SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY: Issues & Resources

Last Updated: Monday, 08-Jun-2020 03:05:24 EDT

As the 2nd decade of the 21st Century begins, there still has not been a formal funeral following the death of school psychology in times and places where it could truly be productive - in the best sense of that word. When it comes to "school psychological services", as they say: Your Mileage May Vary.

[World Trade Center] Dealing with Disaster: Trauma Resources    Special Ed - IEP Resources

New York City:

[Bullet] NYC Public Advocate documents the TRUTH!!

"OVERWORKED, UNDERUTILIZED: How the Department of Education's Reorganizations of Special Education Turned School Psychologists from Mental Health Professionals into Paper Pushers"

Sadly, after the decade of disdain for school psychology in NYC, including the aftermath of Sept.11 2001, when school-based psychologists were then as now underutilized as professional psychologists serving school communities consistent with the ADA and IDEA, there is no longer anything but the ashes of a once-proud and rationally-utilized profession. There has (according to this empirical study) ceased to be anything resembling best-practice school psychology in the schools, except by accident or rare luck of finding someone not buried in paperwork and the caseloads of what used to be teams and districts.

Twenty-ten began with the new Public Advocate of NY zapping the link from the public advocate's website to this powerful report about a critical problem being completely ignored, to the point of tragedy. But the report is still accessible at the link which follows. It's still the Truth. It's still a vivid and accurate report on the legacy of years upon years of psychology in the schools of NYC being redefined in ways which graduate training never dreamed of, unsupported despite the waste and misuse of available and desperately needed professionals. Politics appear everywhere, as psychologists continue to be the funnel for all things Special Education, from paperwork to urgent needs in multiple schools, in multiple roles, all at the same time without any resemblance to best-practice, or to the letter and spirit of IDEA, which was about helping children through providing *appropriate* psychological services (and attention) among other things. And still we follow the model of the mid to late 20th Century, with the heart and souls of well-meaning school psychologists long crushed by the lack of outcry about the situation, and by the excellence of execution in designing and maintaining a broken "system" which enshrines all which is wrong, and ignores the outcries of parents who need and expect a responsive, adequately staffed system which puts the children ahead of politics. There is now in place, as documented and widely observed, a "system" which is clearly designed to fail completely, and succeeding well at it. Read the below report, which includes information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by NY's Public Advocate. That's what it took! And the response? Silence.... still. :-(

November 2008- New York Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum has released an 18 page report which clearly and vividly describes the steady worsening of Special Education since 1988, and the way that psychologists have become the last ones standing in what had once been a (living breathing) child-focused, coherent, legally compliant, actively monitored system. The report contains 18 pages of research, history, and narrative leading up to the current state of woefully inadequate school psychology services to children with special needs.

This tightly written report vividly documents the seeming incoherence (and secrecy) of an anachronistic system where nearly everybody seems to have disappeared from the multi-disciplinary assessment and case management process, each job title leaving their professional hats at the door on their way out, leaving school psychologists all the job responsibilities formerly shared by teams - and with district support - now with only archaic tools to work with, incoherent guidelines which ignore 21st Century and school-community realities, and which allow no possibility of providing professional practice once called "school psychology", as taught in graduate school and mandated by best practice, ethics, and Law.

Psychologists alone are now the sole survivors of the 1988 "model", and subsequent "enhancements" which has since been decimated in terms of the number of "team" members, and clinicians per student, all the while handing each and every systemic function to the psychologist - from clerical/administrative to what used to be called by other names - while still expecting psychologists to actually provide psychological services to longer and longer lists of students.

Since 1988, when the *minimum* number of clinicians were set, the number of children and the number of schools have expanded enormously, as have the expectations of psychologists alone, far out of proportion with any other profession, with blind allegience to the numbers and proportions of staff set in 1988. At that time there were (real) teams and districts and regions, all of which have disappeared along with any rational plan for dealing with the many needs which even more so now come streaming in by foot, phone, email and fax, to invisible "teams" in middle and high schools, citywide. There is nothing left except well-trained psychologists who can no longer practice psychology or provide quality and timely psychological services, since they must first do the work of clerical and administrative and social work/case management professionals while facing a numerical workload which has exponentially increased since 1988. Worse, for those who do try to provide real psychological services, the overwhelming number of psychologists surveyed described how the work itself is now oriented towards expedience and magic results (i.e., speeding through lists) rather than attending carefully to students' needs.

In too many schools, no one else remains to even interact with parents and students and teachers who need IEP services, consistent with the mandates of the IDEA. To the parent, too often the Special Education System is now largely the message to parents and teachers and principals, "It's all in the schools. See the school psychologist" - during the few hours s/he is present and not in a meeting or testing session, or plowing through the daily lists of things needing to be done months to years ago, with nobody else at all in sight, offering any glimmer of hope.

Please read this 18-page report carefully and I am sure (if you are one of the psychologists bearing witness to this) you will appreciate this new sunshine on TRUTH which this report introduces. For anyone not familiar with how bad it is, it will be an eye-opener. It includes both the history and a narrative, based on the Public Advocate's own well-designed study, interviews , internal memos which could be obtained, and newspaper accounts.

The Public Advocate's report is so well documented, so child focused, and so descriptive of a tragedy of great proportion which gets little attention because of such unfortunate reasons... I cannot possibly improve upon it, and pray somebody somewhere will do something to stop this crime against special-needs children, their teachers, and their parents. God Bless Betsy Gotbaum for telling THE TRUTH! And God Help the Children and school psychologists, since nobody is yet doing anything and so many conflicts of interest remain. Here's the official findings of the Public Advocate's office:

[pdf Acrobat]NYC Public Advocate's Report on Special Education

Fall 2008

The tragedy continues, the worst chapter in the history of psychology and education. Already completely detached from the profession and the law of the land (IDEA), there has been a complete abandonment of a generation, one which endured Sept. 11, and who inherit a stressful and challenging world. Nobody who knows will help. Those who can, cannot. Nobody is speaking out on behalf of the broken and harmful "system" without accountability or common sense, whose pronouncements continue to fly in the face of reality. While nobody has yet had the courage to expose the root cause of so many problems in Special Education, or demand accountability or a common-sense approach to school psychology services, the system as a whole is finally getting some daylight cast on it. For example, the State Comptroller of NY has looked a bit into reality, and while not yet getting down to the portions which are truly broken, at least has begun to see the light. See the report here.


Sadly, school psychology no longer exists in our nation's largest city. Certainly there is little in the daily work life of most NYC school psychologists which reflects professional training or "best practice" when it comes to accommodating Special-needs students. Nor are school psychologists typically available for things like preventive services, or follow-up (RTI?).

Numbers and dates are the factory managers' requirements from on high, and nobody but nobody is looking at the actual experience of the typical special education student, the parents, teachers, school psychologists, or the IEP process and all the services dependent on that process being a quality and appropriate one, from assessment, to observations, FBA's, coordinating times, scoring/writing reports, arranging for assessments and responding to parents, teachers and students with emergencies and nobody to talk to or hunt for except the "school-based" psychologist. But if s/he is testing, can s/he be conferencing? If it's all about paperwork and pushing cases, what has happened to the point of Special Education, the child?

