollments at each site, time out of school, and the number and characteristics of students fitting each of four patterns of movement. It also reports on the effects of the displacement on schools and their students, and policies adopted in response to serving displaced students.

Using Louisiana’s student data system, we obtained information about all students in the state who entered or exited a public school at any time during the 2005–06 school year because of the hurricanes, and we surveyed principals from a stratified sample of schools serving displaced students statewide.

The student displacement due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita persisted throughout the entire 2005–06 school year; 55 percent of the displaced students ended the school year outside their original schools. The students who remained displaced were disproportionately minority students and students who had been achieving poorly prior to the storms. But even among those students who have returned to their original schools, a substantial amount of schooling was lost, and the effects of the storms linger.

Principals reported that displaced students, both those who have returned to their original schools and those who have enrolled elsewhere in the state, exhibited several common symptoms of trauma. In some schools, the displaced students were more likely than others to engage in fighting, arguing, bullying, eating or playing in isolation, and violating school rules; they were less likely to engage in school clubs, activities, social events, or sports teams. Principals also frequently reported that displaced students were more likely than preexisting students to need mental health counseling.

Schools throughout the state and the nation will continue to be called on to serve displaced students, and it is imperative that they obtain the resources they need to serve them well. Policies and resources to help teachers manage their own hurricane-related problems and mental health needs might ultimately improve the services teachers provide to students. Finally, education officials at both the state and local levels would benefit from better access to complete and accurate student records and a national system to coordinate two-way sharing of student information across state boundaries.

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The research described in this report results from the RAND Corporation’s continuing program of self-initiated independent research. Support for such research is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research development provisions of RAND’s contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. This research was conducted within RAND Education and the RAND Gulf States Policy Institute (RGSPI).

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