Prepared for the Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education
National Association of School Psychologists
COPSSE Document No. IB-4
Center on Personnel Studies in
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
CENTER ON PERSONNEL STUDIES IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER
INSTRUCTIONAL RESEARCH GROUP, LONG BEACH, CA
COPSSE research is focused on the preparation of special education professionals and its
impact on beginning teacher quality and student outcomes. Our research is intended to inform
scholars and policymakers about advantages and disadvantages of preparation alternatives and
the effective use of public funds in addressing personnel shortages.
In addition to our authors and reviewers, many individuals and organizations have contributed
substantially to our efforts, including Drs. Erling Boe of the University of Pennsylvania and
Elaine Carlson of WESTAT. We also have benefited greatly from collaboration with the National
Clearinghouse for the Professions in Special Education, the Policymakers Partnership, and their
parent organizations, the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State
Directors of Special Education.
The Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education, H325Q000002, is a cooperative
agreement between the University of Florida and the Office of Special Education Programs of
the U. S. Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of other organizations imply
endorsement by them.
Canter, A. (2006). School psychology. (COPSSE Document Number IB-4). Gainesville, FL:
University of Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education.
U. S. Office of Special
Additional Copies may be obtained from:
P.O. Box 117050
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
There are no copyright restrictions on this document; however,
please credit the source and support of the federal funds when
copying all or part of this document.
Introduction 4 ................................................................................................................................................... 4 4
Personnel Dilemmas in Historical Perspective .........................................7
Key Dilemmas Facing School Psychology ........................................... 12
Professional Training of School Psychologists ....................................... 14
C certification and Licensure Issues ....................................................21
Supply and Demand.................... 24
Conclusions: Personnel Concerns and Key Issues in School Psychology......... 24
R E F E R E N C E S .................................................................................. .. 2 8
This paper provides an historical and empirical context from which to consider personnel
challenges facing the profession of school psychology:
* balancing professional roles as gatekeepers versus comprehensive service providers in order
to integrate services that address both mental health and academic concerns effectively
* serving a diverse student population with a relatively homogeneous work force
* serving a broader segment of the school community with a current and predicted shortage of
After the dilemmas of professional training, credentialing, and supply and demand are discussed,
recommendations are offered for reaching the goal-to ensure the ongoing availability of highly
qualified professionals to address the needs of children and schools in the 21st century.
As the need to provide instructional, behavioral, and mental health support to struggling students
grows, school psychology is looking to the future and seeking strategies that will allow the
profession to address student needs effectively and efficiently, while ensuring the longevity of a
highly qualified workforce. The personnel and training dilemmas facing school psychology at
the beginning of the 21st century are similar to those faced by special education and public
education in general. Despite an ever-increasing demand for services, we are challenged by a
number of factors outside the control of the profession:
* diminishing fiscal investments in both the education of America's children and the
professional preparation of educators
* an insufficient number of individuals entering the profession
* "graying" of the workforce reflected in increasing numbers of retirements
* a tarnished image of public education in general that discourages recruitment
* competing career choices not available to previous generations.
PERSONNEL DILEMMAS IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
In its infancy, school psychology was deeply rooted in the child study clinics of such pioneers as
Arnold Gesell, and early school psychologists were clearly diagnosticians who "studied"
attributes of children to predict their school success and need for remedial or specialized
instruction. School psychology was initially practiced in large urban and suburban areas, at first
in centralized diagnostic clinics (as in a hospital or community clinic today) and later on a highly
itinerant basis as school psychologists were hired to visit schools periodically to assess referred
children. Even prior to special education regulations, students referred to school psychologists
generally were either failing academically or exhibited severe emotional disturbance, and school
psychologists determined which students needed special placement or treatment (Fagan & Wise,
Although their tools evolved, school psychologists' primary functions remained essentially
unchanged and unchallenged for decades. This medical model of diagnosis and classification-
as "sorters and repairers" (Fagan, 2002)-was well entrenched when federal special education
regulations were first adopted in the mid-1970s. The new mandates further institutionalized the
test-and-place model as the profession rapidly grew to the point that nearly every school district
employed at least one school psychologist. Although key researchers had already refuted the
popular concept of aptitude by treatment interactions (matching treatment to individual
attributes), this philosophy nevertheless served as the foundation for early special education
practice, and thus for the practice of school psychology, at a critical point in the profession's
development (Gresham, 2002; Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002).
A pair of landmark conferences over 20 years ago-at Spring Hill in Minnesota in 1980
(Ysseldyke & Weinberg, 1981) and Olympia in Wisconsin in 1981 (Brown, Cardon, Coulter, &
Meyers, 1982)-which are often cited as the organized start of a slow revolution in school
psychology, included the first large-scale discussions of role expansion beyond diagnostic
assessment (Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002). At that time, school psychologists were still in
relatively short supply. Attention was newly focused on strategies of behavioral psychology and
ecologically oriented indirect services directed at modifying the instructional environment as a
means to impact outcomes for all students efficiently. Consultation to address individual
academic and behavioral difficulties, as well as group and systems intervention (e.g., at the
school or district level), were promoted as ways to expand roles and to help prevent more serious
Although many school psychologists felt limited by their roles as special education gatekeepers
and desired opportunities to impact student performance more effectively, relatively few
individuals and school districts initiated recommended paradigm shifts (Goldwasser, Meyers,
Christenson, & Graden, 1983; Smith, 1984). School budget woes in the early to mid-1980s
further delayed implementation of broad roles. Overall ratios of students to school psychologists
steadily improved (Fagan, 2002). Referral to special education also increased rapidly (Ysseldyke
& Marston, 1999).
Role expansion, where it occurred, had an interesting result-the more services school
psychologists provided, the more services were requested. The profession continued to grow.
For many, the ratio of students to staff improved. With better ratios, many school psychologists
began to carve out more time for expanded service delivery; more school psychologists included
consultation, counseling, staff training, and group interventions in their repertoire of professional
services (e.g., Canter, 1991; Franklin & Duley, 2002). Often, however, these services were
additions to the traditional diagnostic role-the role most often funded by special education
dollars and justified by special education mandates.
The first School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice (Ysseldyke, Weinberg, &
Reynolds, 1984), going beyond the recommendations of Olympia and Spring Hill, called for a
re-conceptualization of "best practice" where the system and individual students were the target
clients for school psychology. As in many other professions, however, the training of school
psychologists lagged well behind the new standards. The majority of school psychologists
continued to spend much of their time engaged in eligibility assessments and related special
education activities (e.g., Reschly, Genshaft, & Binder, 1987; Reschly & Wilson, 1995). In a few
settings (e.g., Heartland Area Education Agency in Iowa; Minneapolis Public Schools), new
technologies (e.g., curriculum-based measurement [CBM] and problem-solving models) did
create opportunities for school psychologists to serve as interventionists rather than special
education gatekeepers (Deno, 1985; Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999). However, these models were
few and far between; and innovators often faced significant institutional and political barriers
(Marston, Canter, Lau, & Muyskens, 2002).
At the end of the 1980s, another breakthrough in the development of the profession was the
introduction of the first national credential for school psychologists-the National School
Psychology Certification system affiliated with the National Association of School Psychologists
[NASP]. The Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential [NCSP] solidified several
trends in the profession: broad recognition of the specialist level of training; uniform training
standards incorporating the principles of the Blueprint; and a commitment to ongoing
professional development, a necessary condition for new approaches to become common
practice. Following introduction of the NCSP credential in 1989 (Batsche & Curtis, 2003), states
began adopting its standards; as of this writing, more than half the states (26) include the NCSP
as a criterion for state certification or licensure.
Paradigm Shift: New Tools, New Standards, New Dilemmas
Several shifts in research and practice came together toward the end of the 20th century, creating
both conceptual and technical opportunities for significant change in school psychology practice.
The growing call for accountability in education led to increased support for evidence-based
practice (e.g., Kratochwill & Shernoff, 2003) and a focus on outcomes. At the same time, new
technologies that allowed for more precise and frequent measurement of student skills and
behavior were developed and validated. These included curriculum-based assessment [CBA]
(Howell & Nolet, 1999), curriculum-based measurement [CBM] (Shinn, 1989), functional
behavior assessment [FBA] (Gresham & Noell, 1999), and response to intervention [RTI]
(Gresham, 2002). These new technologies, integrated in the context of collaborative team
decision-making, form the foundation for Problem-Solving Models of service delivery, which
emphasize early identification and support of at-risk students within general education prior to
consideration of special education needs. For school psychologists, this model has promoted
broader roles in consultation and intervention design (e.g., Marston et al., 2002).