Common sense and social conscious demands a system which allows for school psychologists who can be responsive to individual student situations and needs (isn't that the "I" in IEP?). A rational system must by necessity make it possible for "IEP Teams" to consistently develop quality IEPs. Full-time case management of a child involves people calling, visiting, and e-mailing constantly. Case management of several heavy schools is more than one full-time job, but on top of that school psychologists are expected to do the work formerly done by entire teams, and much more, all of which takes actual time in the actual real world. For those who continue to strive to practice the profession and do quality assessment as well as the clerical and help-desk work which automatically gets directed their way, it's more than a challenge. It's contrary to the way the system is designed, from the end-product (closing cases) down to the child being seen for a few minutes, if possible. The process should begin with the individual child, their classroom experience, and appropriate assessment and IEP team time and tools. The system is broken. Clearly. Painfully. Obviously. We bear witness, and nobody intervenes.

There needs to be at the very least a system which stands up to a common-sense standard for minimum school psychological services, and a look at what really is needed in the schools, while facilitating sensible staff allocations, tools (like modern tests and IEP software and sensible time-per-child expectations). School psychologists must be allowed and encouraged, in order to be effective and truly contribute their expertise and assistance, to be an essential part of the school community. This is especially the case where there are large and growing special education populations, with real specialized work which could and should be the focus of school psychologists, in addition to the other myriad clerical, administrative, and anything-but-psychological activities being heaped upon the psychologists of NYC Schools.

And the band plays on.

The annual charade known as "clustering" is now underway, once again, without protest -- ensuring that school psychological services for children will continue to be rationed in a reflection of last century's circumstances, with no consideration at all as to quality or quantity of needed services or the actual experiences of today's children with IEP's and their families. And psychologists will once again be sacrificed at the alter of maintaining status quo and remaining silent. Many feel this is a sin and a moral, ethical, professional crisis as never seen before. The children now have no voice. School psychologists have little hope, and fewer advocates beyond the parents and teachers. The solution seems more about hiring managers and lawyers than learning about the actual needs of children or the actual lives of IEP teams.

Why are we not seeing loud and urgent protest about the REAL systemic problems, like the woefully inadequate (last-century) allocation of psychologists or the process which pretends to have real-world data which reflect the myriad activities of psychologists? We are in a crisis, and school psychology has lost its voice, its mission, its proponents.

Why is it that the same people on high are the very same people apparently accountable to nobody each time the system gets demonstrably worse, forgetting the repeated promises of the 1990's and again in the 00's to improve and "enhance" meaningful school psychology services through technology and modern assessment tools? Rather, the referrals and stress levels rise, and systemically the response has been to fall further into the dark ages and handle the assessment problem by sponsoring a full-employment program for lawyers, managers, non-union agencies, and private schools. With no coherent or defensible "model" for evaluation and professional services, were they considered part of the job.

The System is without any doubt at all the biggest disgrace in the history of school psychology - and education. That's reality. It can be fixed if it can be acknowledged just how broken things are and some focus is placed on the process. It is easy to improve if it is a priority. Some things are obvious and proven. For example, the rest of the state and country routinely use, since the last century, software which allows for real-world IEP collaboration and which reflects 20th/21st century technology and law. It's been years since anyone conducted (and released the results of) a systematic job-task analysis which includes not only the actual activities of psychologists and other IEP team members, but also the trend in legal fees, non-union private assessments, and the lack of standards for best practice which actually reference the experience of actual children in real-world schools).

To perpetuate the status quo without considering adequacy of staffing or conducting a job task analysis, each spring a ritual called "the clustering process" takes place, where staff are called together on a moment's notice to elect someone to sign off on management/union assessment of how allocations of staff should be made, among many schools with unique and unknown circumstances, but mandated by a decades-old settlement which allowed decimating teams, constantly expanding psychologists' roles and caseloads, but not allowing for allocating new staff to cover skyrocketing caseloads.

Nobody who provides "the numbers" -- as if from tablets on Mt. Sinai -- seems to have even noticed how over the years many new schools have opened, programs and caseloads have quintupled, the allocation of resources to lawyers has outpaced any other expenditures on the prevention end (e.g., "promoting best practice" or creating rational workloads and professional tools for psychologists). Nobody seems to question the deification of this anachronistic shrine to the 1980's and 90's team models. Gone is training on quality assessment and talk of useful software; what remains are endless lists of new and old, on and off-radar "cases" where the main activities, from scheduling to assessment, to paperwork and clerical work, and scoring/writing reports and attending meetings, all in 1/10 of the time actually needed.

As for our needy children, for the parents desperate to find someone - anyone - to help, for the incredible teachers and providers, the support staff and the hard-working administrators too, there is no bad guy, not paperwork, not the actual paper (or lack of enough of it). The issue is not paper, it is the frozen-in-the-past duet still being performed by both parties responsible for the current travesty known as Special Education. Blame does not help. Learning from reality does. The issue, the only issue, is that there is no resemblance whatsoever between what school psychologists study and excel in, and what they are allowed to do by a system redundantly designed to fail, and doing it well. A huge tragedy, happening now. We continue to bear witness and call on all parties to help our children by TRULY considering children first, and re-thinking the important roles traditionally and successfully performed by school-based school psychologists and IEP teams who have high educational and professional standards, in every other corner of our great state and broad, diverse nation.


Autumn 2007 - It's the same, but worse. No accountability of the system, no mention in the news about the shame of special education or the absence of psychology in the city's schools. The challenge: Just try to find timely and knowledgeable assistance, and find accurate numbers regarding litigation, audit findings, etc. There is still a disgrace unparalleled in the history of American psychology or education, and it remains a dirty little secret nobody is willing to address. Remember school psychology in New York City, now a distant memory for many, and challenge for others still hoping for a rational system with popular support by the powers that be.

Spring 2007 - A national conference of school psychologists converged on New York City for its largest-ever turnout. There were many excellent keynote speakers and a broad array of symposia and poster/paper presentations, with topics which reflect some of the newer trends in school populations, such as increasing numbers of children with autism. By far the biggest focus was on the IDEA/IDEIA implementation (2005) which redefined much of the practice of school psychology, and placed a major emphasis on "Response to Intervention" (RTI) as a measure of accountability, and consistency with "No Child Left Behind".

Ironically, this conference was held in a wonderful city for conventions and tourism, but in the one American City which has completely destroyed the identity and practice of school psychology! Presentations highlighted such fundamental aspects of "school psychological services" as participation in multi-disciplinary teams, assessment, mental health prevention/intervention activities, and staff consultation. These, tragically, are not within the "job description" of the school psychologists who are entrusted with the young minds of New York's one million plus public school students. School psychologists are not being used rationally, and are being misused, systemically. With caseloads of thousands and multiple roles in multiple locations with widely varying (but generally impossible) circumstances, it is not surprising that the situation in New York City went completely un-addressed except for some pre-conference propaganda by the very people who sustain the status quo or make it worse, declaring the horrific situation a "success" despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Meanwhile, back at the convention thousands of school psychologists were enjoying hearing from leaders in the field, celebrating the profession's importance (in the rest of the country), and being immersed in the latest legal and practice norms (again, everywhere else *except* in NYC). The convention offered energy and focus to many visiting school psychologists, eager and enthusiastic about the profession and the opportunities to practice as an integral part of school communities. Many attendees were students, and many of the presenters were distinguished mentors and educators.

