Homelessness is a substantial and systemic problem, as it provides people with the fewest resources even less of a chance to better themselves and escape the cycle of poverty. Homeless youth, in particular, face particular problems, being offered substantially fewer chances to succeed compared to other youth of the same age who are not homeless. There are many reasons for youth to become homeless; in many cases, homeless children have homeless parents, or have been tied up in the system without a concrete family structure (e.g. orphans). One substantial phenomenon is the homeless LGBT child; despite the many social advances that gay rights advocates have managed to achieve in recent years, a substantial number of teens are kicked out of their homes because of their sexuality by angry parents who reject them (Leitsinger, 2014). Because these teens have nowhere to go, they are forced to turn to homelessness, often engaging in prostitution and drug use in order to survive and cope with these conditions. Homeless youth also have a high rate of mental problems and traumas given their extreme level of poverty, and are given few avenues for escaping from this endless cycle of destitution and lack of education. Because of these circumstances and more, it is especially important that homeless youth be provided with avenues to get out of their entrenched systems of poverty.
The issue of homelessness is a substantial one, particularly in the case of homeless youth; school-aged homeless youth find it uniquely difficult to get an education. There are often issues of transiency, of not staying in the same place, not being able to afford the basic resources required for attending school, and so on, creating a matrix of factors that make it particularly difficult for these students to get a comparable level of education to other students, if any education at all. As education is a significant resource by which individuals can uplift themselves out of poor socioeconomic conditions, it is doubly imperative that homeless youth are given the chance to receive a quality education. To that end, the issue of providing educational resources to homeless youth must be given high priority in the field of education.
In addition to the basic utilities of an education, teacher-leaders have a unique position to provide particularly helpful guidance and support to these impoverished, homeless children. As homelessness often leads to a daily life devoid of structure and largely removed from the niceties of modern society, homeless youth live their lives without the psychological and emotional coping mechanisms and support system they need to survive and achieve their potential. Homeless youth education may be one of the only avenues by which many homeless youth receive a concrete level of guidance and support, making it especially vital that teachers convey not only knowledge from their curriculum, but a transformational, charismatic leadership style that will inspire students and assist with their personal development. This component to teaching is often said to be helpful in a normal classroom setting, but the motivational elements of a transformational teacher-leader is even more crucial to homeless youth given their erstwhile lack of guidance.
In this literature review, homelessness and its various types and causes will be described and defined, particularly as they relate to homeless youth. Two major themes will be addressed: first, there is the effect of educational leadership on academic experiences of homeless youth. This theme will be further explored under three subthemes:
1) components of effective leadership in the education sector;
2) significance of educational leadership in ensuring the success of teachers and students alike
3) solving education challenges through the tenets of educational leadership. By researching this topic through the existing literature, the ways in which educators can provide a good and influential presence for underserved children in education will be elucidated and further points of study can be found.
The second theme to be explored in the literature review are the education opportunities currently available to homeless students. The three subthemes of this second theme include
1) effectively integrating homeless students into the standard education system;
2) providing appropriate education resources to students of all kinds
3) providing psycho-social support to homeless youth of student age. Through this exploration of these issues based on an overview of the existing literature on these fields of research, a concrete direction for our study may be discerned.
Given the information explored in this literature review, the underlying tensions that accompany the phenomenon of homeless youth in education involve the factors of substance abuse, history of trauma, and lack of structured social and economic framework that exist within homeless populations. These tensions make it difficult for homeless youth to interact well in a structured school environment, as well as prevent school leaders from communicating effectively with them.
It is theorized that communication strategies such as transformative leadership will help to instill in underprivileged students a sense of belief in their education competencies, which may help to alleviate these tensions and provide a greater support system for these students who would otherwise have no support system to speak of (Devono & Price, 2012). These strategies and more must be explored as concrete, potential avenues for including homeless and transient youth students into the education system, as that will provide them with the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skill sets needed to receive gainful employment and work their way into systems that will take them off the streets.
One substantial tension found in the literature is the role of the teacher in creating a proper learning environment, which is question generally found in any education context regardless of the presence of disadvantaged youth. Issues and factors like educational leadership and metacognition are found to be highly influential in creating the circumstances by which students improve; students benefit most from teachers who are involved, highly specific in their treatment of their students, and who act as a motivator for students to learn in the first place. School administrators also play a substantial part in this endeavor, as they are responsible for allocating and acquiring the proper school resources necessary. The exact responsibilities that administrators and teachers have alike is a continued cause for concern, and a possible subject of future research.
Homeless youth must be addressed not just as students, but as people, the school system they enter into presumably having a larger responsibility for their emotional and physical wellbeing; to that end, existing literature has explored the varying services that schools can provide for students who are homeless. Government agencies, school counseling and other such programs are usually responsible for caring for these homeless youth, depending on whether or not they are in school. Psychosocial risk assessment is an important component to consider when integrating homeless youth into a classroom, given the special cases that homeless youth can often bring up. School counseling, in particular, has proven to have positive outcomes in improving the performance of homeless youth students, emphasizing the need for homeless youth to be cared for to a greater degree than is usually expected of non-homeless students in these contexts.