When the Blueprint was revised (Ysseldyke, Dawson, Lehr, Reschly, & Reynolds, 1997), there
was a substantial body of research supporting ecological approaches over medical models,
problem-solving strategies over refer-test-place paradigms, and curriculum-based assessment
strategies over traditional norm-referenced approaches. Research also questioned the efficacy of
the current model of special education-the system that was responsible for the rapid growth of
school psychology (Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002). New standards for training (e.g., NASP,
2000c) reflected the domains and philosophy of Blueprint II. These domains of training and
* data-based decision making and accountability
* interpersonal communication, collaboration, and consultation
* effective instruction and development of cognitive-academic skills
* socialization and development of life competencies
* student diversity in development and learning
* school structure, organization, and climate
* prevention, wellness promotion, and crisis intervention
* home-school-community collaboration
* research and program evaluation
* legal, ethical practice, and professional development.
With the initial wave of school psychologists hired in the mid- to late 1970s about to retire,
projected shortages of personnel (including shortages of trainers and training programs),
economic downturns, calls for educational reform, and largely political initiatives to hold schools
accountable spurred school psychology leaders to call for wide-scale change to address the needs
of an increasingly diverse and at-risk student population (e.g., Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002).
Revamping models of service delivery one psychologist or even one district at a time was clearly
as inadequate as trying to solve individual student problems one at a time. At the end of the 20th
century as at the beginning, school psychologists devoted most of their time to "sorting and
repairing" individual students. However, many school psychologists now had the training to
engage in very different roles.
Further endorsement of fundamental reform in school psychology is evident from the
proceedings of the 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology (Sheridan & D'Amato,
2004), held two decades after Spring Hill, nearly two decades after the first Blueprint. A highly
diverse gathering of practitioners, trainers, researchers, and association leaders, at the Futures
Conference quickly reached consensus in calling for change across the domains of school
psychology practice and service delivery (Harrison et al., 2004). Overall, the proposed changes
reflected the need to address the learning of all students by promoting evidence-based
instructional strategies and to identify student needs and measure progress using ecological and
functional procedures. The necessary outcomes for children, families, and schools identified by
conference participants included:
* improved academic competencies and school success for all children
* more effective education and instruction for all learners
* improved social-emotional functioning for all children
* improved parenting skills and enhanced family-school partnerships to support students
* integrated school and community services to promote health and mental health for children
Challenges to Role Change
To fulfill the agenda established at the 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology,
school psychologists will have to adopt new and/or expanded roles. The focus necessarily will
move beyond the emphasis on individual diagnosis and treatment and more substantially to
prevention, early intervention, instructional design, mental health services, and family support.
Regardless of how school psychologists conduct assessments, diagnosis of disability can no
longer be their primary objective in a system that seeks to impact student outcomes more
globally. At the same time, how school psychologists approach assessment may determine what
other roles they fill.
There are many challenges to role change in our profession, both internal and systemic:
* Generally school psychology practice remains mired in the medical model, the search for
pathology. Growing bodies of research on the physiological and neurological bases of
learning and behavior tend to reinforce the stronghold of this model for school psychology
practice (Rosenfield, 2000). Change in how the profession conceptualizes its mission, not
simply a change in activities, is needed (Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000).
* Many veteran (and even new) school psychologists truly prefer traditional roles-one-to-one
work with children is typically rewarding as results are tangible and often gratifying.
Diagnostic work is interesting and intellectually challenging (Fagan, 2002; Fagan & Wise,
* Changes in regulations are often regarded as threats to current roles rather than opportunities
to forge new ones. Many school psychologists fear that a shift away from the traditional
diagnostic role will lead to unemployment (e.g., Fagan & Wise, 2000).
* A move away from traditional psychometric activities may increase confusion among
practitioners and stakeholders regarding what roles are now appropriate and feasible (Fagan,
2002; Ysseldyke et al., 1997).
* For many, new roles will require training to ensure a sufficient knowledge and skill base to
implement reforms. There is evidence of a disconnect between the needs of today's schools
and the curriculum of school psychology training programs (Braden, DiMarino-Linnen, &
Good, 2001). Yet there are fewer trainers and dwindling funds to support new or revamped
training programs and ongoing professional development.
* Personnel shortages threaten to offset improved student-to-psychologist ratios. Even where
districts can supplement special education dollars to facilitate role expansion, will there be
enough school psychologists to fill these positions?
* Expectations are difficult to modify. What we have done for years is what others expect and
value. Efforts to change roles can upset the cultural equilibrium of the school as traditional
roles are threatened.
* The impact of shifting roles has not been thoroughly evaluated; and administrators, teachers,
and school psychologists themselves are often skeptical that "new" will be "better."
* Regulations historically have discouraged role change. Innovations viewed as
"noncompliance" can have negative financial as well as political repercussions.
Administrators and policymakers often rigidly interpret laws and regulations and assume that
new approaches are not permitted by law or funding sources (Prasse & Schrag, 1999). The
fact that most school psychologist positions are funded under special education regulations
often serves to limit and justify roles. Meanwhile, gatekeeping activities tend to perpetuate
the perception that school psychologists fill reactive rather than proactive roles.
*New roles are difficult to implement while old roles are maintained. Critical elements of
system reform must be in place to assure continuity of supports to students and job
protections for professionals, whether change takes place at micro or macro levels (Knoff,
2002; Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002).
School psychologists, who are most likely to have the training and mindset to engage in new
roles, are least likely to be in positions to direct a paradigm shift at the local level due to limited
opportunities to serve in administrative positions. These barriers notwithstanding, many trainers,
practitioners, and professional leaders are optimistic that school psychology is heading in a
proactive direction: "Our faith is based on a conviction that the delivery system and role changes
are in the best interests of children, youth, and families....Paradigm shift means making
differences in, rather than predictions about, students' lives" (Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002, p. 16).
This paper now turns to the issues critical to the recruitment, training, and credentialing of school
psychologists and to the profession's ability to address changing roles to meet the diverse needs
of students and schools.
KEY DILEMMAS FACING SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY
Concerns addressed by participants at the 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology
(Harrison et al., 2004) can be summarized broadly as three critical dilemmas:
1. Shifting professional roles from gatekeeper to comprehensive service provider in order to
integrate services that address both mental health and academic concerns effectively in
the context of public policy emphasizing accountability (e.g., IDEA, No Child Left
Behind) and research emphasizing empirically based practice (Kratochwill & Shernoff,
2003; National Reading Panel, 2000; U.S. Public Health Service, 2000)
2. Serving a diverse student population with a relatively homogeneous work force
3. Serving a broader segment of the school community with a dwindling work force.
The status of the profession in light of each dilemma and the position of the National Association
of School Psychologists [NASP]1 is presented in the following sections.
From Gatekeeper to Comprehensive Service Provider
The school psychology literature is replete with studies and rhetoric regarding the limitations of
practice resulting from adherence to a medical model reinforced by special education mandates
(e.g., Reschly & Ysseldyke, 2002; Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000; Tilly, 2002). Demographic and
functional analyses of professional activities have repeatedly reflected the ongoing challenge of
(if not resistance to) role expansion (Curtis, Grier, & Hunley, 2004; Reschly & Wilson, 1995).
Although Curtis et al. (2004) reported that initial special education evaluations and re-
evaluations declined significantly between 1989-1990 and 1999-2000, they also found that the
time school psychologists invested in special education activities jumped dramatically.
Yet there is also ample evidence that under more comprehensive service delivery models both
students and school psychologists thrive (Canter, 1991; Franklin & Duley, 2002). There is a
considerable consensus-from formal positions of the National Association of School
Psychologists [NASP] (2004b) to the recommendations of the Futures Conference (Harrison et
al., 2004)-that school psychologists must provide a broader array of services to a broader
student population in order to have the necessary impact on student achievement and adjustment.
While recent changes in special education mandates (e.g., IDEA, 2004) may ease some of their
gatekeeping responsibilities, it is essential that school psychologists incorporate alternative roles
into their everyday lives and thus reduce the need for some traditional activities that have driven
the profession for the last century. Too many needs of children and schools have been neglected
while school psychologists have been certifying disabilities and providing prevention and early
intervention support for those same disabilities.
1 This paper was prepared with the funding support of the National Association of School
Psychologists in the author's capacity as consultant. This paper does not reflect an official
position of any organization or association; however, it does draw significantly upon existing
positions and standards of the National Association of School Psychologists [NASP].