Interestingly, although there are 1000 NYC school psychologists, only a handful attended this conference for school psychologists. That alone should tell the story: School psychology in NYC is dead, the remaining staff burnt-out and stressed-out survivors of a system designed to fail, and succeeding at it. The lack of any rational system for serving the needs of special needs students from preschool to SAT accommodation requests has transformed what was at least a coherent set of objectives into a system of chaos, understaffing, inequity, and lack of accountability by those who sustain this shameful situation. The obstacles for psychologists who are desperately trying to provide timely, quality psychological services has reached a level of desperation and is of tragic proportion, with nobody at all speaking out on behalf of school psychology or the hordes of children and parents and teachers and administrators all waiting for the needs of children to be met or eventually litigated rather than utilizing a coherent model with adequate staffing to create quality IEP's developed by professional multidisciplinary teams within schools. Meanwhile, psychologists are also full-time case managers for multiple schools in programs "in their spare time", or sometimes for almost all of their time.

A survey was conducted of all NYC school psychologists, over the objections of some that the questions were superficial and often irrelevant. Nevertheless, it was done -- and the results have never been released! Could they be? Someone? It's a tragedy, and it is happening NOW!

It is shameful that nobody is ensuring there are sufficient *human* resources in place to allow school psychologists to actually spend most of their time engaged in psychological services. NYC psychologists, out of learned helplessness in many cases, conditioned to knowing there is nobody showing interest in exposing the reality, have not even been trained in, or asked to comply with, the Federal law of the land. Professionally, there is a need to be informed by best practice standards and conversant in the professional lexicon (RTI, IDEA, etc.) which reflects the law of the land and serves as the basis for modern-day best professional practice.

It is hard at times for even the most dedicated and determined school psychologist in NYC to remember what the profession is meant to be about, as learned in graduate school and defined in law and statute. "School psychology" apparently is defined in NYC in terms of clerical/administrative/case management in addition to productivity standards based on decades old levels of caseloads and staffing and ignoring currently massive testing and administrative work loads as well as increasing time spent preparing for legal proceedings, doing endless paperwork, and jumping through administrative hoops to reach dead ends. It is one of the biggest sins in the history of psychology: New York's school psychologists, even in the wake of September 11, 2001, *still* await the time and opportunity and mission to serve the students across the spectrum of psychological needs, as part of a school community.

As one speaker noted, it is the students who are our consultees, those we are trying to help, while the parents (who give consent) are our clients. (The schools of course benefit when students are succeeding, which in turn generally pleases the parents and students as well, making it a pleasure to practice the profession as it was meant to be.) Why not enable school psychologists to give these parents the same services we'd want for our own children, at a level of quality as well as responsiveness, facilitated by having a rational assessment/staffing model reflecting this century's realities, as is the case in the rest of the country?


Fall 2006 - New York's Special Education "System" is proving to be a scandal waiting to be told. Over the summer the city went further "out of compliance" with law, as cases backed up to the sky, despite contractors and per-session summer work, and huge efforts of psychologists in June to document and refer the cases piling up. Those students who were properly assessed and had IEP's and placement recommendations in June, often wound up back in the same harmful or inadequate environment in September as parents overwhelmingly report lack of ability to contact anyone. Psychologists now bear witness to a broken system which is no system at all, without even a job description nor a multi-disciplinary team model nor any coherent system which accounts for the needs of schools for continuity, nor the ethical and professional dictates involved in serving the individual needs of students. The patterns of service reflect the realities of decades ago, before the roles of dozens of workers were all dumped on the psychologist, along with specialized assessment demands, all the work formerly done by pre-school teams, and hearing/vision specialists, and technology coordinators, and case managers, etc. There is no system, only "see the psychologist". But the psychologist might be divided between 4 or more schools (less than a day per week to perform all functions of a CSE!) and may be busy doing outreach, clerical work, answering nonstop calls from frantic parents told to track down the psychologist, and trying to actually do some testing or classroom observation, or case management, help desk, management forms, assistive tech coordination, annual reviews with contract providers, outreach to parents, tracking down years-overdue cases, trying to find records, answering the calls for records, etc, etc. Please... ask to see a job description! (I've been asking for several years now.) Try to find a process for exposing/fixing the patterns of service, or for shining daylight on the abusive and ill-thought-out process which places Children Last.

Caseloads -- and even assignments -- are manipulated (contrary to contract and regulations)and the full extent of the backlog (especially triennials)is routinely hidden from schools as the almighty "201" is used to full advantage as a "management" tool and talking point without oversight or protest by the union or professional organizations. Teams are non-existent at many middle and high schools where the stresses are greatest and the risks highest, as elementary schools enjoy many new primary prevention services. (The cost to a teen generation post 9/11 is staggering!) There is essentially zero role for prevention services by 99% of psychologists, and many psychologists have become 99% help desk and clerical units as there is simply nobody left to be found by parents, teachers and school administrators. To add insult to injury, as the leadership call for grading schools on performance, the obviously dysfunctional Special Ed system appears accountable to nobody, and some have been rewarded for "staying the course" in the face of clear and overwhelming evidence that the system is in denial, and is a fantasy not even coming close to what the IDEA mandates. The final salt in the wound, as the waitlists and frustration go through the stratosphere all around, is that the national school psychology convention is being held in New York City and rewarding the city economically for neglecting the psychological needs of students and sabotaging the ability of hard-working and dedicated psychologists to do anything meaningful under the rubric of "school psychology". As school psychologists of the nation gather to discuss the norms of the profession, such as RTI, not more than a handful of psychologists in NYC have ever heard of RTI, or other essentials of best practice and Federal law. School psychology is a foreign language in NYC, and school psychologists are merely victims of failed union and management paradigms. We suffer, students and schools suffer. A psychologist actually working as part of a school community is a rarity, and if there, typically the SP is doing the work done 3 years ago by several teams and divisions. It is the worst chapter in the history of American psychology, and special education too. A scandal waiting to be told, as a whole year goes by without a word spoken, by advocates, union, or management, not one word on 21st century realities, and the 2006 state of Special Education in New York City. School psychology is alive in well in the convention hall, and dead in the schools of New York. :-(

*** Should we set up a blog or public forum to share the horrors we all can see?? Nobody seems to care, do they? Where have all the advocates gone? Why are there no news stories for the past year about SPECIAL education in New York? ***

