School Psychologist Shortage and Demand in the Job Market, and Alternatives

School Psychologist Shortage in US Aspire ES

Growing Demand for School Psychologists: With the rising social and academic pressures going on in today’s society, students need the support of a school psychologist more than ever, but unfortunately there is a nationwide shortage and some students are going without the help they need.

Duties of a School Psychologist

School psychologists offer a support system for students by including parents, teachers and staff in treatment plans and helping these students maintain healthy learning environments. Pressures from high-stakes testing, bullying, gun violence and increasingly competitive and expensive college admissions are overwhelming for many students. When students are dividing their attention between so many of these stressors, it can be detrimental to their development. Teachers do what they can to monitor social and emotional status of each student but they are already stretched thin with the responsibilities they have before, during and after classes. School psychologists are highly trained in mental health and can facilitate teachers with monitoring students who may be presented with a mental health issue. Overall, having school psychologist’s help improve correspondence and strengthen partnerships between families and schools.

As outlined by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), each school psychologist has a wide variety of responsibilities. With the students they work with, school psychologists can offer support in any area of a child’s life that affects school. This includes their social, behavioral and emotional well-being, which all need to be regulated for a child to be able to perform at their best. School psychologists can also directly affect a student’s academic abilities by counseling them through strategies to improve performance in the classroom, such as how to manage a large workload or how to coexist with classmates and teachers posing different challenges to a student. Promoting positive behavioral and mental health for each individual improves the learning environment as a whole. School psychologists are trained to problem-solve for and accommodate a range of needs students have. Much like in other aspects of education, the mental health of a school improves by addressing the individual needs of the diverse learners attending it. On a larger scale, school psychologists would be able to make policy changes and adjust school-wide practices that may be outdated or causing problems for large portions of the student body.

Why Psychologists are Needed in Schools

Adolescence is a particularly stressful time in someone’s development. Adolescent children mature into adults, and the process includes several physical and mental changes that can be stressful. Additionally, they may have to deal with stress in their homes, in their social circles or in their classrooms. Children dealing with physical or mental trauma outside the school cannot be expected to succeed without treatment, because these issues can be much more serious than the day-to-day responsibilities. Social status also has amplified meaning in the eyes of adolescents, so averting students’ attention from their social lives can be difficult while they have unresolved problems on their minds. Even in the classroom, there is a lot that could be making children stressed, like college admissions or bullying. Every school has students dealing with at least some of these problems, but too many are trying to manage these problems by themselves. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) cited a study that concluded only about 50.6% of adolescents with mental health issues received treatment in 2016. A more recent survey by Mental Health America estimated that 59% of children who have suffered through a major depressive episode do not receive any mental health treatment, and only 28.2% of our nation’s youth suffering from depression receive consistent treatment. This is largely caused by limited coverage plans for mental health problems in America, but that also means that many adolescents want treatment but cannot afford it themselves.

The National Association of School Psychologists asserts that there should be a ratio of no more than 1,000 students per school psychologist in each school. This ratio is also considered to be a minimum requirement by NASP, because the school psychologist would only be able to allot a limited amount of time for each student they see. In order for a school to offer more comprehensive and preventative services, NASP estimates a limit of 500-700 students per school psychologist. Even with all the progress our society has made with destigmatizing mental health and promoting better awareness, the national ratio of students to a school psychologist was believed to be 1,381 students for each school psychologist during the 2014-2015 school year. In some cases that year, the ratios were as high as 5,000 students per school psychology, so there is plenty of room for improvement nationwide.

Accreditations and Training

For a school psychologist to begin their career, they need to complete a rigorous education program along with hours of experience. School psychologists completing a graduate program must attend at least sixty semester hours, while school psychologists pursuing a doctoral degree need at least ninety semester hours. Regardless of what degree they are aiming to earn, school psychologists are also required to get an internship, supervised by qualified psychologists, that lasts a year. During this year of learning on the job, the psychologist candidates will obtain 1,200 hours of experience. After studying the textbook procedures and different theories of a school psychologist, these candidates put their knowledge to the test in real-life scenarios. This way, they can learn by doing, and they have a supervisor to provide a safety net for them and help adjust their approach when necessary.

By the time any of our school psychologists get hired, they already have a year of experience and countless hours studying the practice. Now, they can make an immediate impact in a school and feel confident in their abilities, as they will have already dealt with many of the situations they will encounter on the job. This includes extensive testing experience including measuring a student’s cognitive, academic achievement, social/emotional/behavioral, and adaptive functioning to determine special education eligibility. Before this happens, there is still a final step that needs to be taken to ensure the candidate is qualified to become a school psychologist. This final step is meeting all educational, experience, testing, and supervision requirements to meet criteria as a certified school psychologist per state requirements.

While NASP manages national standards for school psychologists, their website also has resources for certification in each of the fifty states. In Pennsylvania, school psychologists are required to have a master’s degree and to complete a thirty credit School Psychology program. They also need to score 147 or higher on the Praxis (5402). Finally, candidates must complete a year-long internship, like they do to meet the national standards. Then, eligible candidates will apply for their Educational Specialist Level I School Psychologist credential. Once approved, the credential is valid for six full time working years and the school psychologist can begin working in schools. Within the six year window that the credential is valid, the school psychologist needs to document three years of satisfactory practice and complete an Induction program approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Once these requirements are met, the school psychologist can apply for an Educational Specialist Level II School Psychologist credential, which remains valid for the rest of the psychologist’s career.