Another substantial tension is the challenge of inclusive education – typically utilized in the context of students with disabilities, here it can be applied to the disadvantages of homeless students as well. Inclusive education, regardless of content, comes with a complex set of challenges for teacher and student alike, balancing a whole classroom of students with their own varying needs and requirements into a curriculum that serves all of them effectively. Homeless students experience unique challenges that leave them underequipped to handle the structures and rigors of an education setting, particularly in a classroom with non-homeless youth.
Issues of discrimination, uneven study skill allotment, and comparatively low incentive to learn can make an inclusive classroom with homeless youth students particularly troublesome for students and teachers alike. Combining classrooms of students who are both economically stable and unstable may lead to tensions and a distinct lack of motivation on the part of the homeless youth population to engage in learning. If inclusive classrooms are to be a potential solution for these populations, strategies must be developed to specifically acclimate homeless students with a classroom in an inclusive setting.
One proposed issue is to set up education interventions in homeless shelters, but the extent to which these interventions are effective remains to be seen. While some interventions to promote literacy in homeless shelters have been initiated, the extent to which they would be effective remains to be seen (Bolland & McCallum, 2002). Furthermore, there are issues of occupancy to consider as well: homeless youths as a population may be too numerous for homeless shelters to handle a concise, comprehensive education program (MacCillivray, Ardell & Curwen, 2010). Because of the logistical issues of maintaining a full education program within homeless shelters for a proportionately few number of occupants, as well as the potentially disruptive nature of a mixed population of homeless youths and adults, inclusive education in traditional schools may well be a more effective solution.
There are certain gaps in the existing literature that may help to alleviate these particular problems. The effect of transformational leadership and the teaching of appropriate learning strategies, perhaps through metacognition, on homeless youth attending school has yet to be researched in sufficient depth. Currently, homeless students suffer substantially from a lack of motivation, a tendency toward disruptive behavior, and a lack of respect for authority – all factors that can hinder learning in a structured classroom environment (Groton, Teasley & Canfield, 2013).
Transformational leaders are also said to provide social justice in education, providing homeless youth in classrooms with a better sense of belonging and integration into a normal classroom setting, which can in turn help these students cope better with life among more affluent students, and vice versa. As the literature indicates that these strategies may lead to better learning outcomes, substantive research on the subject is necessary to determine the extent to which this occurs.
Another issue to be addressed is the effect of equitable education opportunities on homeless students; as legislation such as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and No Child Left Behind is still in its infancy, studies on their effect on the homeless student youth population in particular are still forthcoming. It is theorized that, if legislation protecting homeless youth and promoting equality in education is integrated into normal classroom operations more quickly, homeless youth might more effectively transition into student life and achieve higher academic and social outcomes. To that end, further research on how government legislation and specific attempts to curb the issue of homelessness are effecting youth education is necessary to enact more targeted, accurate interventions on this underserved population. Only through determination of the interventions’ effects on homeless youth can structured implementation of programs for homeless youth students be accurately and effectively created.
This particular study is new and unlike anything done previously in this particular schema of education research given its focus on transformative and educational leadership and its effect on homeless youth. Because of the unique social problems inherent to homeless youth, including crime, drug and sexual abuse, and unemployment, it is more important than ever that teachers in education settings provide not only an educational value for these youth, but they must also instill character and emotional coping mechanisms they may not necessarily receive on the streets. As school counseling has been shown to have a positive effect on homeless youth, the further application of emotional and cognitive reinforcement in an active classroom setting may help to further improve gaps in learning and emotional coping that can come with the status of homelessness (Daniels, 2002).
This study will add scholarly value by exploring how these well-worn theoretical frameworks apply to an underserved and unexplored population of student youth. These specific models have not been thoroughly applied to this specific population and setting in current education research; therefore, this study may inspire further research that continues the avenues that have been explored preliminarily by this existing literature. As homeless youth of school age are a difficult population to maintain and keep in contact with due to their transient nature, studies like these may be difficult to implement in other climates. The study of these theoretical constructs of transformational and educational leadership in the context of homeless youth attending school may help to determine the effectiveness of homeless youth outreach in education. If the outcome of the study is successful, the resulting literature may offer a potentially useful framework for interacting with this underserved population.
This literature reviewed the two major themes related to homeless youth in education: the effect of educational leadership on academic experiences of homeless youth, and the opportunities for education currently available to homeless students. Given the literature reviewed in this section, it is clear that educational leadership plays an important part on homeless youth academics, but that there are not as many education opportunities available as there should be for this underserved population – the development of transformational educational leadership may enhance what interventions are there to make teachers more valuable to homeless students. Furthermore, the role of teachers as a transformative presence for homeless youth students in an inclusive classroom is worthy of further study, which will be outlined in the study itself.
Leitsinger, M. (Aug 3 2014). Left Behind: LGBT Homeless Youth Struggle to Survive on the
Streets. NBC News.