May 2006 - School psychology no longer exists as a profession for 1000 "school psychologists" working with the one million plus students in the NYC schools. Professionals formerly practicing school psychology as part of IDEA-mandated teams and services are no longer part of a multi-disciplinary assessment team, and not possibly part of a school-based community as responsibilities extend to full-time help desk, working with contracted service providers on annual reviews, accounting for impossible caseloads, with archaic (or no) software which could help efficiency with testing and IEP-writing. School psychologists often lack space, have little or worse than little help with clerical and placement and administrative tasks, and for the many parents who cannot find any assistance at the now-gutted district offices, "all roads lead to the psychologist" if one can be found, between duties divided among multiple schools and pre-schools, as teams of one in middle and high schools, where the level of serious dysfunction demands FBA's, intensive assessment, and a means of dealing with demands for more and more testing for more and more purposes, from SAT's through ADD through demands for testing simply because of the right to demand testing, in a testing-preoccupied climate. Space for conferencing is often non-existent, time and space for testing is woeful, and there is zero attention to the plight of Special Education to be seen in either the union or professional organizations or advocacy groups, this entire year. The union web site lists memos from the 1980's and 1990's and no hope or useful communication; the advocates have gone quiet. The city's Hehir Report explictly describes the confusion about job tasks, and the lack of job description for psychologists. If it involves Special Education and is not entirely medical, it's the psychologist's job, period. Need a hearing aid repaired? Talk to the psychologist. Assistive technology? Talk to the psychologist. Annual review with an OT or PT who works for an agency? Talk to the psychologist. No matter that the psychologist is trying to test students in 4 or 5 schools or more, at the same time, and case managing, and interviewing parents, and arranging for contracting, placement, special assessments, meeting times, and answering a flood of urgent priorities, as a one-person "team". The status quo remains, with the union blaming the DOE, and the DOE blaming the union. Psychologists are the biggest victims, along with all the children and teachers and parents vying for their attention at the same time. Basic math (time per student divided into the school year) provides easy evidence of the impossible situation, yet nobody wants to do a realistic appraisal or fix a clearly broken and dysfunctional "system".

The newest contract precludes any means of grievance (despite the illusion of having one, which is unreal given the multiple placements of many psychologists) and locks into place an archaic distribution of work responsibilities based on largely irrelevant numbers which appear (or disappear) on the all-consuming "201 caseload lists" which more often than not are manipulated, innaccurate, and totally irrelevant at capturing 95% of the myriad functions now all dumped on psychologists, most of which had previously been done by district offices, (real) teams, hearing/vision units, specialized assessment units, etc. There is no place to go now, for parents, advocates, administrators, lawyers, teachers, providers, or others: All roads lead to the far-overburdened and un-represented psychologists, who can only "do the best you can" and apologize for a broken, dysfunctional "system". It is madness, it is the outcome of a tenacious unwillingness to actually look at task analysis and the work of school psychologists, and it is a path through the large end of a funnel to the bottleneck which is the desk of psychologists with far too many hats to wear, far too few tools, too many priorities all needing to be addressed at once by just one person, and a total unawareness of what the rest of school psychology is doing nationwide, in terms of RTI, IEP software, teamwork, self-administered tests, etc, etc. It is a travesty, it is a sin, and it is a scandal waiting to emerge: Special Education in New York is broken, it is a non-system, it is simply a model of giving the responsibilities of an entire school district to one person (school psychologist), and waiting until that person drowns and/or cases get prematurely closed, contracted out, handled by costly per-session, or people die of old age waiting to have their needs responded to by a system which does not exist. The system is now: See the psychologist. What a shame! School psychology has died as a profession in New York, along with adherence to the letter and spirit of the IDEA. :-(

Sept.2005- There is sadly not a single thing to report other than last year being one of burnout, stress, and catastrophe, with no support whatsoever in sight. Nothing has changed except the backlog will be worse this year, if that is possible to imagine. The alleged needs assessment by the union never happened, and those who managed to attend the meeting to develop it said that it was an insult to begin with in its basic ignoring of how terrible the system is for psychologists in particular, and those they serve at every step of the system, from child and teacher to parent and administrator. Nobody but nobody is speaking out, and psychologists feel beaten down and without anywhere to turn. Not a single action to protest the horrors of this "system" were seen through the entire year last year. Between politics and more politics, and absence of representation, school psychology was simply left to die, along with the education of a million students. The DOE's response was to heap more and more administrative responsibility on psychologists while continuing to ignore the reality of a failed system, harming children and angering parents, wholesale. A national disgrace, and nobody speaks out. Meanwhile, new school psychologists leave the field, experienced ones look to change careers or survive severe stress reactions, and again - there is no union or professional support whatsoever, as far as the eye can see. If there is, it is certainly a top secret!


School Psychology on Life Support (2004-5)

In a shameful, disgraceful manner of completely ignoring the IDEA and the psychological needs of students -- NYC schools continue to inflict a "system" of one-person "teams" to address all the educational, psychological, and clerical aspects of special education, upon psychologists who are struggling to serve teachers, students, parents, administrators, and myriad managers, simultaneously.

Abandoned this year by the politicians and press (very active last spring), the teachers union recently put out 3 consecutive issues of its newspaper without even mentioning Special Education, the single biggest budget item and the tail which wags the entire dog of educational resources in New York. Letters to the union requesting information about who is representing the school psychologists and what has become of the grievance about change of work roles, go unanswered. One letter sent in November asked for information about a "psychology action committee", about which not one of 200 psychologists surveyed had any knowledge. Nor could anyone name a single person on this alleged action committee supposedly representing psychologists, nor (despite promises) have any efforts been made at doing a realistic job-task analysis or looking at the real problems inherent in the increasingly dysfunctional system. Action?

The system remains, spiralling further into incoherence: all functions of former district offices, HHVI (hearing and visual impairment), CSE's, supervisors, placement, assistive technology, and myriad other offices and positions are simply heaped on the psychologist now, with all roads leading to him or her for every aspect of clerical, assessment, placement, data entry, record-hunting, and crisis work. In addition there is the matter of "case management" for several simultaneous organizations, which in itself is at least one full-time job. Assistance, where it exists, is often more harmful than helpful. No time is alotted to things like prevention or psychological services, and no coherent system has been identified to allow for "multi-disciplinary assessment" (as required by IDEA). Psychologists are divided between several schools PLUS responsible for preschools and non-public schools, for all sorts of FBA/BIP functions which are elsewhere done as team processes, and generally so trodden upon that new psychologists are re-considering their choice of profession and have publicly stated at meetings that after only months on the job they are "burnt out" from daily confrontation with impossible and irrational work loads, often without space or professional tools to even try some occasional best-practice "psychology" work.

Letters from November through March to the UFT are still unanswered. A letter to the editor of the union newspaper questioning why there is total silence about special education and psychological services was not published, nor even acknowledged. (It may be published here as an open letter since neither the union nor DOE will respond to the issue at all, locked in a commitment to the status quo due to so many conflicts of interest and so much politics). The only news item in the NY Teacher in February-March which even mentioned Special Ed in the NY Teacher (rather than global posturing and politicking about media and other PR issues) was a very brief statement in February suggesting that the answer to special needs students is parents. Yet, that same month Time Magazine reported its finding (based on survey) that parents believe that it is the schools (teachers and other professionals) who should provide the expertise expected of them, and parents need to be partners, not the sole overseer, or people forced into the role of squeaky wheels or passive victims of the system.

Parents in NYC cannot usually locate anyone, anywhere, to resolve special education problems, and if they in fact can locate a manager, they are invariably told "speak to the psychologist". Psychologists have such huge lists of responsibilities, to so many people, schools, and roles simultaneously, that there is no possibility of doing anything well (the cause of burnout). This serves nobody when the required non-stop haste and juggling of tasks and multitude of roles allows for not more than bare minimal attention to students' educational needs while the institutional press and job realities are entirely about "compliance" or the immediate priorities of school or district administrators, often necessitating being in several places and roles simultaneously, though reality does not cooperate with this necessity. Well-meaning devoted professionals are working into the nights and weekends and being asked only for more of the same. It is only the occasional difference we can make in students' lives which leads to some remaining in what's left of the profession. The rush to "produce" (test & place and make the data nice) is a frenzied chaos, bearing no resemblance to anything anyone went to school for, to become an effective psychologist actually providing psychological services. Young enthusiastic school psychologists are sorry they began in this field (helping children learn take advantage of school!), and veterans are foregoing retirement to leave abruptly, under the stress.

