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Participation of Migrant Students in Title I Migrant Education Program (MEP) Summer-Term Projects, 1998
NCES: 2000061
February 2000


Migrant students have been targeted by federal policy for at-risk students for over three decades (Strang and von Glatz 1999). Migrants are migratory workers, or the children or spouses of migratory workers, who relocate in order to obtain seasonal or temporary employment in agriculture or fishing. The educational disruptions that result from repeated moves and irregular attendance often impede migrant students' chances for school success. In addition, migrant students' academic difficulties may be compounded by other problems including language barriers, poverty, and unique health problems (Leon 1996).

The Migrant Education Program (MEP), authorized under Title I, Part C, of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA), was legislated in 1966 to provide supplemental instruction and support services for qualifying migrant children. Under this program, migrant students of ages 3 to 21 are eligible to receive federally funded MEP services if the student has made an eligible move within the preceding 3 years. 1 To establish a national system of counting and tracking the students as they move from school to school, the Migrant Student Records Transfer System (MSRTS) was legislated in 1969. However, the system was eliminated in 1994 because it was costly and did not transfer student records efficiently (U.S. Department of Education 1999).

MEP summer-term projects are an important component of the Migrant Education Program. They are designed to provide continuity of instruction for migrant students who experienced educational disruptions during the school year (U.S. Department of Education 1999). Although participation in summer-term projects has increased substantially in recent years, there are few studies that focus on the services they provide. To explore the extent to which summer-term projects operating in 1998 addressed the special needs of migrant students, this survey provides data about various types of instructional and support services that were available to migrant students. Another purpose of the study is to provide a description of how the projects maintain and transmit migrant student records.

Special Needs of Migrant Students

Migrant students share many of the problems faced by children from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. For instance, migrant students are among the most economically disadvantaged groups in the nation (U.S. Department of Education 1999), and many migrant students have limited English proficiency (Strang and von Glatz 1999). However, the very nature of migratory lifestyles and agricultural work produces unique problems that compound the risks migrant children share with other disadvantaged groups. Migrant children experience considerable education disruptions due to repeated moves and irregular school attendance. In addition, migrant families typically live in isolated farming communities, and they are vulnerable to the health hazards of agricultural work (Leon 1996).

Migrant students may need supplemental instructional services to overcome some of the academic difficulties that result from frequent educational disruptions and from language barriers to educational success. On average, these students lag behind their peers in academic achievement (U.S. General Accounting Office 1994), and they have exceptionally high dropout rates, ranging between 45 and 65 percent for high school students (Morse and Cahape Hammer 1998). The academic difficulties experienced by migrant students may be exacerbated by other factors, including poverty, health problems, and relative isolation from the community. Therefore, migrant students may need various support services in order to benefit from academic opportunities made available under the MEP. For example, migrant students may have a special need for health services because they typically face different and more complex health problems than the general U.S. population: migrant families suffer more frequently from dental diseases and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and contact dermatitis (Leon 1996).

The Migrant Education Program

In recognition of the special needs of migrant students, the Migrant Education-Basic Grant Program was legislated in 1966 as an amendment to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Following the reauthorization of MEP in 1994, the program currently operates under the authority of Title I, Part C of the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA) of 1994 to provide formula grants to states for the provision of supplemental education and support services for migrant children (U.S. Congress 1994). The Migrant Education Program is designed to:

  • "Establish a priority for the services for migratory children whose education has been interrupted during the school year and who are failing, or at risk of failing, to meet their state's content and performance standards;

  • Ensure that migrant children are provided with appropriate educational services (including support services such as health and social services) that address their special needs in a coordinated and efficient manner;

  • Require that states transfer student records and other data to other states and schools as students migrate;

  • Target the most recently mobile children, who experience the most disruption in schooling, by limiting the population counted to those who have moved within the previous three years; and

  • Encourage the formation of consortia of states and other appropriate entities to reduce administrative and other costs for state MEPs and to make more funds available for direct services for children" (U.S. Department of Education 1999).

MEP is administered by the Office of Migrant Education (OME) through federal grants to states. MEP funds are used to ensure that eligible migrant children are provided with instructional and support services that address the students' special needs. MEP services are usually administered by schools, districts, and/or other public or private organizations, and they may be provided during the regular school year and summer sessions (U.S. Department of Education 1998).

MEP summer-term projects play an important role in providing supplemental education to students whose education has been disrupted during the school year. These projects offer concentrated, intensive learning experiences that are coordinated with students' instructional program during the regular term (U.S. Department of Education 1999). In general, MEP services offered to migrant students in the summer tend to cover a wider range of activities than services offered during the regular school year (Rosenthal and Pringle 1993).

MEP Student Participation

Migrant students are eligible for MEP-funded instructional and support services if they change school districts because their families moved to find temporary agricultural or fishing work. Before the 1995-1996 school year, migrant children were eligible for program services for up to 6 years from their qualifying move. However, based on current legislation, migrant students of ages 3 to 21 are eligible for MEP services if they (or their parents or other family member) have made an eligible move within the preceding 3 years.

State estimates on MEP participation rates suggest that, overall, migrant student participation in MEP projects has increased over the past decade, with summer-term participation growing faster than the regular term (U.S. Department of Education 1998). However, between 1995 and 1997, regular term MEP participation decreased slightly while summer-term participation increased considerably. 2 For example, states reported about 473,000 MEP participants during the regular terms in 1996-1997 school year and 283,000 in the summer of 1997. 3 These estimates reflected a 3 percent decrease in regular-term participation, but a 28 percent increase in summer-term participation from the previous year.