Bordering Pennsylvania, Ohio has become one of the states hurting the most from the school psychologist. Ohio’s department of education released a statement on their intent to equip their school systems with proper mental and behavioral health services. There are more states like Ohio realizing that this type of service is more of a need than a commodity and as a result, they are increasing their efforts to get school psychologists hired. The Ohio School Psychologist Association (OSPA), for example, is allying themselves with university training programs to initiate an influx of school psychologist hires within the state.

All of these qualifications help make certain that school psychologists are trained properly and continue to grow throughout their career. It also helps tenured school psychologists learn about new practices and scenarios in schools that may not have been known while they were pursuing accreditation. There are a lot of requirements, but many of them are met while the school psychologist is already working. There are also some overlaps between national and state requirements. No matter how the certification program changes, its aim is to make school psychologists qualified to handle any problems that arise in the schools they work for.

The School Psychologist Shortage

The school psychologist shortage in the US has more than one cause. In some areas, there might not be enough qualified candidates to apply for school psychologist jobs. There might be less people attending graduate education programs to pursue the career, there could be a shortage of faculty qualified to teach these graduate programs, or there may be a lack of funding on the part of the school.

Even if schools in the area have school psychologists, they might not have a sufficient number of them to meet all the needs of their students. Many schools only schedule their school psychologists for a day or two every week. Each psychologist can only see so many students before the school day ends, and scheduling an appointment can be difficult if the psychologist’s services are in high demand at a certain school. Even schools that already employ psychologists sometimes need more staff in this field. A 2012 blog published by the Washington Post reported that “most of the counselling support services [schools] have are for testing and helping kids with special emotional and/or learning problems.”

While psychological testing and assistance with special education are vital roles school psychologists can take on for their school, it can consume too much of their schedule. Students in special education require a lot of support, but allocating all of the school psychologist’s time to one group is a disservice to the rest of the students. Underlying problems for students like bullying, poverty, homelessness and cultural diversity get overlooked when school psychologists only focus on students with special needs. These are real problems students are forced to handle without any training or guidance. As a result, the suicide rate has been climbing steadily in the past two decades, and for adolescents, suicide is the second leading cause of death. These statistics emphasize our country’s desperate need for access to mental health treatment.

The author of the Washington Post article cited a study from NASP that recorded a shortage of almost 9,000 school psychologists in 2010. The same study projected a shortage of 15,000 school psychologists in 2020. Some of the factors influencing the shortage include:

  • Limited access to NASP-approved graduate preparation programs in different parts of the country
  • Schools receiving too many or too little applicants, leaving many schools without psychologists and many psychologists unemployed
  • Different parts of the country have trouble attracting qualified candidates
  • Schools have a hard time retaining qualified school psychologists from year to year
  • Schools may have a finite number of internships they can support each year
  • Districts might have a limited number of qualified internship advisors
  • Lack of diversity in schools may discourage candidates from applying
  • Limited faculty in colleges makes accreditation take longer than expected
  • Schools with too few faculty members in the field may not attract new candidates
  • Schools may not have enough funding in their budget for school psychologists

Consequences of the School Psychologist Shortage

Because of the school psychologist shortage, some schools are asking too much of their psychologists and giving them an unmanageable number for cases. Other schools are forced to conduct the school year without these services, leaving their student body vulnerable to stress overload or a mental health crisis without the appropriate support. Even in the schools that are fortunate enough to have these services, a lot of school psychologists are responsible for large numbers of students. With so many students to help, school psychologists may never have the time or resources to provide preventive and early intervention services. This means they only have time to deal with students whose problems are already significant or the special education cases they are legally mandated to take on. The shortage also puts constraints on the amount of time a school psychologist can meet with parents or teachers about students. Consultation between the school psychologist and the adults in a student’s life is vital, especially when the student has a limited amount of time to see their school psychologist. For many children, time with a school psychologist could be their only time with access to mental and behavioral health services. Fortunately for these students, the American Psychological Association reported a substantial increase in the amount of graduate students pursuing accreditation to become school psychologists back in 2005, but more growth is still needed.

Demand for school psychologists will continue to grow as our society keeps uncovering the need for mental health care. Additionally, our population keeps growing, so the number of school aged children is also increasing. In order to keep up with the needs of schools and school psychologists individually, the National Certification of School Psychologists is offering stipends to qualified candidates that get jobs in schools. This process has been dubbed NCSP parity, referring to the goal of getting school psychologists to be treated equally to teachers and administrators holding a national certification. Equal treatment also means being paid like these teachers and administrators, which is where the stipends come into play. This is also a national program, which can help school psychologists reach different parts of the country that have not been able to attract school psychologists in the past.

Alternatives to Hiring School Psychologists

Instead of searching for a school psychologist themselves, administrators have the option of finding a staffing company to meet their hiring needs. Companies like Aspire Educational Services are dedicated to finding the most qualified candidates for the schools that need them. When schools use a staffing company, they end up saving on salary and benefits because they only pay for the staffing company’s services. Meanwhile, the staffing agency takes the time to interview and train candidates.

Finding a school psychologist may be especially tough for some schools because of budget restrictions, forcing them to go on without a psychologist on staff. Other schools can hire a school psychologist but need to ask them to take on too many responsibilities to be effective for the entire school. With a staffing agency, schools can end up hiring a highly qualified school psychologist that they otherwise would not be able to afford. For more information about how Aspire can help your school provide adequate mental and behavioral health services for your students, either fill out or contact form or call our offices directly at 267-388-0670.

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