School-based mental health services. Historically school psychologists have not readily
identified themselves as mental health providers (Nastasi, 2000). However, researchers
concerned with reducing barriers to learning have called on school psychologists to play key
roles in establishing school-based mental health services as a crucial means of improving
achievement and life outcomes (Adelman & Taylor, 1998). Again, calls to address student
mental health concerns through prevention, early intervention, and tertiary treatment were among
the strongest recommendations from the Futures Conference (Harrison et al., 2004) as well as
from the Surgeon General's Commission on Child Mental Health (U.S. Public Health Service,
2000) and the report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (2003). An
added impetus to enhance school-based mental health services is the increasing demand for crisis
prevention, intervention, and postvention services. While high profile incidents (e.g., Columbine
and Red Lake shootings) as well as more global crises (e.g., 9/11) have facilitated the
development of school crisis teams and national initiatives, such as the National Emergency
Assistance Team (Poland & Gorin, 2002). Schools and communities are more aware of the need
to address bullying, gang activities, and social isolation that can threaten school safety (e.g.,
Brock, Lazarus, & Jimerson, 2002).
The hardest sell may be among school psychologists themselves, who note lack of training, lack
of time, and narrow role definitions as barriers to identification as mental health providers. Some
shift is evident as more and more school psychologists participate in school-based mental health
projects and grant-writing (e.g., Nastasi, Pluymert, Varjas, & Moore, 2002; Nastasi, Varjas,
Bernstein, & Pluymert, 1998). National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] has
initiated efforts to promote pre-service and in-service training to assure competency in delivering
mental health services (e.g., NASP, 2000c, 2003a); but a broader effort is clearly needed. School
psychologists by definition must be perceived-and perceive themselves-as school-based
mental health practitioners as much as instructional consultants.
Improving instruction. Similarly, in assuming roles as instructional consultants, there has
been some discomfort and resistance among many school psychologists who feel limited in their
training in curriculum and teaching methods. While we readily conduct assessments of students
with significant academic problems and even offer general suggestions for remediation and
special placement, we have been reluctant to apply our backgrounds in child development,
learning, and research design to common instructional problems. One new impetus for taking on
this role is the growing emphasis on scientific, evidence-based instructional practices, reflected
most clearly in the provisions of No Child Left Behind, (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) in
the latest IDEA reauthorization of 2004, (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special
Education and Rehabilitative Services, 2004) and in the work of the American Psychological
Association [APA], National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], and other groups on
evidence-based interventions (e.g., Kratochwill & Shernoff, 2003).
Yet leaders of the profession have been urging school psychologists to use their expertise to
influence instructional decisions for years (e.g., Graden, Zins, & Curtis, 1988; Rosenfield, 1987).
Key recommendations from the Futures Conference concern consultation and intervention to
improve learning and instruction (Harrison et al., 2004). Blueprint II (Ysseldyke et al., 1997)
and the latest National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] training standards (2000c)
place considerable emphasis on the use of data-based decision making to support assessment and
consultation regarding student learning problems. In particular, professional leaders and
researchers have called for implementation of problem-solving models and specifically Response
To Intervention [RTI] methodologies (Gresham, 2002; LD Roundtable, 2002; NASP, 2003d).
Such approaches emphasize identifying specific skill deficits early, designing instructional
strategies to address those difficulties, and frequently monitoring student performance to ensure
progress. These approaches focus resources on prevention and early intervention in order to
reduce referral for special education and improve student outcomes. School psychologists have
expertise in measurement, learning, cognition, and evaluation of research findings. They are in
ideal positions to translate research on instruction to effective, empirically based classroom
practices. Indeed, school psychologists have assumed leadership roles in districts where
problem-solving models have been implemented-Heartland Area Education Agency in Iowa
(Ikeda, Tilly, Stumme, Volmer, & Allison, 1996; Tilly, 2002); Minneapolis Public Schools
(Marston et al., 2002; Marston, Muyskens, Lau, & Canter, 2003); Milwaukee Public Schools
(Haubner, Staum, & Potter, 2002); and others.
Positive behavior support. Encouraging school psychologists to engage in activities that
foster improved academic outcomes, researchers and professional leaders have promoted
Positive Behavior Support [PBS] (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). PBS is an empirically
validated, functionally based approach used to replace challenging classroom behaviors with
prosocial skills, thus decreasing the need for more intrusive or aversive interventions (e.g.,
punishment or suspension). PBS involves data-based decision making using functional
behavioral assessment and ongoing monitoring of the outcomes of intervention (e.g., Sugai &
Horner, 2002). Mandated by the 1997 Amendments to IDEA and more loosely "encouraged" in
the 2004 reauthorization, many school psychologists assumed leadership roles in helping schools
develop PBS systems. Where effectively implemented, PBS provided a natural link between
behavior and achievement and helped practitioners focus on prevention and early intervention.
Integrating instructional and mental health supports. Barriers to learning for many
children today include factors tied to both academic functioning and mental health status (e.g.,
Adelman & Taylor, 1998). Leading researchers as well as participants in the 2002 Conference on
the Future of School Psychology have called for collaboration across the systems that directly
impact children-schools and community agencies-a direct link between academic and mental
health supports, between prevention and intervention (Harrison et al., 2004; Power, 2000).
"School psychologists are uniquely qualified to understand educational implications of mental
health and to facilitate the integration of public education and public health" (Nastasi, 2003, p.
51). Further, some researchers and practitioners have called for school psychology to consider a
public health model as a means of conceptualizing integrated service delivery based on
empirically validated practices and school-community collaboration (Strein, Hoagwood, &
Cohn, 2003). Mental health and academic performance are clearly intertwined, and school
psychologists must be prepared to address and integrate both areas in their daily practice.
The U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of culture and native language,
and the students in our public schools reflect this diversity. Yet our profession's demographics
do not come close to matching the students and families we serve. About 93% of practicing
school psychologists are identified as Caucasian, reflecting only a slight change over the past 20
years (Curtis, Grier, et al., 2004). National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] and
APA have undertaken a variety of initiatives to address minority recruitment (e.g., APA, 1993;
NASP, 2003b); but the short-term outlook indicates that the demographics of the profession will
not change dramatically. It is therefore more critical than ever that training and professional
development emphasize culturally competent practices. Projects such as NASP's training video
CD-ROM, Portraits of the Children: Culturally Competent Assessment (NASP, 2003c); new
website (http://www.nasponline.org/culturalcompetence/index.html); Directory of Bilingual
School Psychologists (NASP, 1998); and Minority Recruitment Task Force (NASP, 2005); and
APA's Healthy Schools Project for Lesbian and Gay Students (APA, n.d.) need to be expanded
and extended to address our increasingly diverse clientele.
One impetus for the 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology was the growing body
of data indicating that a serious shortage of personnel would soon impact the delivery of services
in public schools (Curtis, Hunley, Walker, & Baker, 1999; Fagan & Wise, 2000; Miller &
Palomares, 2000; Thomas, 1999a). Curtis et al. (1999) projected that about 40% of the school
psychology work force at that time would likely retire by 2010, and about two thirds by 2020.
Anecdotal evidence gives more immediacy to these concerns. In Chicago at the end of the 2002-
2003 school year, 29% of school psychologists were eligible to retire. In Anchorage, Alaska,
there were 10 unfilled positions (impacting 25 schools); and the district paid other practitioners
to work 6 days per week. In Minneapolis Public Schools, 5 of 43 full-time positions were
unfilled; and the workload was added to the duties of the existing staff (Charvat & Feinberg,
Unless the profession can effectively address the problem of doing more with less-serving a
broader student population with a dwindling work force-there will be few resources to address
issues such as student mental health and learning! This will require a multi-faceted approach:
recruiting and retaining professionals as well as identifying different approaches to service
delivery that increase both effectiveness and efficiency. As noted by the 2002 Conference on the
Future of School Psychology, we must reconsider the traditional models that emphasize
individual student services and shift some emphasis to more indirect strategies that address
systemic issues, thus having greater impact despite a potentially smaller work force (Harrison et
The next section considers how three personnel factors-training, credentialing, and supply-
demand-interact with the critical issues facing the profession.
PROFESSIONAL TRAINING OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS
A significant challenge to addressing critical issues in service delivery is the preparation of a
highly qualified work force. Individuals entering school psychology training today face a wider
range of training needs and higher standards for their preparation. At the same time, they may
find fewer programs and fewer trainers available. Two concepts are key to discussions of
1. Accreditation and program approval refer to the systematic review of a university's
school psychology training program relative to the criteria adopted by a professional
body such as the National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], through its
affiliations with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE]
and APA. Accreditation issues are addressed in the following discussion of training of
2. Credentialing refers to the state or national process of evaluating the training of an
individual school psychologist relative to the training and practice standards of that state
or national board and the granting of a certificate or license to practice. Credentialing
issues will be discussed in the next section of this paper.