The DOE says it has responded (by throwing money at managers, who in turn come to psychologists to do more work or explain the obstacles). The union's web page has months' old information, and notices about future meetings which apparently never happen (or are not reported on) and has yet to identify what if anything the "action" is of the committee, nor who they are, nor why nobody has been asked for input as to the horrific circumstances. The system is broken, and psychologists have become the central core of the process, without the team or staff or resources or time or mission to succeed. The magnitude of this disaster is immense, and yet there has not been one word lately in the news, and not so much as a peep from the union, the education department, or the political watchdogs, this entire school year. It is our country's largest educational tragedy, without a doubt.

2004-2005 School Year Begins

NYC's 1000 school psychologists-turned-asssessment/clerical teams returned to a new school year which looks exactly the same as last year's shambles, despite the scathing reports of the Public Advocate, and others which document the sad plight of school psychologists and the schools they should be serving as providers of psychological services. Some psychologists saw more or less tangible "help" as they work in several duties and locations simultaneously, with one or two part time workers a week doing all the critical data entry and retrieval to document the failing system. This newly-trained and transferred part-time worker and psychologist are together responsible for each and every duty previously performed by a team locally, and an entire CSE organization doing the clerical and data management. Now all this -- case management, setting up both IEP team and CSE reviews, handling administrative and student crises, responding to the constant phone calls and visits from those needing help and told they need to see the psychologist -- all this work formerly of dozens is now directed to the school psychologist, who now does everything, often for several schools at the same time.

Some schools of course are creating new environments and new roles for teachers and staff where they can try to integrate the psychologist (aka CSE/SBST) into the responsibility sharing of the educational community. There are a few places where, despite the backlog of 1000's of cases and the ludicrous way in which psychologists are being asked to be the sole solution (or blame), one can surely find a psychologist (and other mental health professionals) practicing their profession, working very hard, and not yet burnt out. But the new year has just begun.

For many, it seems exactly as where the last year left off: impossible task demands with neglectful practical resources, inability to be responsive to the psychological needs of children, and without any real job description other than "responsible for everything relating to IEP's or special education process which you are asked to do, by school directors, supervisors, administrators, and managers, at a rate not humanly or ethically/professionally possible, simultaneously providing assessments formerly done by an entire interdisciplinary team, taking all the responsibility of several layers of former district staff who mailed appointment letters, spoke to parents, arranged for CSE review teams and parent members, being the team member for all educational, psychological, and other assessments as needed for several caseloads in several places, simultaneously. With a staff of one, maybe. ymmv

It is very sad, and nobody is speaking up now on behalf of the misuse and destruction of school psychology and school psychologists in this misguided system. Psychologists are everywhere but employed as one-person office-manager/psychometrians. And it is there for all to see, but impossible to complain at a district level, as it is impossible to find anyone by phone. (Try!)

2003-2004: The Implosion of NYC Special Education

From the people who removed social work and educational evaluation services and dubbed the fragmenting of the school-based support team the "enhanced" model, comes the most absurd, management-heavy, micro-managed system ever yet devised in the history of school psychology and special education. It is a system which demonstrates its own ignorance of math: If 10 people can complete the special education process in one week, how long will it take one person to do the work of these 10 people? Answer: 0ne hour, by decree, because that's all the time there will be left in the week, between working as cleric, receptionist, administrative assistant/CSE record-keeper, IEP meeting scheduler for several schools and sets of teachers and school schedules, simultaneously and sequentially, middle school/high school social worker, reading specialist, IEP-writer, FBA-doer, crisis handler, telephone-tagger and meeting-attender -- and then if there aren't people waiting at the door or on the phone, after an exhausting period as "case manager" one can use this precious hour or two to do 9 or 10 hours of classroom observation, psycho-educational testing, and report writing.

And then there's the IEP meetings to attend --after finding and scheduling teachers and parents, writing out letters and forms, addressing envelopes, taking phone calls from angry, frustrated parents, locating and logging in case material, finding parent members, service providers, and anyone with information about placement possibilities, answering questions from teachers, responding to principal's requests, and waiting on hold for the kinds of real help that the parents and teachers are unable to get with the phone numbers they've been trying for months. As the one-person assessment team/CSE/SBST, the psychologist is also responsible for getting teachers to write IEP's and reports for IEP meetings, outreaching to parents, answering voluminous voicemail and email which comes in as psychologists are in classrooms and hallways looking for teachers during class change, busy with filing cabinets, responding to needs and demands of the managers, parents, advocates, and service providers waiting outside the psychologist's bathroom or closet office looking for the appropriate Regional office, as the phone numbers they call connect to voicemail of people who no longer exist and where they are eventually told to go see the school psychologist.

In short, psychologists are now simultaneously and sequentially responding to at least 4 separate full-time work demands (office manager, case manager, on-site CSE, and on-site IEP team), often in 3, 4, or more schools, despite this guarantee of not being able to actually be of value beyond the compliance mania, to the school and the principals, teachers, and real-life needy students who will be next year's referrals if we don't help them now, as psychologists actually work as they were educated to do. Yet the frenzy is all about assessment and undoing the errors of past CSE/SBST practices, while the only tools available for every aspect of the whole process (on triennial and re-evaluation referrals) are the psychologist and the psychologist-- and with luck a willing and able special education teacher. ("IEP teachers", in an agreement made in exchange for the union NOT filing a grievance on the most-aggrieved members of all, psychologists, neither help with triennial evaluations nor do any assessment despite their years of training and experience).

In consideration of the many new jobs and responsibilities simultaneously being overlaid on the psychologist, s/he is often given minimal (or no) clerical support. Psychologists run their local CSE/SBST/IEP-team operation utilizing minimal 21st century tools and technology, no sign of any interdisciplinary team, and with an annual discretionary budget of $150. Is this how city managers, education leaders, and union leaders run their organizations? (Perhaps they'd like to demonstrate how it can be done professionally?)

Children's lives and society's future are what is at stake, and psychologists are properly seen as being a resource for parents and students as well as support for the teachers' ability to comply with special educational mandates. Often the ability of parents to have a coherent conversation with anyone in a middle or high school about getting help is nearly exhausted when parents finally learn that all roads now lead to the psychologist -- and the psychologist knows very well how many parents are saying loudly and clearly that despite No Child Left Behind, "MY child has been left behind!". By the system. The psychologist is asked: "Can you help?" The system's response is no, not unless you refer your child to special education. And not one word comes forth about the value of psychological services in the schools. Prevention is not even discussed. Helping is not in the job description. And it is so rarely possible that the inevitable result is stress, burnout, and an entire system which fails to acknowledge the importance of learning and the role which psychologists can play in imparting the new 3R's [Sternberg] to our students, Reading, Reasoning, and Resiliency.

