Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Frontiers of Change: School Social Work in Charter and Takeover Schools

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Frontiers of Change: School Social Work in Charter and Takeover Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction

American children lag behind their international counterparts each year in educational attainment (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009). Research by the Alliance for Excellent Education indicates that, as children fall farther behind, they are more likely to drop out of school. School dropouts cost the country a large amount of money. If all of the dropouts from the "class of 2009 had graduated, the nation's economy would have benefited from nearly $335 billion in additional income over the course of their lifetimes" (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009, p. 1). In addition to these high monetary costs for the larger society, dropouts increase crime-related expenses and incidents (Page, Petteruti, Walsh, & Ziedenberg, 2007). These incidents destroy safety within communities while the expense of crime control puts a strain on an already burdened economy (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007; Page et al., 2007). The costs are astounding, yet a prescriptive solution for comprehensive school reform that diminishes the achievement gap remains elusive.

As the primary mental health providers in schools, school social workers are immersed in the era of reform. As such, they are called upon by scholars to increase their knowledge about the achievement gap and educational reform landscape as well as to conduct interventions at the school and district level (Berzin & O'Connor, 2010; Phillipo & Stone, 2011). Given that school social workers increasingly practice in different school contexts, understanding of the larger field of education is needed to effectively conduct school and district level interventions. Phillipo and Stone (2011) have warned school social workers that a lack of knowledge of different school settings, specifics of district practices, and reform efforts may "leave their services vulnerable to being intentionally undermined by forces in the environment" (p. 77). According to Kelly and colleagues (2010), most social workers practice in traditional public school settings, but a growing number work in charter and state takeover schools, which are public schools that have chronically failed to meet the performance standards set by their state departments of education.

Background

Under No Child Left Behind (2002), states were given various options for improving low-performing schools: chartering, turnarounds that involve replacing an entire school staff, contracting with outside entities to run the school, state takeover of individual schools, or some other form of restructuring of the school's staffing and governance (Hassel, Hassel, Arkin, Kowal, & Steiner, 2006). State takeover schools are removed from the local control of a county/parish school board and operated by officials at the state department of education (Steiner, 2005). These schools remain public schools but are substantially restructured in terms of staffing and educational practices. One popular method of restructuring is to convert the school into a charter school.

Charter schools are popular market-based reforms that have surged since No Child Left Behind (2002). The first charter school was started in 1992 in Minnesota (Junge, 2012) and now charters are prevalent in forty-eight of fifty states. In 2015, Mississippi joined the movement, opening charters for the first time (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Charter schools are unique in enrollment, staffing, and organization, which can influence the practice of school social workers (Crutchfield, 2015). The first and more popular type of charters is called a start-up charter in which a group of community members or school leaders decide to open a new school for a specific purpose (e.g., math or science). The second type is voluntary conversion whereby a school decides to change its purpose and become a charter with the same facilities and sometimes the same staff. The last and least popular type is called forced conversion, in which the state, enabled by NCLB, rearranges chronically low-performing schools into charter schools, hiring new staff but often keeping the same facilities. …

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