Scope of Training
Today school psychologists need a greater array of skills than did their predecessors of the 1970s
and 1980s. School psychologists for the foreseeable future must have substantial expertise in:
* understanding special education laws and regulations
* eligibility determination
* translating research to practice in the areas of instruction, particularly early literacy, reading,
study skills, and meta-cognition
* positive behavior supports
* mental health (prevention and intervention)
* crisis management
* school organization
* collaborative consultation and program evaluation
* service delivery in a manner that is culturally sensitive and supportive of a vast diversity of
learners and their families
* working with a wide range of disabilities, particularly attention disorders and executive skills
as well as conditions that may have been regarded as "low incidence" to past generations of
practitioners (e.g., autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injuries, Tourette syndrome,
and other neuro-behavioral disorders that are increasing in prevalence and/or identification).
The document School Psychology: A Blueprint for Training and Practice has served as a road
map for training standards since its first publication (Ysseldyke et al., 1984). The first revision
(Ysseldyke et al., 1997), and the current work on a second revision (Pfohl, 2005) reflect the
evolution of skills needed by today's school psychologists.
Availability of Training and Trainers
A survey completed in 1997 found 218 institutions of higher education were offering some type
of school psychology program (Thomas, 1998). Given that some institutions offer multiple
degree programs (i.e., specialist and doctoral), the survey reported a total of 294 programs across
the country; and this number had not changed significantly in the past decade (Charvat &
Feinberg, 2003). Estimates of the number of school psychology graduates across all levels of
training have typically ranged from 1,750 to 1,950 per year, with little change in completion
rates over the past 15 years (Curtis, 2002; Reschly & Wilson, 1995; Thomas, 1998). As one
analysis of school psychology graduate education concluded, there is "relative stability in the
number and kinds of institutions offering programs, program levels, student enrollment, and
numbers and levels of graduates" (Reschly & Wilson, 1995, p. 82). However, new training
standards have likely encouraged additional positions that may create new openings (Little &
One factor of particular concern regarding future personnel availability is the apparent increase
in unfilled faculty positions among school psychology training programs. A survey conducted by
Tingstrom (2000) found 54 school psychology faculty positions open in 53 institutions of higher
learning in the fall of 1999. Projections were 164 job openings in academia between the 2000-
2001 and 2002-2003 academic years (Miller & Masten, 2000). In developing projections of
retirements from the field, Curtis, Hunley et al. (2004) predicted that university faculty would
retire at a markedly higher rate than practitioners, 29.4% versus 12.3%, respectively, by 2005.
With no data suggesting that the total number of training programs has declined despite unfilled
faculty positions, it seems likely that existing programs are providing training with a higher ratio
of faculty to students, which has implications for the quality of professional preparation (Charvat
& Feinberg, 2003). Further, as the faculty shortage appears particularly dire in relation to the
number of applicants to graduate programs (Curtis, 2002), the future work force may depend
more on successful recruitment of trainers than trainees.
A long-standing professional debate in school psychology relates to degree requirements for
entry-level practice. The two professional organizations that represent school psychology have
distinct positions on this issue. APA (1987) maintains that doctoral-level preparation is required
for independent practice as a "professional psychologist," which includes school psychology. On
the other hand, the National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] (2000c) maintains that
the entry level for professional practice as a school psychologist is the completion of a specialist-
level graduate degree (60+ semester hours). While professional debates ebb and flow about the
issue, review of existing training programs, degrees obtained by practitioners in the field, and
state requirements for school-based practice all indicate the predominance of specialist-level
training. Nearly all institutions of higher education providing school psychology programs offer
specialist-level programs (Reschly & Wilson, 1995).
While the majority of programs prepare school psychologists at the specialist level, they
frequently do not confer a specialist degree. Instead, 56% of institutions (Thomas, 1998) confer a
master's degree and a certificate of advanced study or a certificate of completion to indicate the
completion of another year beyond the traditional master's degree. Indeed, in a recent national
survey, 87% of respondents indicated currently holding preparation at the specialist level or
higher (Curtis, Grier et al., 2004), while it is estimated that approximately 30% of practicing
school psychologists hold a doctoral degree (Curtis, Grier, Abshier, Sutton, & Hunley, 2002).
The shift of school psychology from a master's- to specialist-level profession over the past 30
years is in part attributed to the adoption of higher standards for both credentialing and training
by the National Association of School Psychologists [NASP], beginning in the 1970s. The
establishment of the national Nationally Certified School Psychologist [NCSP] credential in
1989 as well as rigorous training standards are further guarantees that future school
psychologists will hold at least the specialist credential or its equivalent.
As school positions go unfilled and third-party billing reduces incentives and positions for
psychologists in other settings, professional associations have considered the concept of
respecialization-the training of individuals who already hold degrees or credentials in closely
related fields (e.g., child clinical psychology). Whether and how these individuals could gain
sufficient training to meet professional standards for school psychology practice is a new
challenge for both training programs and credentialing bodies.
National standards for the preparation of school psychologists have been established by National
Association of School Psychologists [NASP], a constituent member of the National Council for
the Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE]. All school psychology training programs are
eligible for NASP approval regardless of their location in accredited or non-accredited NCATE
institutions of higher education. NASP's Standards for Training and Field Placement Programs
in School Psychology (2000c) specify requirements for specialist-level and doctoral-level
training, with preparation including a minimum of 60 graduate (semester) hours of designated
course work, a practicum, and a full-year internship, all reflecting the 10 practice domains of
Blueprint II (Ysseldyke et al., 1997). APA (1981) also accredits school psychology doctoral
programs as an area of specialty preparation within professional psychology.
Since formal National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] approval of programs
through National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE] began in 1988,
the number of approved programs at the specialist and doctoral levels has increased steadily. In
2004, 62% of specialist programs and 68% of doctoral programs had attained conditional or full
approval through NASP (2004c). Additionally, it is estimated that 75% of school psychology
doctoral programs are accredited by the APA. In 2004, 56 programs held APA accreditation
(APA Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation, personal communication, August 26,
Although the number of school psychology training programs has remained stable over the past
15 or more years, it is expected that the number of school psychology programs attaining
national approval/accreditation will continue to increase in the coming years. APA and/or
National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] program approval as well as national or
regional accreditation have become critical tools for recruitment of the most qualified students to
school psychology graduate programs, as well as a necessary prerequisite to program approval
by many state education agencies. Due to the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher
Education [NCATE] state partnership agreements, at least half of the states now require that
professional education programs achieve national approval or accreditation or demonstrate that
they are able to meet national standards for training in their designated discipline as part of the
process of state approval (Prus & Curtis, 1996; NCATE, 2005). Some states require graduation
from an approved program as one criterion for a practice credential. There has also been a
significant increase in the number of programs applying to the NASP Program Approval Board
as a result of NCATE state partnership agreements (NASP, 2004c).
Training Diverse Professionals
An additional issue of importance affecting school psychology preparation is the under-
representation in the profession of ethnic minorities, who make up only 7% of the work force
(Curtis, Grier et al., 2004). Training programs, as well as APA, National Association of School
Psychologists [NASP], and state school psychology associations, are focusing efforts and
resources on strategies to recruit ethnic and linguistic minorities into school psychology training
programs. With survey data indicating growth in the percentage of school psychology students
from ethnic minority groups from about 11% in the late 1980s (McMaster, Reschly, & Peters,
1989) to about 17% a decade later (Thomas, 1998), there is some indication that recruitment
efforts are having an impact; although the gap between practitioners and clients continues to be
significant. Further, despite the increase in the diversity of graduate students, there has been little
change in the demographics of practitioners. More systematic attention to both recruitment and
retention in the field is needed if the profession is to make progress and become a better
reflection of the face of the public schools today.
Aside from increasing the diversity of those entering school psychology training, pre-service
training and professional development opportunities give more attention to topics that will better
prepare all future and current school psychologists to address the needs of diverse student
populations. Training standards today give greater emphasis to course work and field
experiences that address sensitivity to and knowledge of the history, customs, and unique
attributes of diverse cultural and linguistic groups that impact learning, behavior, and adjustment.
More training programs offer courses in culturally competent assessment and multicultural
counseling. Some programs offer specialization in bilingual school psychology practice. National
and state conferences for practicing school psychologists offer an increasing array of sessions
addressing diversity topics. Training in diversity will continue to be a significant challenge to
training programs and local, state and national organizations, because the diversity of the student
population appears to be increasing at a much faster rate than the diversity of the profession.
Training Issues for the Future
Discussions of the future of school psychology preparation must address the scope of program
content and broader professional roles (particularly regarding instruction and mental health); the
continuing prevalence of specialist-level training; the stability of the number of institutions and
graduate programs engaged in training; the lack of diversity among individuals seeking and
completing training; and the apparently insufficient number of graduates entering the work force.