How has the year gone thus far? Under the pretense of bringing NYC into line with national norms for special education assessment and services, millions upon millions of dollars have been poured into a system of hiring managers, who teachers complain know far less than those they manage, while the gatekeepers of the nation's largest special education system suffer under an incredibly pretentious and obviously misinformed, misdirected system. This "system" ensures complete chaos and failure, as resources go to managers rather than the people directly responsible for assessment, services and classroom support. School psychologists, who heretofore had centralized CSE resources such as data entry/retrieval, placement resources, education evaluators, social workers, assessment teams, clerical support etc. have come under a new "model" whereby:

--Psychologists continue to have caseloads in the thousands but now have lost almost all services of the CSE's, and must now perform 3 or 4 full-time jobs which have been shifted or eliminated. There are no longer "school-based support teams" nor any rational, consistent system for providing all levels of services, from clerical and case management to social work, and assessment upon assessment provided by one single person: the psychologist.

--As highly paid managers trip over each other to get information which doesn't exist and can't be retrieved in the schools because psychologists lack things like computers, telephones, time and space, legal compliance with students' rights are trampled upon while psychologists are now responsible (in all re-evals and triennials) for clerical, placement, record-keeping, case management, social work, psychological assessment, educational assessment, classroom support, behavioral support, crisis intervention, and whatever else is asked, without modern technology, with 65 year old testing material, minimal training on tests which were not yet fully distributed, and with nobody at all focusing on best practices, and if that were not enough of a challenge, managers punitively removing psychologists' part-time clerical help at whim. One other reality item is that simultaneous assignments in several schools virtually assures no possibility whatsoever of continuity, effective case-management, professional dialogue with teachers and parents, and on and on.

--Both the IDEA and Jose P stipulate that children with disabilities must be provided with a multi-disciplinary assessment; this present system is not only irrational, ill-conceived, and devoid of any real effort at task analysis to support the division of labor, but it may be illegal. At the same time, being pounded into a state of learned helplessness and inability to think of oneself as a professional psychologist, causes burnout and excessive daydreaming about retirement or taking shortcuts to avoid punishment while suffering at not being able to truly serve children, parents, and teachers.

--Psychologists, in a month of training in September, were told they are the experts on assessment and intervention and need to be the lead professional in the schools, at the same time they are given a closet or bathroom to work in, no adequate materials to use, insufficient training on tests or how to apply early childhood process training which was given towards middle and high schools, no 20th (or heavens-forbid 21st) century technology or tools for efficient testing, no space for valid testing or respectful treatment of parents and students, no access or training in use of new forms and legal safeguards, and no possibility of handling the huge caseloads as a "team" of one now, where before there were at least two on a "team" and an entire district's resources to draw upon. Now it's a case of "think positively and do it" as barrier upon barrier is erected, rather than any of the millions of dollars being directed towards the gatekeepers and most-burdened component of the entire system: the school psychologist.

What is consistent with a national trend is that the psychologist serves the functional role of CSE chairperson and is doing what in the past were 3 or 4 separate full-time jobs, often in separate work locations, from clerical to social work/case management, to educational and psychological assessment. Yet unique to New York's approach, the school psychologist typically enjoys the worst possible physical settings, inadequate or non-existent tools and supports, no access to the clerical or IEP teacher supports which were promised, and an annual budget ("teachers' choice") of $150 per year, to cover everything from pencil and paper (often the most sophisticated technology!) to self-purchased 21st century tools.

Is this how the key professionals on which all else rests treated in Mayor Bloomberg's company or Chancellor Klein's law offices? Is this a recipe for success, when the tail which wags the bloated and top-heavy special education dog, the school-based CSE/subcommittee (aka psychologist), has its hands tied behind its back with no tools, no technology, inadequate training and space, and the jobs of up to 16 or more full time staff loaded on their backs solo? Clearly, this is completely irrational from a systems design point of view, and solidly out of touch with reality. Clearly there is no interest in what actually takes place, but only in hiring more politically-chosen managers to learn as they go along what chaos is being created rather than addressed in the NYC schools. A tragedy gone bad and made worse by the day....

[color line]

2001-2002: In September 2001, school psychologists began a new school year, still working without a contract, devoid of 20th century technology, and flooded with new responsibilities while kept from providing basic, supportive and preventive psychological services.

And then came 9/11. Everything changed. Except for the job description of psychologists in the NYC schools, and except for the continuing silence about more-important-than-ever psychological services for children during their school day.

Tragically, as the 2001-2002 school year ended, there was not one iota of movement towards systemic use of the 1000 school psychologists already serving the one million school children of NYC, in order to screen, prevent, or support mental health devastation among the children who spend their every day in the New York City schools. Absent any discussion of appropriate psychological services by school psychologists already in place, with outsiders coming and going (to the chagrin of school communities and contrary to research demonstrating that trusted, familiar workers are far more effective) Board of Ed/Union mandates remained such that prevention and school-based support were mandated as the LAST priority for psychologists, whose sole mission was enforced as being routine maintenance of the Special Education status quo ("compliance").

School psychologists, traumatized themselves by virtue of being ignored as relevant treatment providers, continued functioning as factory workers buried in paper, piecemeal assessment, and offsite meetings. Throughout 2002, the union representing psychologists continued to do nothing whatsoever to promote psychologists as first-tier mental health workers (given the politics that it represents far more guidance counselors and others who have been given the unwanted responsibility of psychological/counseling services for traumatized children) while the state professional organization re-affirmed (without direct membership approval) enmeshment with the union and has thus remained mute. The result is a clear and stunning second tragedy -- children a year later are stillbeing denied the most-needed psychological services in history. And the number of PTSD cases among younger and older children alike, to say nothing of parents and teachers, is dramatic. Meanwhile, psychologists are even less available to those with tremendous need in the schools, being re-deployed as assessment teams for the sole purpose of providing tax-payer-financed special ed services to parochial and private schools more actively than ever, given the determinations on church-state separation by Bush and his Supreme Court.

The 2002-3 school year saw referrals to special education grow as psychologists remained disconnected from any coherent policy of prevention and psychological services. The next year, now under the Department of Education, psychologists suddenly found themselves in position of one-person CSE/SBST/education evaluator/case manager/psychometrician. In Sept. 2003 psychologists underwent crash training in a psycho-educational-social-clerical role which includes absorption of a full team's responsibilities and many new additional functions and obligations to be re-trained and re-tooled. Meanwhile, teachers and students continued getting no preventative or supportive psychological services as the system's 1000+ school psychologists were being taught the fundamentals of early education, math, and asessment, assessment, assessment. Often what was presented was completely different than the real school experience of being asked to work without any tools, rationales, or experience with the many new hats they are being asked to wear. Many new roles, but none are in the area of mental health, counseling, or prevention.

Many psychologists, personally impacted by 9/11 like the one million students and millions more teachers and parents we work with, remain horrified at the ongoing lack of ability to offer much needed mental health services within a system that so desperately needs it but simply does not see value in psychological services (beyond "assessment"). This year was a tragedy twice over. The first was September 11th, and the second was a year of willing and able psychologists being prevented from being School-based, supportive, or part of a consistent, on-site team. Continued failure to use 1000 in-place mental health professionals, experts in learning and thinking, remains the single biggest (secret) reason the city school system is leaking money as it continues to think in terms of testing and more testing.

