Take the Current When It Serves
By Ralph E. “Gene” Cash
“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”—W. Shakespeare
The title and practice of school psychology are threatened. The integrity of school psychology as a specialty field is at risk. The connection between school psychology and the broader profession of psychology is tenuous. Nondoctoral school psychologists are in danger of being viewed simply as sophisticated educational technicians. School psychological services are suffering cutbacks, and school psychologists are losing their jobs. Most are struggling economically. Our very identity as professionals is under attack from without and within! What, if anything, can and should we do?
Proposed modifications in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Model Act for the State Licensure of Psychologists (Model Licensure Act or MLA) would urge state legislatures to remove the exemptions from psychology licensure acts which allow nondoctoral school psychologists to practice in the schools and to call themselves school psychologists. These modifications, however, are by no means a fait accompli. School psychologists, graduate educators, administrators, school board members, state education agency officials, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders can still have considerable influence by providing comments to the MLA Task Force, the APA Board of Directors, and members of the APA Council of Representatives. Even if the exemption is removed or modified as APA policy, the changes would have to be made by state legislatures or regulators in order to have the force of law. In response, school psychologists around the country should be taking action by studying and using the NASP Advocacy Roadmap (http://www.nasponline.org/advocacy/psychservicesroadmap.aspx), strengthening relationships with public policy makers, developing and nurturing liaisons with state psychology associations, and carefully monitoring all attempts to modify psychology licensure acts. The challenges are daunting, and the potential crisis is ominous.
With ominous crises, however, come great opportunities. Because of the numerous threats to the field, school psychologists are linking forces to respond. Students are joining NASP and state school psychology associations in record numbers. NASP members are recognizing the necessity of public policy advocacy as a matter of professional responsibility and viability. New or strengthened relationships are being established with a variety of organizations, such as Division 16 (School Psychology) of APA, the National Education Association (NEA), the Trainers of School Psychology (TSP), the American School Health Association (ASHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and several others. The new federal administration and the impending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) afford an unprecedented opportunity to influence school reform.
The crises in our field also offer unparalleled possibilities for putting aside disagreements within school psychology about service delivery models, the value of cognitive assessment, the identification of learning disabilities, and the appropriate entry level for independent professional functioning, in the service of protecting and ensuring the availability of comprehensive school psychological services for all students. At this momentous time, we cannot afford to allow our disagreements to be divisive. We must not disenfranchise members because of ideology. It would be folly not to take full advantage of the impressive range of skills of all school psychologists. Marginalizing those aspects of our functioning which make us unique, such as psychological assessment and determination of the effects of emotional functioning on the learning process, would be extremely unwise. Failing to embrace the development of new skills, such as the effective implementation of response to intervention, would be equally foolish. School psychology is unique in its application of a combination of psychological and educational principles; to align ourselves exclusively with one or the other would be tantamount to denying a great part of our professional identity. Limiting school psychological services and the applicability of our standards documents only to schools would serve to disenfranchise those school psychologists who practice in other settings.
School psychology is, indeed, afloat on a full sea of possibilities. Whether we take advantage of this tide of affairs or lose our ventures will in large measure depend on each of you, on our willingness to collaborate with and to support each other, and on our ramping up of public policy advocacy efficacy. What, if anything, can and should you do? Become involved in your state association and learn from those who take leadership in advocacy efforts. Develop a relationship with your state legislators. Become their resource for information, research, and evidence to assist them in decision-making. Consider attending the NASP Public Policy Institute in July. Work to ensure that policy makers such as school board members, superintendents, and legislators know who school psychologists are and the value of what they do. Most of all, make a difference; take the current when it serves.
Gene Cash, PhD, NCSP, is a Florida licensed psychologist and a faculty member at the Nova Southeastern University Center for Psychological Studies in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.