Given this context, the profession must focus its training efforts to do the following:
*reconceptualize the curriculum of school psychology training to better reflect the demands
and needs of today's schools and students by "decreasing emphasis on assessment and
increasing emphasis on advocacy, preventative measures, and the mental health needs of all
students" (Braden et al., 2001, p. 216)
* increase the number of school psychology graduate programs that meet national standards for
training, based on National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] program approval
and APA accreditation
* increase accessibility to valid alternative training options (e.g., distance learning graduate
programs) in several special areas of specific personnel shortages (e.g., rural areas, states
with few or no traditional graduate training programs, historically black colleges and
* identify successful strategies to recruit school psychologists to serve as trainers in graduate
institutions, such as mentoring-modeling teaching and research activities (Little & Akin-
* develop alternatives to traditional faculty appointments, including adjunct arrangements with
experienced practitioners and recruitment of experienced practitioners as full-time clinical
faculty regardless of publication history
* continue to implement the most recent revisions of national training standards (NASP,
2000c) that emphasize competency-based practice and development of performance-based
program assessment and accountability systems
* identify successful strategies to increase the number of individuals seeking training as school
psychologists, including identifying alternatives to traditional models of training that may
limit the potential pool of practitioners. Such alternatives may include part-time residency
requirements, distance learning options, and respecialization programs.
* develop effective recruitment strategies to increase the enrollment of students from
underrepresented groups in school psychology training programs, providing sufficient
support to ensure a higher rate of program completion and professional employment for
diverse graduates. Part-time enrollment and distance learning opportunities may be
particularly helpful in encouraging individuals from culturally and economically diverse
backgrounds to pursue school psychology training. Effective strategies from several current
school psychology programs might be considered as national models (e.g., Zhou et al., 2004).
Research is needed to examine factors relevant to the above recommendations more carefully.
Although we have significant demographic information, we lack sufficient knowledge about the
roles of undergraduate education, economic and cultural variables, and training accessibility in
decisions to enter the field of school psychology, particularly among underrepresented
populations. A better understanding of these and other factors would enable the profession to
better design effective strategies to improve the quality and availability of school psychology
training and ultimately to increase the quality and quantity of the professional work force.
CERTIFICATION AND LICENSURE ISSUES
All states have established some form of certification or licensure for school psychology practice
in school settings. Although most states issue a credential at one title and degree level, some
states have multiple credential levels generally distinguished by graduate hours and degree
(master's, specialist, doctoral).
Prevalence and Nature of Credentialing
As might be expected, nearly all school psychologists hold certification from a state education
agency. Curtis, Grier et al. (2002) reported that state school psychology certification (usually
through a state education agency for school practice) was held by 91% of respondents to a 1999
survey; while licensure as a psychologist, as a school psychologist, or through a derivative title
(usually through a state Board of Psychology for independent practice) was reported by 35.5% of
all respondents. In a few states, certification as a school psychologist by a state education agency
enables the practitioner to engage in independent or private practice in non-school settings
without also holding a license from a state board of psychology (Curtis et al., 1999). However, in
most states, the processes of certification for school-based practice and licensure for independent
practice are distinct and controlled by separate state agencies.
Reschly and Wilson (1995) estimated that 33% of school psychologists held a license allowing
for practice in non-school settings. More recently, 36% of school psychologists reported holding
a license for practice in non-school settings (Curtis, 2002). While it appears that more school
psychologists are seeking and obtaining licenses for independent practice, there is continued
evidence that most intend to use it to supplement full-time practice in public schools. Curtis
(2002) reported that outside of school settings only 2% of survey respondents engaged in full-
time practice and only 10% engaged in part-time practice. Thus, the majority of school
psychologists who hold a license for independent practice do not use this credential for this
purpose, but may seek licensing to meet local standards for supervision in their public school
In addition to state certification and licensure, many school psychologists also hold the
Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential [NCSP], a program developed and managed
by the National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] (Batsche & Curtis, 2003). In their
1999 survey of school psychologists, Curtis, Grier et al. (2002) report that 51% of respondents
held the NCSP.
Models and Standards
National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] in Standards for the Credentialing of
School Psychologists (2000b) presented a model for state and national certification/licensure.
These standards specify the following requirements: a minimum of 60 semester hours of
graduate course work; demonstrated competencies in specified domains of professional practice
as reflected by course work in psychology, education, and school psychology as well as
associated practicum experiences; and the completion of a full academic year internship (1200
clock hours). While a significant majority of states have credit-hour requirements that are
generally consistent with national standards for school psychology credentialing, a review of
state certification/licensure requirements indicated specific differences exist in course work,
practice, and internships (Curtis, Hunley, & Prus, 1998).
A pressing issue in school psychology, as in all education professions, is the move from course-
based certification-licensing models to competency-based models. The most recent revision to
National Association of School Psychologists [NASP]'s school psychology training and
credentialing standards (NASP, 2000b, 2000c) exemplifies this change, providing further
impetus for states to develop new competency-based models for professional certification-
In 1988, the National School Psychology Certification Board [NSPCB] was founded to provide
national certification (Nationally Certified School Psychologist [NCSP]) to school psychologists
who meet national training standards (Batsche & Curtis, 2003). Qualifications for this credential
include completion of a 60 semester hour, specialist-level program in school psychology;
designated course work and practice; completion of a 1200-hour internship; and a passing score
on the Praxis II/NTE School Psychology exam. To maintain the Nationally Certified School
Psychologist certification [NCSP], school psychologists must complete 75 hours of continuing
professional development every 3 years. Some specific goals of the NCSP certification (NASP,
* to promote uniform credentialing standards across states, agencies, and training institutions
* to monitor the implementation of National Association of School Psychologists [NASP]
credentialing standards at the national level
* to promote continuing professional development for school psychologists
* to facilitate credentialing of school psychologists across states through the use of reciprocity
* to ensure a consistent level of training and experience in service providers who are nationally
* to promote the utilization of NASP Standards for Training and Field Placement Programs in
School Psychology (NASP, 2000c) by training institutions
* to encourage individual members to seek national certification.
National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] recommends that states allow use of the
Nationally Certified School Psychologist certification [NCSP] as one option-but not the only
option-for obtaining a state school psychology credential. The number of states, now 26,2
accepting the NCSP as a route to state certification has steadily increased since its inception.
[NASP, 2004d]. Even states that do not allow the NCSP as an alternative route to credentialing
often have standards for state certification that are similar or identical to the NCSP requirements.
At least one state (Minnesota) allows school psychologists to document continuing education
requirements for state license renewal by merely verifying the active status of their NCSP.
Respecialization and Credentialing
A final issue in the area of credentialing relates to certification and licensure requirements for
professionals who are interested in school-based practice but have been prepared in other areas
of psychology (clinical and counseling psychologists) or mental health disciplines (mental health
counselors). These individuals already possess professional licenses and have previously
practiced in hospital, mental health, and community-based settings. Personnel shortages in
2 Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine,
Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico,
Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming
schools, paired with employment changes in other settings, have created a new group of
professionals interested in the opportunities and stability of school positions.
For example, as the demand for psychologists in private practice has diminished due to changes
in health services and managed care requirements, many psychologists are seeking to fill open
school psychology positions, which are numerous in many urban and rural schools across the
country (e.g., Crespi & Fieldman, 2001). While psychologists and other mental health
professionals have often provided limited, contractual services to students in public schools,
respecialization offers possibilities as well as concerns regarding the provision of comprehensive
school psychological services and the qualifications of individuals to provide services to school-
aged children in educational settings (e.g., NASP's Position Statement: Employing School
Psychologists for Comprehensive Service Delivery (Revision) (2004b). While the training and
experience of child clinical psychologists may offer a means of increasing the availability of
school mental health services (Crespi & Politikos, 2004; Tharinger & Palomares, 2004),
concerns include the adequacy of professional preparation of allied professionals to serve child
and adolescent populations, their expertise in addressing learning and instructional problems,
their knowledge of special education requirements and other school support services, as well as
their understanding of school structure and organization.
