Primary Prevention Advocacy: You Have to Be Up to Tomorrow
By Philip J. Lazarus
The pace of change is accelerating faster than ever before, so our profession must become increasingly more nimble, proactive, and farsighted to remain vital. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, noted that of all the Fortune 500 companies on the list 50 years ago, 87% are no longer there today. He cautions that companies need to reinvent themselves continually in order to stay on top.
I take to heart the wisdom of David Ben-Gurion. As the first Prime Minister of Israel, he understood both threats and opportunities. His mantra was “It is not enough to be up to date. You have to be up to tomorrow.” Being “up to tomorrow” in our profession means being able to anticipate the needs of children, families, and schools and develop the research and practice to meet those needs. It requires us to critically examine, hone, adapt, and expand our knowledge and skills. It also means recognizing the forces shaping the educational context, understanding and anticipating trends in healthcare, and being aware of changes in legislation and litigation. At times, it requires us to do our best to influence policies, practices, rules, regulations, and legislation that support the children we serve. When the latter is required, we should use strategies based on principles of primary prevention. I refer to this as “primary prevention advocacy.” Let me share three areas of concern that warrant this form of advocacy.
Challenge one: using proactive models for the delivery of services. NASP continues to work with states and districts to implement the NASP Practice Model, designed to promote the connection between training, standards, and practice, which calls for one school psychologist for every 500 to 700 students. It is axiomatic that the lower the student-to-school psychologist ratio, the greater our ability to offer a range of integrated and comprehensive services. A NASP task force is working to support state and local efforts to encourage districts to use the NASP Practice Model as the primary measure in evaluating professional performance. If properly implemented, this will both define and expand our practice.
We also support the UCLA/NASP model that emphasizes moving from a two- to a three-component framework for improving schools in the reauthorization of ESEA. Federal policy currently recognizes two components as primary and essential to school reform. One emphasizes instructional factors that impact learning; the other addresses governance and operations of schools. Yet, there is a third component—learning supports. These are the resources, strategies, practices, and personnel (e.g., school psychologists, school counselors) that provide supports to enable all children to succeed in school by directly addressing barriers to learning and teaching and reengaging disconnected students. We believe that the best improvements in curriculum, instruction, management, and governance will be insufficient to improve outcomes for large numbers of students unless learning supports receive the same priority as the other two components.
Challenge two: preventing cutbacks in services to children. School psychologists in Philadelphia and Los Angeles are currently threatened with large-scale layoffs due to the economic downturn. Even though these layoffs require immediate attention and advocacy, the optimum time to respond is not after the fact, but beforehand. Therefore it is important to ensure that school psychologists in every district are seen as essential personnel, integral team members, and effective problem solvers. Your own proactive visibility, personal advocacy, and everyday leadership are essential for positive outcomes.
Challenge three: providing leadership so that school psychologists can be positioned as healthcare providers. If we are to be “up to tomorrow,” it is important that school psychologists have comprehensive training and critical skills in the provision of mental health services and that all school psychology graduate programs provide these competencies. In Miami-Dade County, when 41 school psychologists were given pink slips due to a budget shortfall, one way the school board was able to reinstate all these professionals was to substitute contractual mental health services provided by outside agencies to EBD students with the delivery of these behavioral health services by school psychologists.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Affordable Care Act and the main provisions are implemented, then starting in 2014, hundreds of millions of federal dollars will flow to states to provide required services to millions of previously uninsured individuals. Behavioral health care is 1 of the 10 required services in the federal definition of a qualified health plan. NASP leaders and staff are working with the other school psychology organizations to plan how qualifications for healthcare providers can be expanded to enable the provision of reimbursable services.
All of these challenges provide new opportunities for our profession. They are interrelated and critical in defining who we are, what we do, and where we are going. As Wayne Gretsky famously said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” We must chart our own destiny. We must anticipate where the puck is going. We must strive to be great!
This is my last presidential message. Marcel Proust once wrote, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Thank you NASP staff, leaders, and all our members for a wonderful year—you made my soul blossom.
Philip J. Lazarus, PhD, is president of the National Association of School Psychologists