Policy Matters Blog

The Importance of Being Counted!

School Psychologists matter, and if a passionate school psychologist that grew up in a town of 300 people in rural South Dakota can make a difference, so can you!

This whole conversation started with a phone call to my Senator's office. It was related to a proposed federal bill to allow some federal dollars to be used to support mental health in schools. This was a phone call that I have made before and I was hopeful that it would make a difference. I had the opportunity to speak with a legislative aide for my Senator and I was overjoyed to learn that it might be possible that my Senator would be interested in exploring support for this bill! In the coming week, I was hopeful that I could convince my Senator to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor. I was thinking of talking points and so excited that we might be able to create bipartisan support for something as critical as school mental health. Unfortunately, a week later, I was called by that same legislative aide to tell me that my senator was not able to support the federal bill at that time.

I. Was. Crushed....

As I heard this news, I remember trying to be very professional and courteous, all while trying to keep myself from tearing up. After all, I sometimes feel like I'm among very few people that are committed to addressing professional shortages of school psychologists in my state in a meaningful way! I couldn't help it. I ended up harnessing my inner grandma Lois (my late feisty Norwegian grandmother) and told this lovely legislative aide the whole truth. I was so disappointed. I indicated that we have a critical professional shortage that is significantly impacting the health and well-being of our children in my state. Our state is one of the top in the nation for rates of youth suicide and we know that nationally one in five children are struggling with a diagnosable mental health disorder.  We know that of those children who receive help, approximately seven out of ten of them receive help at school. I also said in passing that school psychologists do not even get counted on the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and we don't even know how many of us there are! I remember thanking this aide for the call and thanking him and the Senator for their service to our country.

And then I went into my car and cried. I cried for myself, cried for the children who need adults to care about them, and cried because I felt like I was so close to being able to enact change.

And then something unexpected happened...

About a week later, I received an email from that very legislative aide. He indicated to me that HE was doing some investigation into the National Center for Educational Statistics and said that there was an open comment time that NASP and school psychologists across the nation could try to submit a definition of school psychologists to be counted in the NCES data system. HE had called our state Department of Education to see if it would be possible for them to be able to count school psychologists, and even called NCES to highlight the process to me and to the NASP staff who work tirelessly to advance the mission of school psychologists!

From those initial conversations and countless hours of work by our NASP staff and volunteer leaders, the NCES heard from many state and national partner organizations about the importance of school psychologists being counted. They also heard from our leaders about how we should define a school psychologist. In addition, they received a letter of support from MY Senator urging them to make sure school psychologists are counted! I still can hardly believe it.

Then, after months of work by our leaders at NASP, I received this email on December 3, 2019 indicating,

"USED just released their file submission instructions for this data set and I am really happy to report that they took our definition!! Beginning with the 2019 school year, ED will collect data on FTE school psychologists, defined as a "professional staff member who provides direct and indirect support, including prevention and intervention, to evaluate and address student's intellectual development, academic success, social-emotional learning, and mental and behavioral health.""

School psychologists now WILL be counted in the NCES data system! School psychologists matter and we hope this can be the first step to try to meaningfully address the critical shortages across our nation.

But, most important, I hope this story highlights that ALL of us matter. Each conversation, call, email, or tweet matters to help to advance the core mission of our profession. Advocacy is part of our ethical obligation to "speak for those who cannot speak for themselves" and each act of advocacy might just be a way that we can lower barriers for children who are struggling.  

For more information about NCES, visit:  https://nces.ed.gov/   

For more information about advocacy in public school settings, consider the article, "The Landscape of Advocacy in Public Schools: The Role of School Psychologists" by Oyen, Eklund, and Von der Embse. Information about the article can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333767085_The_landscape_of_advocacy_in_public_schools_The_role_of_school_psychologists