Similar concerns have been raised about another group seeking school psychology
credentialing-related education professionals (e.g., special education teachers, school
counselors). In some states, school credentialing bodies have adopted alternative routes to state
certification for these individuals, including variance and provisional certificates. However, these
alternatives raise concerns about quality of training and service delivery. There has been
consensus among trainers and leaders in school psychology that individuals considering
respecialization seek guidance from school psychology training programs to ensure adequate
Decades ago, APA (1976) formalized the policy that individuals seeking to respecialize "must
meet all requirements of doctoral training in the new psychological specialty" and seek training
through "those academic units in regionally accredited universities and professional schools
currently offering doctoral training in the relevant specialty" (APA Policy Manual K, 1976,
Article XIV). National Association of School Psychologists [NASP] further has defined the
competencies needed for the delivery of school psychological services in its Guidelinesfor the
Provision of School Psychological Services (NASP, 2000a). With a more pressing need to reach
consensus on respecialization, NASP (2002) and APA (Tharinger & Palomares, 2004) are jointly
examining the definition and possible criteria for respecialization in an effort to ensure the
provision and ongoing regulation of quality services in the schools as well as a framework for
evaluating the knowledge and professional competencies of psychologists who have
backgrounds in specialties other than school psychology. The two organizations agree that
respecialization should include formal preparation and supervised field experiences through
APA- or NASP-approved training programs.
Future Credentialing Considerations
Current issues in school psychology certification and licensure demonstrate the connection
between national standards and guidelines and state practices designed to ensure provision of
high-quality services for students in public schools. State school psychology credentialing has
increasingly mirrored national standards that have been developed and promoted by National
Association of School Psychologists [NASP] over the past 15 years. The results of this
concentrated effort have been notable in the development of a national certification system,
adoption of national standards in 26 states, and movement by states to increase state certification
requirements. Critical recommendations regarding certification and licensure for the future
include the following:
* Increase the number of states adopting national credentialing standards and accept the
Nationally Certified School Psychologist certification [NCSP] as a means of obtaining state
school psychology certification or licensure, which will facilitate reciprocity across states.
* Increase the number and diversity of school psychologists seeking national certification,
including targeting newly trained and state-credentialed professionals.
* Improve coordination of requirements for school psychology professional development and
continuing education to facilitate renewal of state and national credentials for school-based
* Develop and implement competency-based systems for respecialization of allied mental
* Assure the provision of comprehensive school psychological services by the most highly
qualified personnel by mandating training in Blueprint II (and forthcoming Blueprint III)
competency domains as criteria for initial credentialing, in contrast to the still-current
emphasis on narrow gatekeeping skills.
Research is still needed to determine the impact of national standards on service outcomes,
accessibility, and personnel shortages, as well as to determine the most efficient and beneficial
means of providing services with respecialized personnel. We also need to better understand the
barriers to state and national credentialing, particularly those faced by individuals from
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
The need for additional school psychologists to fill vacant and newly created positions in public
schools has been a persistent problem over the past 25 years. This shortage has served as a
recruitment tool for the field, permitting faculty to assure potential candidates for school
psychology programs that positions will be waiting for them on graduation. While the discussion
of school psychology shortages is not new, recent projections for the future describe a more dire
situation, one of significant and chronic shortages of both school-based practitioners and higher
education faculty (Curtis, 2002; Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004; Fagan & Wise, 2000; Reschly, 2000;
Thomas, 1999b). Serious shortages in the availability of well-qualified school psychologists have
the potential to undermine progress made in the provision of a comprehensive range of school
psychological services to an increasingly diverse and at-risk population of students.
To understand the nature and impact of work force shortages and to consider appropriate
solutions, it is necessary to examine the current supply of professionals and the actual demands
for their services, now and in the foreseeable future.
The Supply of School Psychologists
The supply of school psychologists is determined by the numbers of current professionals, new
school psychologists entering the field, and professionals who leave the field at a given point in
time. Over the years, school psychologists have completed several large-scale surveys to
examine issues related to supply and demand and particularly to enable the profession to project
the extent of likely shortages. Unfortunately available data have limitations (e.g., variable
response rates; the use of samples from state and national associations; time delay in collecting,
processing, and analyzing complex demographic information; and the varied situations in
different areas of the country).
Number of school psychology positions. Determining the precise number of school
psychologists practicing today is difficult. Official statistics published by the USDOE are
already two years old. As Reschly (2000) has explained, these figures may not tell the whole
story because they are gathered as part of the states' reporting requirements for psychologists
who work with students with disabilities. The total may not be limited to school psychologists
and may not include school psychologists who work with nondisabled populations. However,
multiple sources of data from knowledgeable sources offer the following figures:
* Fagan (2002) estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 school psychologists were employed in the
U.S. in 2000.
* Reschly (2000) estimated that 30,000 trained school psychology practitioners are employed
in some professional capacity.
* An analysis of the recent 25th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of
Individuals iihi Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] (U.S. Department of Education, 2005)
indicated that the total number of credentialed full-time equivalent [FTE] school psychology
positions in public schools as of the August 2002 school year was 27,265, up about 2,500
from the data reported a year earlier and based on August 1999 records. An additional 1,058
positions were reported to be held by individuals not fully credentialed (this may include
supervised interns). This report includes only full-time equivalent [FTE] positions, not the
actual number of individuals employed.
* Using a detailed analysis of data from multiple sources, Charvat (2005) estimated that in
2003-2004, approximately 29,400 school psychologists provided services in public schools
out of a total of 32,300 school psychologists providing services in the U.S. This total figure
represented about 85% of U.S. credentialed school psychologists. In part, this estimate was
based on data from Curtis, Grier et al., (2004) indicating that approximately 78% of all
credentialed U.S. school psychologists work in public schools.
New school psychologists. The most certain source of new professionals is, and likely will
continue to be, university training programs. Analyzing data from several studies of school
psychology programs, Curtis, Hunley et al. (2004) concluded that approximately 1,750 new
school psychologists enter the field each year and that this number is not likely to change in the
near future. This figure does not include the potential group of clinical psychologists, counselors,
and others in allied professions who might choose respecialization as school psychologists. To
date, there is no indication that this will result in a significant addition to the work force soon
(Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004).
Aging work force. An often-cited explanation of the current and predicted shortage of school
psychologists is the "graying" of the profession and thus the likelihood that many will retire in
the near future. Surveys have provided evidence for this trend:
* The median age of school psychologists has increased significantly since the mid-1980s
(Reschly, 2000). Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of school psychologists 40 years of
age or younger declined from 46% to 31%, while those above 50 years of age increased from
19% to 33% (Curtis, Grier et al., 2002; Graden & Curtis, 1991). In 1999-2000, the mean age
of university faculty in school psychology programs was 3 years older than the mean age of
practitioners (Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004).
* The number of school psychologists with at least 20 years of experience doubled from 1989-
1990 to 1999-2000 (Curtis, 2002).
* According to a 1999 survey, retirement within 10 years was the median response from school
psychologists in 9 states (Thomas, 1999b).
* In a recent national survey, 10% of school psychologists reported that they were planning to
retire within the next 3 years (Thomas, 1999b).
* Extrapolating from survey data, approximately 2,500 school psychologists were predicted to
retire between 1999 and 2002 (Miller & Palomares, 2000).
* Using existing survey data, Curtis (2002) predicted that nearly 38% of all practicing school
psychologists will retire by 2010, 53% by 2015, 67% by 2020, and 84% by 2025. Further,
school psychologists with doctoral degrees are projected to retire in the next decade at a
much higher rate than those with specialist or master's degrees; and doctoral school
psychologists holding university faculty positions will retire at an even faster rate than
doctoral-level practitioners (Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004). This prediction has serious
implications for maintaining the existing level of school psychology training.
Attrition. While informal studies of attrition in school psychology suggest the rates are low,
Curtis, Hunley et al. (2004) noted that, without a reliable data base on the attrition rates of school
psychologists, there is no empirical basis for effectively addressing retention. However, relative
to other factors, attrition does not appear to be a significant factor contributing to personnel
Lack of minority professionals. Minority representation among school psychologists is a
concern. Many universities with high minority enrollments do not have National Association of
School Psychologists [NASP]-approved school psychology training programs (or any school
psychology program at all). As a profession, school psychology has not yet established an
effective means of recruiting more school psychologists from the available pools of minority
undergraduate students. Thus, minority representation among school psychologists remains low
(Curtis, Grier et al., 2002):
* Less than 2% of all school psychologists are African American.
* Only 3.1% of all school psychologists are Hispanic.
* Slightly more than half of 1% are Asian-Pacific Islander.
* Other than a small rise in the number of Hispanic school psychologists, the ethnicity of the
profession has shown no significant change in the past decade (Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004).
