Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Anatomy of an Op-Ed: Finding Your Voice

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Anatomy of an Op-Ed: Finding Your Voice

Article excerpt

How many times have you been frustrated, even appalled, by the representation by politicians or the media of the issues in which school psychologists are engaged everyday? From disproportionate eligibility and discipline to behavioral and mental health to retention and dropout prevention to accountability and personnel evaluations. The list of the complex challenges facing schools today that the general public, policy makers, and the media often conflate into one-dimensional simple solutions-or worse accusations-is long, and the resulting misperceptions are dangerous to thoughtful public policy and problem solving.

Unfortunately, the intertwining of these three forces (public opinion, policy makers, and media coverage) on education policy is unavoidable; where one wanders, the others tend to follow even if it is over a decision-making cliff. This is almost never good for effective school support services which tend to blend into the background of school reform efforts. Further complicating the context within which many states and local jurisdictions make budget and policy priority decisions is the lack of awareness in many places of the roles of school psychologists and other school mental health professionals and their contributions to positive student outcomes.

A particularly concerning, emerging misperception is that "nonteaching" staff are "nonessential," making funding of them unessential, even wasteful. This myth is being perpetuated in part by a 2014 report out of Fordham University, "The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach" (http://edexcellence.net/publications/the-hidden-half). This is a long report with a lot of ideas (some of them good), but the most frequent sound bite being bandied about is that support personnel (everyone from the lunchroom aide to school psychologists) simply provide "feel good" services that do not really improve learning. The conclusion being reached in some states and districts is that cutting back on "nonteaching staff" (a) saves money, (b) frees funds up to hire more teachers to improve outcomes, or (c) both.

Allowing this misguided idea to take root would be bad for kids. I frequently say that teachers and schools are not synonymous. Good teachers are essential to good schools, but they don't constitute the entirety of a successful school. Truly effective schools require effective leadership, adequate funding, a collaborative approach to family and community engagement, and fully integrated student support services delivered by appropriately trained personnel at appropriate levels.

NASP has made a concerted effort with some success over the past decade to improve awareness of this fact at the federal level and to equip schools psychologists to do the same at the state and local levels. We work directly with members of Congress, people in the administration, and journalists. We take special care to articulate the unique, invaluable role of school psychologists. As I also say in my communications and advocacy workshops, it is up to us to make this case because rarely will someone else do so for us. When I say us, I don't mean just NASP; I mean every school psychologist.

Paying attention to what elected leaders, policy makers, and the media are saying about relevant issues in your state and district is essential. Connecting with and getting involved in your state association can be very helpful. Reading and utilizing the many resources that NASP has developed to help make the case can make the job much easier. Collaborating with other school-employed mental health professionals can strengthen messaging. For example, we collaborated with the school counselors and school social workers to submit a letter to the editor of Education Week in response to a couple of articles about the Fordham report (http://www.edweek.org/ew/ articles/20i4/o9/i7/o4letter-i.h34.html?qs=Fordham).

Another good thing to do is to share and learn from other school psychologists about what they have done to find their voice on critical issues. …

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