Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

The Impact of School Social Workers on High School Freshman Graduation among the One Hundred Largest School Districts in the United States

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

The Impact of School Social Workers on High School Freshman Graduation among the One Hundred Largest School Districts in the United States

Article excerpt


Each year, more than 1 million students fail to graduate from high school (Englund, Egeland, & Collins, 2008). Students who drop out of school are associated with higher rates of incarceration and increased mental health problems (Finn, 1987; Rumberger, 2011). Students who fail to graduate within four years are less likely to enter college and thus to have lower lifetime economic opportunities and earnings (Wells & Lynch, 2012). Given the implications of successful and timely graduation from high school, more focus is needed to enhance factors that can support the academic success of students (Jordan, Lara, & McPartland, 1996). This article examines the impact of school social workers on the timely graduation of high school students.

School social workers play an integral role in helping students succeed, and it is imperative that the influence of their work on an array of academic outcomes be better understood (Alvarez, Bye, Bryant, & Mumm, 2013; Clark & Alvarez, 2010; Frey et al., 2013; Kelly et al., 2010). This is especially important in light of the prevailing academic environment in which federal and state educational grants are tied to school district educational performance (Alvarez et al., 2013).

The published research on this topic has thus far looked only at a limited range of factors that affect student outcomes (e.g., Alvarez et al., 2013; Newsome, Anderson-Butcher, Fink, Hall, & Huffer, 2008). The impact of school social workers on the rates of timely graduation for high school students has not been studied previously. To address this gap involving the contributions of school social workers to student success, this study utilized data from a cohort of first-time ninth grade students within the one hundred largest U.S. school districts to examine the impact of school social workers on their effective and timely graduation from high school.

Literature Review

School social workers often operate from an ecological systems perspective of practice. This approach emphasizes the influence of social factors on student functioning (Allen-Meares, 2007). There is strong evidence illustrating the relation between student achievement and proximal and wider social-economic contextual influences (Rumberger, 2011; Sipple, 2007). Based on the dominance of the ecological systems perspective, research has shown that school social workers provide an essential link among pupils, families, and their respective social contexts (Allen-Meares, 2007). Thus, school social workers are uniquely positioned to influence students who are exposed to high levels of environmental risk (Frey et al., 2013). From this position, school social workers can be expected to enhance student motivation and expectations toward positive academic performance through interventions targeting both pupils and their social environments. For instance, school social workers can identify financial resources that may support students, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. School social workers can also target the overall school climate by providing access to a broad range of services and advocating for students' educational needs. In recent years, there has been a strong push for schools to offer such a broad range of services across the entire student body using tiered delivery (e.g., the Response-to-Intervention model; see Clark & Alvarez, 2010, and Kelly et al., 2010).

School social workers can collaborate with school administrators to improve student outcomes. Because school social workers are employees of school districts as compared to school-based community service providers, they have a better understanding of school systems. This understanding leads to a more appropriate and effective delivery of school-based services (Franklin & Harris, 2007). Therefore, school districts can directly benefit from the interventions provided by school social workers at the individual student level and within the broader school context. …

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