As reported in the NY Times (5-14-02), a major study " ... concluded that roughly 200,000 of the 712,000 public school children in grades 4 through 12 were candidates for some sort of mental health intervention -- at least a visit with a mental health professional -- because of the lingering trauma of Sept. 11. " Yet in one of the biggest moral crimes ever, all these children in urgent need are being ignored, as most of New York City's 1000 school psychologists have been given neither time nor mission to be part of the solution to the city's continuing mental health crisis. The answer is not more studies and outsiders coming in to speak. The answer is to let the emperor know that his clothes are not visible, that NY City's 1 million children are not being provided with preventive psychological services and don't generally have any access to the school-based psychologists unless referred for often-unecessary Special Education services. As the system bloats while resources shrink, psychological needs of students and teachers are being widely ignored, despite the studies and the obvious realities of a traumatized population.

NY State: The leadership of NYASP and NYSPA's School Psychology Division, following the tragedy at Columbine High School, issued a joint statement to publicize the value of psychological services in our schools. Sadly, it takes a tragedy like the one in Littleton, Colorado before children and parents and news reporters ask, "WHY" did this happen, and WHY are there no psychological services available on an as-needed basis to students in middle schools (especially) and high schools, where mental health needs are so often simply ignored. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, declared during a debate Oct.4 2000: "At risk children: it means basically they can't learn". No wonder the schools are now a testiment to failure! An entire generation has been called "unable to learn" prior to the more recent rhetoric, while the focus in New York has been on creating lucrative jobs for managers.

National: The U.S. Senate Approves Landmark Education Reform Bill! This will require all States to do annual testing in areas of math, reading, and science. However as passed, it does not improve the funding at all, for Special Education, as currently authorized under IDEA.

(March 5, 2001) Two students killed in California schools! Sadly, all the warning signs were there. But were mental health resources? President Bush explained the reason this victim of bullying went off on his classmates as being simply "a disgraceful act of cowardice". Clearly we still have a long way to go, in educating our leaders as to the causes of violence and the true meaning of "at-risk" children in our schools!

The Violence Continues! Attacks from within and from abroad!
[Children & Violence] [Children and Trauma] [Reactions to the WTC Attack]

Alerts | History | NY City | NY State | IDEA | Children & Violence[Updated] | Resources

A Brief History

The Year 2004 marks the 108th year of School Psychology, dating to Lightner Witmer establishing the first child guidance clinic in the United States in 1896. By the late 1890's, school districts were for the first time identifying and educating "mentally retarded" students. Psychologists were increasingly engaged in developing a research and practice base in the areas of "learning", "memory", "behavior" and "motivation".

As diagnostic precision improved, so did the potential for "special" education to provide "free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment". Unfortunately, several extremely counter-intuitive Special Education models evolved, which ignore the emotional and cognitive development of children. Some disregard common sense altogether. In many school districts, the "factory model" continues to prevail.

While yesteryear's legislators and regulators wisely sought to protect our children by MANDATING professional evaluation whenever a "handicapping condition" was suspected, New York's Governor Pataki, local Boards of Education, and others, have consistently embraced the view that these "mandates" are simply expensive encumbrances. They see "mandate relief" as just the ticket to help balance budgets, without looking at the impact on children, teachers, and parent-school collaboration. While increasingly bureaucrats "talk the talk" of inclusion, "flexible assessment", and least restrictive environment, those closest to the classroom--teachers and parents--know that the provision of preventive and consultative "psychological services" is something which too-often exists only on paper. Why? Psychologists remain captive of demands to be non-stop "testing machines", with "productivity" continuing to reflect tests and papers being pushed rather than students being helped, without any accountability to the actual needs of children, teachers, and parents in the real world of schools and school achievement.

School-based psychological services have come under attack in recent years, at the Federal, State and Local level.

School psychologists in particular have been portrayed by some school districts as a problem rather than a solution. ("If only we'd stop finding disability", the cynical argument goes, "we won't have to pay for it".) At the same time, some of our largest city school systems have historically prevented school-based psychologists from engaging in preventive and consultative activities which would lead to more successful students and less emphasis on labelling, placing, and leaving children in costly Special Education classes. Ironically, as we move closer to a prescription for children attending theirschools to have social work and psychological services available(as defined quite rationally in the IDEA), cities and states continue to see the full picture and remain intent on eliminating school psychology services as a means of supposedly saving money, turning towards funding unlicensed, non-professionals to provide "psychological" services.

Upon closer examination, it is clear that at least some entrenched Special Education models have been conceived and administered by factory-line-mentality bureaucracies, whose leaders are only now being held accountable for the steadily growing referral rates and social costs associated with Special Education. In fact, research consistently demonstrates how preventive psychological services are among the most "cost-effective"means of decreasing absenteeism and boosting productivity.

The cost of not providing prevention and intervention services is a society paying continuously by way of prison costs, school violence, teen pregnancy, public assistance entitlements, and the skyrocketing costs of late-intervention Special Education programs. School psychologists in particular are highly trained and dedicated to helping children succeed throughout their school years, laying the foundation for productive lives later as adults. Psychologists are also advocates for their clients, and know more than anyone know how important it is not to inappropriately place children in Special Education, where the programs created by other bureaucracies simply are not responsive to the real needs of real children with disabilities.

When allowed to engage in professional activities such as early and timely intervention, counseling for at-risk students, and parent-teacher consultation, psychologists work collaboratively to help children function in "the least restrictive environment" appropriate to a child's individual needs. Psychologists follow a code of ethics and are commited above all to their clients: the children.

Fueled by fighting over budgets and taxes, the focus has increasingly been on the cost of "mandated services to children"-- particularly medical and psychological services. Under the guise of necessary cost-cutting, even during an economic boom, millions of our most fragile, "at-risk" children have essentially been portrayed as simply a drain on state and local moneys, rather than as human beings with disabilities, rights and potential. Since the early 1990's, cities and states have increasingly been calling for "mandate relief", a "politically correct" expression which is in fact quite deceptive. Educators, school psychologists, and health professionals know that in the case of Legislative and Judicial protections for children, "mandate relief" is a euphemism for "larger class sizes and less services for children".

The I.D.E.A.       [IDEA Resource Pages]

At the Federal Level, Federal Law PL92-142 expired in the lap of the 104th Congress, led by Dole and Gingrich, who were commited to a "Contract with America" which did not include protections for children with disability. In 2 years of Congressional gridlock, the update of the expired bill did not emerge as a priority, and failed to come to a vote prior to the dissolution of Congress and the long Election season.

In its 1996-98 version, the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) argued convincingly that children are over-labelled and that disability, for the purpose of providing a "free appropriate public education" in the "least restrictive setting", basically falls into only one of two categories: physical or mental disability. And yet, there was no requirement that children suspected of having a disability be evaluated by a physician or psychologist. Who, then , would be providing the services to children with physical or mental disability? Whoever the school system decides is "appropriate"? Would you want just anyone diagnosing YOUR child's physical or mental illness?

