Newman reiterated some of the key findings from the workshop: that moves are not all equal, that the timing of the move seems to matter, and that subgroups experience and react to moves differently. Departing to some degree from Rumberger’s comments, she suggested that the question of whether mobility itself is a unique cause of negative outcomes for some students, net of other factors, is not yet a settled question. For her, the key will be to make further progress in understanding the mechanisms by which mobility causes harm and the conditions in which it is most harmful. It is important to fully examine each aspect of the contexts in which distressed children live. Otherwise, the risk is that “big investments are made in improving the quality of schools in poor communities but the community remains distressed and poor, unsafe, and not a good environment for children.” She ended with a point very similar to Rumberger’s: that to make a difference in children’s lives it will be necessary to address every aspect of their circumstances.
A few final comments brought the discussion to a close. The research on mobility is provocative, rich, and complex. It is emerging, but is still in a fairly immature stage of development in that it lacks rich, robust theories, tailored measurement tools, and sample populations that target the most important questions. Nevertheless, there is a compelling interest in using the research to shape policy and practice. Mobility as a phenomenon has been everywhere and nowhere—there is no single agency that has the lead role in addressing it. Indeed, mobility has in a sense often gone by another name in research and policy discussions: attrition. Children who are missing are difficult to track and to measure.
There is a tension between viewing the glass as half empty or as half full. Policy makers may be poised to address what is clearly a significant problem for large numbers of children and families. For that audience it is important, perhaps, to use the best available knowledge from research. There is indeed a great deal of information about mobility, and policy makers have been slow to recognize the multiple needs of these children and young people. At the same time, however, researchers recognize that many questions still await answers.