The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Research On the Social Environment Mechanisms of School Success: Social Change Through Educational Attainment

Friday, January 17, 2014: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Adolescent and Youth Development
Symposium Organizer:
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Theme:  Researching the mechanisms within the social environment that impact student engagement in school and learning and ultimately academic outcomes is the theme of this symposium. Educational outcomes of youth arte both seen as one of the civil rights issues of our time and critical for individuals and our society to compete in the local and global economies. Therefore, this symposium fits at the heart of the conference theme of Research for Social Change: Addressing Local and Global Challenges. A high school degree now barely qualifies a young person for minimum wage employment. However, graduation rates across the U.S. have been hovering around 70% for a few decades, much of that 30% who are not graduating are low-income and minority youth, who graduate at much lower rates. As Charles Payne has asserted we in recent decades we have seen much school reform, but little change. We need research focused on the mechanisms that impact school success, in particular the social environmental mechanisms. This symposium presents such research that informs the design and implementation of policies and programs to advance school success for all students, a social change process that is sorely needed.

Importance:  Educational attainment is one of the most important developmental outcomes for youth.  One of the ways privilege as opposed to disadvantage play out is through youth at-risk due to economic disadvantage or historical discrimination, have reduces chances for access to quality educational and therefore attainment.  The three papers in this symposium research social environmental mechanisms that impact educational outcomes for all youth. The first paper uses a framework including three vital environmental factors that impact school outcomes: control, support, and challenge. Control is the levels of order and disorder across neighborhood and school, support includes adults who care about and are available to youth, while challenge are environmental motivations for youth to work to achieve in school. The findings demonstrate that control is a necessary condition for student success, while challenge without support is not nearly as effective as when both are present. The second and third papers offer further research about an intervention that has been shown to advance student engagement and academic performance by demonstrating to students the relevance of what they are learning to real-world jobs and careers. The first paper uses a natural implementation of CareerStart (not done by the researchers) in 20 schools to test program effectiveness (CareerStart has already been shown effective in an RCT). The third paper follows the students in the CareerStart RCT into high school and shows lasting effects at the end of 10th grade on unexcused absences (behavioral engagement) and accrual of credits toward graduation (academic success in high school classes). Taken together, these papers point to emerging ways social work can make important contributions to advancing educational outcomes by using our disciplinary knowledge and orientation to research to advance individual school outcomes by identifying the social environment mechanisms that impact school success and designing interventions to address needed change.

* noted as presenting author
Environmental Control, Support, and Challenge: Influences On School Success
S. Colby Peters, LGSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore; Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Preventing High School Drop-Out in the Middle Grades: Effects of Instructional Relevance On Persistence Toward Graduation
George Unick, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore; Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
See more of: Symposia