Public schools provide support staff that help teachers consider the whole child. This includes the role of the school psychologist. These professionals are the experts that make a school and school system complete. They provide children and teens the mental health support they need.
Since the corporate school reform march to privatize public education, those in supportive school roles have been under attack. Budget cuts to public schools means the loss of critical support positions that make public schools comprehensive. Privatization supporters want parents to pay for these services.
Today, most public schools have shortages when it comes to counselors, librarians, nurses, and the school psychologist. In some schools, these positions are replaced by volunteers who have little training.
The ACLU found that while 14 million students have police officers in their schools, the schools lack counselors, nurses, social workers, and school psychologists.
It’s unconscionable at a time when worry surrounds school shootings, that there continues to be a shortage of school psychologists. Money is poured into school shooting drills, data bases that collect private information about children, and social-emotional learning, which also collects private information about children. Student trauma is said to be at an all-time high.
While police are hired by schools, school psychologists languish under heavy caseloads. From Common Dreams “Why School Psychologists are Worried About the Mental Health of America’s Students” by Angela Mann.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a school psychologist serve no more than 500-700 students. But the ACLU report reveals that school psychologists across the country serve more than 1,500 students on average. Given that only around 20 percent of youth access mental health services — and, of those who do, around 80 percent get these services in schools — it’s unacceptable that nearly half of schools report having no school psychologist on staff whatsoever.
While the primary function of school psychologists is to evaluate and re-evaluate students in special education, they provide other services. They help determine special education student eligibility, they assist schools and staff with crisis response, administer suicide prevention, conduct bullying prevention programs, and help to identify and assist children and teens with mental health difficulties.
When charter schools hire school psychologists, it’s often to get students to strictly behave and adhere to a behavioral plan for academic success. But that shouldn’t be the role of the school psychologist. They are to be supportive and help children without being controlling.
A school psychologist shortage has existed for decades. According to a 2014 personnel needs report, after passage of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, more school psychologists were hired to meet the needs surrounding the new mandate (Castillo, Curtis, Tan, 2014). But the 1980s saw shortages that continued into the 1990s. This correlates with school reform initiatives that have led us to the present. Public schools still face these shortages today.
The shortages have been so bad for so long, that, in 2019, we learned that undergraduate college psychology programs don’t provide enough instructors who understand school psychology. College students fail to learn what it’s like to be a school psychologist (Bocanegra, Gubi, Callan, Grapin, & McCall, 2019).
School psychologists don’t only experience large caseloads, they suffer from burnout. One third of the school psychologists in one study claimed that they were pressured by administrators to keep students from obtaining special education services (Boccio, Weisz, & Lefkowitz, 2016).
The current needs are especially great in the area of bilingual education. One positive sign is that Fordham University has a program to address the shortage in this area (Ding, Cho, Wang, & Yu, 2019). But we need more psychologists of color and who will address LGBTQ and a variety of current issues facing students.
How can school safety be addressed if the social-emotional and behavioral difficulties aren’t handled by top-of-the-line experts, those credentialed to address mental health in children and adolescents? The current push for social-emotional learning gives teachers the responsibility to delve into student feelings and behaviors, including trauma, while the real mental health experts in a school are left out.
At one point in history, consideration was given to providing at least one school psychologist to every school (Fagan, 2004).
School psychologists are required to support special and general education teachers who work with students with learning, behavioral, and emotional difficulties. How many students are still on long waiting lists to be evaluated to receive special education services?
Whenever there’s a school shooting or any shooting, the topic of mental health surfaces. Politicians and education reformers bypass the passage of gun laws and background checks by referring to mental health.
Yet when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and others met to discuss ways to make schools safe, only slight attention was paid to the importance of “clinical staff,” (p.27) and school psychologists were not specifically mentioned. Yet a review of the literature indicates that the dearth of school psychologists is still a problem.
By reducing the number of school psychologists, bare-boned schools are cheaper to run and look more like substandard charter schools. This opens the door to school privatization.
We’ve watched the elimination of school libraries, the arts, special education, and school psychologists, special programs that parents now have to pay for. Children whose parents cannot afford such services will miss out.
Public schools need to find more credentialed school psychologists. Parents need to find out if their school has a school psychologist to help children feel safe. That school psychologist should support students with mental distress in the school.
Jose M. Castillo, Michael J. Curtis, and Sim Yin Tan, “Personnel Needs In School Psychology: A 10-Year Follow-Up Study on Predicted Personnel Shortages,” Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 51(8), 2014, 1-19.
Yi Ding, Su-Je Cho, Jiayi Wang, and Qiong Yu, “Training of bilingual school psychologists in the United States: A culturally and linguistically responsive approach,” School Psychology International. 40(3), 235-250.
Joel O. Bocanegra, Aaron A. Gubi, Gregory L. Callan, Sally L. Grapin, and John McCall, “A Lack of Exposure to School Psychology Within Undergraduate Psychology Coursework,” Teaching of Psychology 46(3), 2019, 208-214.
Dana E. Boccio, Gaston Weisz, Rebecca Lefkowitz, Administrative Pressure to Practice Unethically and Burnout within the Profession of School Psychology,” Psychology in the Schools, (53)6, 2016, 659-672.
Thomas K. Fagan, “School Psychology’s Significant Discrepancy: Historical Perspectives on Personnel Shortages.” Psychology in the Schools, (41)4, 2004, 419-430.
Curtis, Michael J.; Grier, J. Elizabeth Chesno; Hunley, Sawyer A. “The Changing Face of School Psychology: Trends in Data and Projections of the Future,” School Psychology Review, 2004, 33(1), 49-66.