Service ratio. One measure used to assess the supply of school psychologists relative to
demand is the service ratio, the ratio of school psychologists to students. This metric is important
in understanding the variability in service delivery. Higher ratios have been found to be
associated with more time spent in traditional activities (e.g., special education evaluation and
reevaluation). Lower ratios are typically associated with more time spent in counseling and
consultation activities (Curtis, Grier, Abshier, Sutton, & Hunley, 2002; Curtis, Hunley, & Grier,
2002). Recent data indicate:
* There has been a steady trend toward improved ratios, with a doubling of the number of
school psychologists reporting ratios of 1:1000 or better between 1989-1990 and 1999-2000
(Curtis, Grier et al., 2002). However, only one fourth (Thomas, 1999a) to slightly more than
one third (Curtis, Grier et al., 2002) of school psychology positions in the U.S. meet the
1:1000 school-psychologist-to-student ratio recommended by National Association of School
Psychologists [NASP] (2000a).
* The national mean ratio is variably reported as about 1:1700 (Curtis, 2002) to 1:1800
(Thomas, 1999a), although about 10% of practitioners report their ratio is greater than 1:3000
(Thomas, 1999a). Median ratio nationally is reported to be 1:1500, although 7 states reported
median ratios of more than 1:2500 (Thomas, 1999a).
* Suburban settings have somewhat lower ratios than rural settings (Curtis, Grier et al., 2002),
and geographic regions vary significantly (Hosp & Reschly, 2002), with lowest mean ratios
reported in New England (1:1050) and highest reported in the East South-Central region
It is important to note, however, that ratio is a problematic metric because the impact differs
depending on student population characteristics and designated job responsibilities. The
dramatic ratio variation among regions of the country, states, and even within districts is
important because it influences the types of professional practices used by school psychologists
(Curtis, Grier et al., 2002; Reschly, 2000). These practices in turn may influence job satisfaction
and ultimately affect retention rates.
Given that many school psychologists today provide services beyond special education, the ratio
metric may be even less useful than ever before as a means of gauging adequacy of service
delivery. A staff to student ratio of 1:1000 when the school psychologist is largely serving only
students referred to or already placed in special education is a very different workload than a
situation where the psychologist provides significant levels of consultation to general education
personnel, parents, and administrators regarding prevention and early intervention issues.
Similarly, a school psychologist assigned full-time to provide comprehensive services to a
program of 50 students with the most serious behavioral disorders may find the workload
unrealistic compared to a school psychologist assigned to serve two typical elementary schools
totaling 1,200 students.
A factor that has not been considered in previous research is the availability of other allied
personnel. A school psychologist may be one member of a large team of professionals (e.g.,
counselors, social workers, health professionals) or may be the sole support team member.
The Demand for School Psychologists
A shortage exists only if the current supply of professionals is inadequate to fill the number of
existing and anticipated positions. Due to the historically close ties between school psychology
positions and state and federal special education mandates, as well as relevant general education
mandates such as No Child Left Behind, demand will at least in part continue to be a function of
legislative trends. How many school psychologists will be needed in the coming decade? Very
conservative estimates (e.g., Curtis, Grier et al., 2002) use the current number of school
psychologists as the projected level of need over the next 5 or more years; this projection is
based on the relative stability in the number of positions in the past 5 years. Is this a realistic
estimate? Several population trends and national initiatives could create more demand for school
Changing demographics of school enrollments. Public school populations are growing,
and students enter schools with ever more complex social, emotional, and learning needs that
influence their ability to benefit from instruction. More students are being identified with
disabilities, while recent changes in federal regulations require more comprehensive and
responsive assessments (i.e., functional behavioral assessment [FBA]) that lead to effective
intervention and prevention programs (Telzrow & Tankersley, 2000). Further, increased
concerns about barriers to learning (e.g., Adelman & Taylor, 1998) are prompting more focused
attention on school safety and student mental health. These factors reinforce the need for fully
qualified school psychologists who are able to provide a comprehensive range of consultation,
assessment, intervention, and prevention services to all children in the public schools.
No Child Left Behind. NCLB mandates place a heavy burden on school districts to identify
scientifically proven practices, to develop and conduct assessments of student progress, and to
develop remedial strategies at individual student and systemic levels. Further, as districts are
likely to identify more and more students as "failing," referral to special education may increase.
Finally, inclusion of most students with disabilities in district and state assessments will require
careful consideration of appropriate accommodations in both instruction and assessment.
Although there is no mandate that these issues be addressed by school psychologists, these
professionals have the most relevant training for involvement at some level. School
psychologists can help teams, schools, districts, and/or states to:
* translate research to practice
* develop and use assessments of student progress
* develop and evaluate intervention programs
* conduct evaluations of students who may have disabilities
* determine the most appropriate accommodations for students already identified as disabled.
IDEA 2004. Changes in IDEA as adopted by Congress in December 2004 have prompted much
speculation regarding the impact of the new law on school psychology practice. On one hand,
some believe that changes in LD identification (particularly dropping the requirement for
determining an ability/achievement discrepancy) could relieve school psychologists of some
duties in conducting assessments. Yet others fear that without specific assessment mandates,
some districts will simply reduce psychological services personnel. Considered from a positive
stance, the potential shift away from individually directed services (particularly eligibility
assessments) to more systemic supports (consultation, program development and evaluation, in-
service training) may enable service delivery programs to meet more needs with fewer personnel.
Because the new law does not prohibit states from allowing the same approaches used in the
past, it is also highly likely that services will continue under IDEA 2004 with little or no change
unless personnel shortages prompt change, at least in some districts Given that comprehensive
assessments are still required under IDEA 2004, it also seems unlikely that there will be
significant reduction in the demand for school psychology positions.
Surgeon General's Report on Child Mental Health. The Surgeon General's report (U.S.
Public Health Service, 2000) and a report by the New Freedom Commission on Child Mental
Health (2003) clearly set an agenda for public institutions to better address the mental health
needs of children and youth. With a strong emphasis on building "Safe Schools/Healthy
Students" and "Safe and Drug-Free Schools," federally and locally funded projects have been
initiated nationwide, often employing school psychologists as staff or directors of school-based
mental health programs (Nastasi, Pluymert, Varjas, & Moore, 2003).
Personnel Shortages: Implications
There is no clear and reliable means of calculating current shortages in school psychology. Even
defining shortage is problematic-does a shortage exist only when positions are unfilled or does
a high ratio of students to psychologists also reflect a shortage of "needed" personnel? The
primary sources of information have been reports from professionals in state leadership positions
and Annual Reports to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act
(e.g., U.S. Department of Education, 2000, 2005). One analysis of these data sources, based on
information gathered in 1989 and 1993, concluded that school psychology shortages existed in
most regions of the country (Lund, Reschly, & Martin, 1998).
Using an estimated addition of 1,750 new psychologists annually, estimated annual attrition rates
of 5% and projected annual rates of retirements, Curtis, Grier et al. (2004) predicted that the
most serious shortage of personnel will occur in this decade, peaking in 2010 at a shortage of
about 8,800 professionals. Overall, they predicted that a total of nearly 15,000 school psychology
positions could go unfilled between now and 2020. Even if every training program increased its
annual class size by two or three students, the greater supply of graduates would not completely
fill the need for additional practitioners (Miller, 2001).
Thoughtful interpretation of the most recent data supports the conclusions that there is currently
a shortage of school psychologists and that a more profound shortage is likely to occur in the
near future (Curtis, Grier et al., 2004; Curtis et al., 1999; Fagan & Wise, 2000; Miller &
Palomares, 2000; Thomas, 1999b). This has important implications for the field and the quality
of psychological services available in the schools.
Not only are we predicting a shortage in the number of school psychologists, we most likely will
also be hampered by a shortage in the number of school psychologists who are ethnically diverse
and bilingual. Given the serious shortages of university trainers, we will also likely face
shortages of professionals trained to provide school-based mental health services, including crisis
support, trained to provide early intervention and prevention services called for in new
legislation and professional standards, trained to provide culturally competent services, and
trained to address organizational change. What will be the consequences of thousands of unfilled
positions in school psychology in the next 10-20 years?
Loss of positions. Some school districts have already experienced the consequences of
unfilled positions. The positions are reallocated to other service areas where personnel are
available, eliminated to offset budget problems, or transformed into contracted services with
Loss of training opportunities. The projected high rates of retirement among university
faculty bodes trouble for recruitment and training efforts needed to sustain (if not increase) the
work force. As noted, Tingstrom (2000) identified 54 open faculty positions in 53 institutions in
1999-2000, or 1 open position in every 4 school psychology training programs. A later analysis
of faculty openings found that 30% of the positions went unfilled (Curtis, 2002).
Already there is evidence that training programs which could not maintain sufficient faculty to
support sufficient enrollment to justify the costs of training programs have closed. Programs that
are able to continue despite open faculty positions must either accept fewer students and thus
lower revenue or increase the ratio of faculty to students, endangering the quality of training
provided. At a time when even maintaining the status quo is insufficient, the number of new
professionals entering the field is likely to decline.