The nation's migrant students are not evenly distributed across the country. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 1998, estimates provided by states showed that the majority of migrant students were located in two states: California and Texas (Table 1). For example, California accounted for 37 percent of migrant students participating in the 1996-1997 summer-term projects, and Texas accounted for another 14 percent of the students. Each of the other states accounted for 5 percent or fewer summer-term migrant student participants for the same year. Similar patterns were observed for the 12-month count of eligible migrant students.

Migrant Student Records

Timely transfer of migrant student records is important to facilitate inter- and intrastate coordination in the provision of instructional and support services for migrant students (U.S. Department of Education 1999). To ensure continuity in the provision of appropriate MEP instructional services as migrant students move from school to school, and to avoid duplication of services or inappropriate placement of students, it is important that records be available, complete, and timely (Cahape 1993). For instance, relevant educational data, including information about grade level, skill levels (e.g., test scores) and participation in special programs (e.g., English as a second language or special education) may be used to assess students' instructional needs. Health records are also important. For example, students may not be able to enroll in the MEP project without immunization records. In addition, because educational well-being tends to be influenced by physical well-being, and because migrant children may have complex health problems, relevant health records can be used to identify physical conditions that might affect students' learning capabilities.

In recognition of the importance of migrant student records, the Migrant Student Records Transfer System (MSRTS) was established in 1969 as a twin component of MEP to operate as a national computerized records system to maintain and transmit migrant student records. Although MSRTS was discontinued, the new MEP statute reiterated that adequate maintenance and transmission of student records should remain an important component of the program, and states were expected to take primary responsibility for putting mechanisms in place to meet the recordkeeping requirements of MEP (U.S. Department of Education 1999, Wright, 1995).

There is some available information on how states currently maintain and transmit migrant records. Unpublished tabulations indicate that state and districts tend to rely more on mail and telephone or fax than electronic means to transfer migrant student records (U.S. Department of Education 1999). In addition, a recently published report of schoolwide programs indicated that while schools were more likely to obtain and send migrant student records by mail than other means of records transfer, they also used fax, phone, or electronic methods (Strang and von Glatz 1999).

Purpose and Design of This Study

This study reports on MEP summer-term project activities in 1998, including services provided and record-keeping activities. Specifically, the survey was designed to provide information about:

  • Selected characteristics of 1998 MEP summerterm projects and students, including the number of migrant students enrolled and technical assistance available to projects;

  • Various types of supplemental instructional and social support services provided by projects; and

  • The availability and transmission of student records.

The survey was conducted through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) during the fall of 1998. FRSS is a survey system designed to collect small amounts of issue-oriented data with minimal burden on respondents and within a relatively short timeframe. Data were collected by means of a sample survey of public school districts and other entities, including community-based social services organizations across the United States that provided MEP summer-term projects in 1998. Respondents were persons at these organizations who were most knowledgeable about summerterm projects in 1998. In this report, the respondent is referred to as the MEP summer-term project.

Survey findings are presented throughout the report in aggregate form for all MEP summer-term projects, and significant differences are presented by project characteristics. Appendix B contains detailed tables of the survey data, including tables of standard errors, broken out by project characteristics: enrollment size of project, student population served, metropolitan status, and geographic region. Readers may use the detailed tables in appendix B to make comparisons not cited in the text of the report. The data are also presented by selected states, California and Texas, because past studies indicate that these states account for the largest concentrations of migrant student populations (Table 1; U.S. Department of Education 1998). Project characteristics are described in the methodology section, appendix A. Data have been weighted to national estimates of MEP summer-term projects and students in 1998. All comparative statements made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 0.05 level or lower. However, not all significant comparisons have been presented in the text of the report.

Organization of This Report

The next chapter of the report provides an overview of MEP summer-term projects in 1998, including a description of the projects by selected characteristics (e.g., student population served and enrollment size of project). Chapter 3 examines various types of instructional and social support needs served by 1998 MEP summer-term projects, including methods of determining students' needs. Chapter 4 reports on the availability and transmission of migrant student records, including types of student information available, creating and updating records, and ways in which records were received and forwarded by MEP projects. The final chapter summarizes the survey findings.

1 In this study, a migrant student is defined as a person below 21 years of age and without a high school diploma who is, or whose parent, spouse, or guardian is, a migratory agricultural worker (including a migratory dairy worker or fisher), and who has changed school districts in the preceding years in order to (a) obtain temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work or (b) accompany or join a parent, spouse, or guardian who moves to obtain temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work (Office of Migrant Education). An eligible move is one in which workers and their families change school districts because they moved to find temporary agricultural or fishing work.

2 A major factor associated with the decline in regular school-term MEP participation rates is the change in eligibility requirements. Proportionately fewer migrants were eligible for MEP instructional services after the 1994-1995 school year because the period for qualifying moves was reduced from 6 years to 3 years in 1995- 1996.

3 Participant counts are unduplicated counts within states but are duplicated at the national level because each state counts and reports participants as they migrate across the country. Therefore, national level data may represent overcounts of the number of participants receiving MEP services nationally.