Abstract: Educating today's school social workers: Are MSW courses meeting the task? (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11762 Educating today's school social workers: Are MSW courses meeting the task?

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 4:30 PM
Golden Gate (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Stephanie Berzin, PhD , Boston College, Assistant Professor, Chestnut Hill, MA
Sarah O'Connor, BA , Boston College, Research Assistant, Chestnut Hill, MA
Purpose: School social work is a complex subspecialty within the field of social work often requiring specific preparation and licensure. To further understand this field, recent survey data sheds light on preferred practice modalities and how practice meets the challenges of today's school environment. With shifts in the educational landscape, education policy, and research and theory development in this area, there has been a call to a practice model that requires practice at multiple levels and an increased reliance on evidence-based practice to serve children in schools. Although this paradigm shift is evident, no evidence exists as to whether masters in social work programs are adequately preparing school social workers to meet these demands.

Method: Examining school social work syllabi (n = 58) from accredited masters in social work programs, analysis examined course content based on the course's weekly outline. Content analysis was used to code syllabi through three rounds of coding: 1) identify all course topics (100 identified); 2) merge topics into broader themes (16 themes); and 3) code syllabi with attention to particular themes that respond to current trends in education policy, practice, and research. All syllabi were coded by two coders to improve reliability.

Findings: The most common topics in the syllabi were the history and role of school social workers (98%), special education (95%), issues impacting clients, including axis III and axis IV disorders (93%), confidentiality and ethics (91%), and collaboration (90%). Topics mentioned in at least 80% of courses were education policy, clinical interventions, and research and evaluation, while ecological perspectives, school-wide interventions and reform, and attendance were less frequently included. Examining attention to the changing context found syllabi paid limited attention to these shifts. While 62% addressed evidence-based practice and 64% addressed prevention, fewer than 40% included content on No Child Left Behind, functional behavioral assessments, or school-wide interventions, and less than 20% included content on school choice, response to intervention, or macro practices related to leadership, committee work, collaboration with administration, or school culture. Using Frey & Dupper's (2005) four quadrant model of school social work practice, it became evident that teaching is strongly oriented towards one quadrant, clinical interventions to help individuals, with some emphasis on work with larger systems to improve individual outcomes. Syllabi content is limited that teaches school social workers how to intervene to make systemic change.

Implications: School social work syllabi have not responded to calls from research, theory, and policy to shift attention to systemic interventions or to include content that addresses the changing educational landscape. Syllabi are dedicated to outlining the roles of school social workers, and concentrating on their role in special education. The preparation is highly geared towards clinical work and disabilities, mirroring practice choices that have been revealed in the recent National School Social Work Survey. Attention to evidence-based practice and prevention are promising to improve practice to meet today's demands. Implications are discussed about better preparation for school social workers to meet today's challenges and to support learning multi-tiered approaches to practice.