Loss of quality comprehensive services. In the end, loss of positions often means fewer
services available for students and staff, lower standards, and less accountability. If there are
fewer professionals available for prevention and early intervention, more students will likely be
identified as failing and referred to special education, increasing overall costs as well as labeling
and segregating students. If services are allocated to other personnel with less training, services
likely will be less effective and accountability may be sacrificed, which can lead to
noncompliance and subsequent financial consequences as well as less desirable outcomes for
students. With fewer adequately trained personnel, it will be difficult to address key issues in
instruction and mental health noted as goals for the profession (Harrison et al., 2004).
Continued shortage of diverse professionals. General shortages most likely mean a
continued shortage of professionals from diverse backgrounds. With increasing numbers of
students from culturally and linguistically diverse families entering the public schools, the
disparity between personnel and clientele will create serious challenges to effective service
Credentialing alternatives. One undesirable but conceivable outcome of the personnel
shortage could be implementation of alternatives to full credentialing. While most recent U.S.
Department of Education data (2005) indicated that 3% of all school psychology positions are
held by individuals not fully credentialed in their states, this percentage could increase if fully
credentialed school psychologists are in short supply. Provisional, emergency, or temporary
certification might be permitted in some states where fully credentialed school psychologists are
not available to fill open positions. In some states there may be pressure from school
administrators to reduce requirements for full certification to create a larger pool of potential
employees. If alternative criteria are implemented, lower standards could lead to less competent
services and greater liabilities for school districts.
Future Supply and Demand Considerations
As long as the balance of supply and demand is skewed in the direction of personnel shortages,
the school psychology profession will face significant challenges in achieving its goals for
comprehensive, culturally competent service delivery. Strategies to preserve the dwindling work
force concern recruitment, retention, retraining, and a general reconceptualization of how we
Recruitment. Other than informal surveys, we have little data regarding the process of
selecting school psychology as a career choice and thus are "shooting in the dark" in our efforts
to promote this profession among high school and college students or among older adults seeking
career change. Future research is needed to help identify the variables that are crucial to selecting
a career in school psychology. In the meantime, it is advisable that recruitment is addressed as
broadly as possible:
* School psychology organizations and training programs may need to craft more creative
public relations campaigns to introduce and encourage prospective school psychology
candidates to enter the profession.
* Interest in possible careers in psychology can be fostered by school psychologists working in
high school settings. Many students have no idea that there is a school psychologist at their
school. High school psychologists can play critical roles in increasing the visibility of the
profession to students at a time when they are beginning to explore career options.
* At colleges and universities, students in psychology, child development, and education
departments offer a large pool of potential school psychologists. National, state, and local
organizations need to establish strong ties with undergraduate faculty and advisors to ensure
that school psychology is on the radar screen as students consider graduate study. Students
attending universities that house a school psychology program are an ideal group for school
psychology programs to target through seminars, research opportunities, and field
experiences offered to undergraduates.
* An effective network among training programs to "share" applicants is needed. There were
900 applicants to school psychology programs in the fall of 1999 who met requirements but
were not admitted to a program (Miller & Masten, 2000); while some smaller, rural programs
had open slots, but not enough qualified applicants to fill them.
* Clinical and counseling psychologists, who tend to be in ample supply, are promising pools
of new school psychologists. Professional associations and credentialing bodies need to
develop standards for respecialization and work with university training programs to ensure
that flexible programs with high standards are available.
* Recruitment of minority professionals has to take place at all levels from high school through
college and to include individuals with careers in affiliated fields (e.g., teaching, special
* Recruitment of practitioners into university faculty positions is essential if we are to
replenish the corps of school psychology trainers and thus maintain quality training
programs. Training programs may be wise to partner with local school district psychologists
to develop joint teaching and consulting relationships to attract qualified practitioners to open
* Recently retired practitioners and trainers may support the profession even as they leave full-
time, active practice. These veteran professionals might be attracted to part-time teaching,
supervising, and mentoring opportunities, as well as serving professional associations and
programs as advocates for careers in school psychology. In addition, some persons who retire
from either a university or school setting may be interested in a full-time opportunity in the
Retention. As noted, little is known about factors related to attrition in school psychology.
With few opportunities for advancement, school psychologists seeking administrative positions
often seek training and credentialing as school principals or directors of special education and
ultimately leave the profession. Some seek licensure for private practice and leave public school
settings for community clinics. We need to give significant attention to strategies that may serve
to help maintain the current work force:
* Beyond job satisfaction surveys, we need more rigorous research regarding factors related to
retention and attrition.
* The first few years in a school psychologist's career are important. Models for supporting
new professionals should be developed, evaluated, and disseminated, for example, new staff
mentoring (Canter & Reid, 2001) and professional supervision (Harvey & Struzziero, 2000).
* Local, state, and national organizations need to promote opportunities for school
psychologists to advance on career and salary scales without leaving the profession (e.g.,
establishing roles as coordinators, supervisors, in-service trainers, program developers and
Retraining. For the remaining work force to be viable, there must be opportunities for both
veteran and novice school psychologists to learn new skills that will enable them to better serve a
changing student population, even if there are fewer school psychologists to meet the challenge.
Continuous professional development could also help retain professionals. Research on key
factors in effective in-service training, including optimal use of technology, is needed. Retraining
strategies may include:
* sequenced professional development programs that address skills needed to respond to new
mandates, such as response to intervention [RTI], problem-solving models, crisis
prevention/intervention, and school-based mental health
* coaching and mentoring programs that pair professionals of specific expertise with those
seeking new and improved skills
* distance learning opportunities through well-established university training programs and
Reconceptualization of service delivery. Not all consequences of a personnel shortage are
negative. Given the reality of the personnel shortage, major organizations of school psychology
came together at the 2002 Future of School Psychology Conference to consider how to fulfill the
profession's mission in the context of a declining work force (Harrison et al., 2004). Among the
recommendations were a reconceptualization of service delivery that places more emphasis on
systemic consultation and intervention-moving away from the "one child at a time" approach to
develop services that will address the needs of groups, classrooms, schools, and districts. Such an
approach has the potential not only to enable school psychology to remain viable in the 21st
century despite shortages, but to significantly impact the lives of more students and families.
This shift in the paradigm of the profession has been advocated in recent years by key scholars
and professional leaders (e.g., Curtis, Hunley et al., 2004; Harrison et al., 2004; Reschly &
Ysseldyke, 2002; Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000).
The 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology, like earlier landmark gatherings such
as the 1954 Thayer Conference (Cutts, 1955) and 1981 Olympia Conference (Brown et al.,
1982), served as a pivotal effort to redirect the profession to meet the needs of children and
schools in the coming decade and beyond more effectively. Nearly every goal area and every
strategic plan emerging from the Futures Conference as well as practice domains from Blueprint
for Training and Practice II (Ysseldyke et al., 1997) and revised professional standards have
significant implications for the training, credentialing, and availability of personnel. To
implement a new agenda for the profession that encompasses new models of comprehensive
services, school psychology must ensure a sufficient and sustainable pool of diverse, trained, and
In this paper, we briefly presented the history of school psychology in the context of professional
roles, training, and credentialing and considered key issues facing the profession today:
1. expanding roles beyond gatekeeping to better integrate services that support student
learning and mental health
2. providing more culturally competent services to a more diverse population
3. resolving the challenges of a potential shortage of qualified personnel
4. examining how training, credentialing, and supply and demand issues impact these key
issues in current and future practice.
In each area we have noted where more research is needed and what strategies might be
employed to address critical personnel dilemmas, particularly the looming shortage of
practitioners. Whether or not school psychology can effectively address the goals identified at
the Futures Conference will depend largely on the profession's ability to meet these challenges.
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The author acknowledges the substantial and invaluable contributions of Nancy Waldron, PhD,
NCSP (University of Florida), who contributed an early draft; Michael Curtis, PhD, NCSP
(University of South Florida); Kathy Pluymert, PhD, NCSP (Loyola University of Chicago); Pat
Harrison, PhD, NCSP (University of Alabama); Susan Gorin, CAE (Executive Director, NASP),
Ted Feinberg, EdD, NCSP (Assistant Executive Director, NASP); Jeffrey Charvat, PhD
(Director, Research and Information Services, NASP); Alan Brue, PhD, NCSP (former Director
of Professional Standards, NASP); Arlene Silva (NASP Graduate Assistant); and Joseph Prus,
PhD, NCSP (Winthrop University). This paper does not reflect an official position of any
organization or association; however it does draw significantly upon existing positions and
standards of NASP.