Alternative Careers in School Psychology: My Experience in the Field of Education Research

Article excerpt

The recent economic crisis sent many public school systems into financial crisis. At the time, I was a new school psychologist working in a large urban/suburban school district. The school system I worked for struggled with wide-ranging staff layoffs, furlough days, reductions in contract length, and elimination of selected school services to cover an increasingly large budget shortfall. Staff layoffs were based on seniority, and by April, I received notice that my position would no longer be funded the following year. All other school districts in the area were also struggling with similar budget crises, and many were implementing a hiring freeze. Under these circumstances, I became anxious that I would not be able to find employment. After all, I was a school psychologist-highly educated, but also highly specialized. It was under this set of conditions that I began exploring alternative settings where I could apply my training, skills, and experience.

As my investigation deepened, I was heartened to find that my skills could easily transfer to a number of desirable and engaging positions. In addition to education research jobs, I explored school-based consultation work, clinical positions, postdoctoral and assistant professor positions, and roles within state and national leadership. Personally, though, I felt that the research sector most aligned with my own interests and focus of training, and I ultimately accepted a position within this sphere.

WHAT DOES AN EDUCATION RESEARCHER DO?

The world of education research is quite large. In addition to research conducted by universities, a great amount of evaluation work is conducted by nonprofit and for-profit research firms throughout the country. I currently work as a research associate with a large, for-profit consulting firm. The firm has offices in the United States and internationally, and makes significant contributions in a wide variety of areas. I found my niche in their education division, which is charged with working with clients to design and conduct research in the field of education that leads to higher quality programs and services for children, families, schools, and communities. Our clients include local, state, and federal education agencies, as well as private and nonprofit organizations. However, most work is generated from requests made by state and federal education agencies.

Our work can mostly be divided into two broad categories: evaluation and technical assistance. Each of these includes many tasks that were familiar to me as a school psychologist. Evaluation work entails program evaluation, including needs assessments, surveys, benchmarking, functional cost analysis, assessment of the quality of research and its evidence, assessment of curricula and its implementation and training, and development of program performance standards and program monitoring protocols. Technical assistance work encompasses information dissemination and training, conducting needs assessments, and creating and administering networks designed to facilitate communication and collaboration among users. My individual responsibilities include data management and data analysis, risk behavior survey reviews, report writing, and administration of agency help desks. So, while I am no longer working one-on-one with children, I feel that these projects provide critical support to students and educators, just in an alternative way and on a larger scale.

BUT I AM TRAINED AS A SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST!

Of course, it is essential for those who wish to be education researchers to have some research experience themselves. School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice III (2006) lists data-based decision making and accountability and the application of science and the scientific method among the core competencies for training and practice in school psychology. As such, most students will find that specialist and doctoral-level program requirements provide excellent opportunities to build a foundation of research knowledge and skills. …