The final IDEA, which replaces PL94-142 (having expired in 1995), was eventually re-authorized, along with its regulations for implementation, in May 1998. Congress and the Department of Education completed taking testimony in January 1999, and individual states were required to submit their own plans to bring Education Law into compliance with the broad mandates of IDEA. States were already writing additional legislation by this time, in anticipation of the IDEA's new opportunities for "flexible" service provisions for children with disability.

President Clinton Signs IDEA Education Law
Wednesday (6-4-97)


Click here for the Full Text of the IDEA

New York State

Governor Pataki's 1996-1997 Article VII Budget Bill (A.8406/S.5599), collapsed largely because of its implications to children. It would have decimated the concept of Special Education as we know it, by removing each of the remaining protections now afforded our children. He tried to "uncap" Special Ed class sizes, further blurring the distinction between "special" and "regular" classes in our public schools, and would have empowered large school districts to "privatize" related services by authorizing Boards of Education rather than cities to negotiate fees with community providers. Thus, the cheapest provider would be entrusted with our children, coming in from the outside to evaluate or counsel children, with absolutely no knowledge of the child's school experience, parent or teacher, and with no incentive to do a quality job on behalf of our most needy students.

Fortunately, the bill was so cruel, so irrational, that BOTH the Senate and Assembly, in rare harmony, absolutely refused to do such damage to our schools and children. A stopgap spending bill was eventually signed by Pataki, bypassing the more serious debate on educational re-structuring and reform.

The I.D.E.A., in it's original version, left it up to school districts and test developers to determine what is "appropriate" evaluation for children with disability, and the Pataki Bill would have removed psychologists as a mandated member of the process for evaluating cognitive or emotional disabilities. Pataki's Bill went further still and specifically prohibited the State from being more "proscriptive" than the IDEA. (Read that: No more mandates for school psychologists OR parent advocates on CSE teams to protect the rights of children and the integrity of the evaluation process!) Fortunately, this bill did not come to pass.

Current New York State Regulations reflect the final (1997)IDEA and require a psychologist on Committee on Special Education (CSE) Review teams and on subcommittees whenever a new psychological evaluation is reviewed, or where a more restrictive placement is being considered.

IDEA and New York City



School psychology faced some rough times in 1998, although the governor announced he would not be try to excise psychological services via the Budget process this year, as he has in past years. Pataki indicated that he would basically support whatever the Regents say--behind closed doors.

There were several important developments in New York City, meanwhile, which impacted school psychologists (and social workers) in their ability to provide needed services to children in New York City schools... not the least of which was direct accountability to school principals while simultaneously maintaining a job description which did not include any prevention or consultation or direct services by psychologists for at-risk children in general education. Pressure was exerted on schools to eliminate referrals to CSE's for children presenting with disabilities, and psychologists asked to become part of the school's core staff, while at the same time constantly being "re-deployed" to unknown schools, for the purpose of doing the very testing they are told to get away from. Nobody seemed to be looking at the students individual needs in the classroom but only focusing on a new 11-plus page IEP, which replaced the 4-page IEP which had been used for many years. With many changes under the IDEA, and many changes in school governance, funding formulas, privatization, contracting, etc, the situation in NYC schools still remains very fluid, often driven by political rather than educational considerations. Special education and related service delivery provision continues to followed by professional organizations, the UFT, parents' groups, plaintiffs, and advocates for children.

1998 Highlights

Hearings were held in New York State on a new type of school service by providers being dubbed "certified public counselors", who under the new provisions could be a provider of "psychological services". This would have had the result of misleading parents and neglecting the needs of children with disability, as defined by the IDEA and most existing state law defining the practice of psychology. Fortunately the IDEA precludes this in large part. Policy-makers heard from parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, intent on ensuring that services being rendered to children are in fact provided by professionally trained and licensed clinicians.

On June 18, 1998, the NYS Senate tabled legislation which was was overwhelmingly passed the previous day by the Assembly, and which was supported by a wide range of mental health clinicians, which would have defined their "scope of practice", including psychologists, family therapists, and a wide range of other mental health professionals. (This same legislation was again introduced and blocked, in 1999.)



NY Times Attacks School-based Assessment Teams in NYC Schools

The following is from the NY TIMES, Tuesday, June 9, 1998:

"...Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani intends to call on the Board of Education today to privatize the job of evaluating children who are referred by their teachers to special education, Board officials said yesterday.

Currently, children referred by classroom teachers are screened by a team composed of a psychologist, a social worker and a teacher trained in special education evaluation at each school. That system has long been assailed as being inefficient.

And the school-based evaluators have been criticized for rubber-stamping the teachers' referrals--a disproportionate number of whom are black and Hispanic boys with behavioral problems rather than serious physical or mental disabilities--and consigning them to self-contained special education classes."

The following day, June 10, Lynda Richardson of the NY Times wrote another Op Ed piece, based entirely on hearsay and a re-hashing of old and demonstrably flawed and biased studies. The headline reads:
"Special Education Evaluation Teams Have Few Backers"
"Few defenders can be found for the three-member teams - a psychologist, a social worker and educator - who screen children for special education at each school. Some classroom teachers and principals see them as unproductive clock-watchers who play cards all day, perform a few tasks, then go home promptly when the last school bell rings. They average only an evaluation or two a week...."

Following, is a response from one professional organization leader:

A Response to the New York Times

The story which the Times ran for two days in a row [June 9-10], begs for some infusion of reality and a response to pure unjournalistic innuendo. I refer to "Special Education Evaluation Teams Have Few Backers", in which Lynda Richardson repeatedly echoes the biases of various flawed studies of Special Education without ever stopping to review the facts or to speak with real people directly involved on the front lines of education.

Psychologists are accountable to too many people, rather than too few! You're absolutely right: with administrators, principals, supervisors, and school staff all pressuring teams to test and place children yesterday, the professional and ethical psychologist who tries to actually help a child succeed rather than going along with the system's "rubber-stamp" mentality often experiences a paucity of "backers". The shame is in the system, the jungle of administration and layers of bureaucracy. It's a shame that much more so that the Times chose not to portray the perspective of children and parents who truly do appreciate the hard and thankless work performed by inner-city school psychologists.

Unfortunately, rather than taking the reasonable approach of dismantling the administrative factory-line model now in place in our public schools, which virtually ensures failure of our special education system, it is apparently seen as being far easier to engage in smear and unattributed innuendo than to engage in serious discussion about education for children with disability. School-based psychologists, who in reality typically work non-stop in crumbling environments under constant pressure to produce reports rather than help children, are in the Times article portrayed and dismissed as card-playing, lazy, and singularly motivated to put children into Special Education.

A few facts need to be stated here. First of all, your article states that 3-member teams are responsible for "screen[ing] children for special education." That is largely and resoundingly false. The failure of New York City's Special Education evaluation process is due to an irrational System which abandons children once they are initially found to have a disability. Professional 3-member evaluation teams are in fact only provided when children are first referred. Students in upper grades, particularly the very stressful middle-school years (where research shows the greatest risk to children's future achievement and the greatest need for support services), are virtually never seen by a 3-person team, under the arbitrary factory-line model paradoxically known as the "enhanced model". This "enhanced model" in fact removed social workers from the re-evaluation of children who might be in fact be able to succed in the mainstream with proper supports from the home and community.

It is the system which forces "teams" to exist only for assessment, and which provides no supports for the student who might indeed be able to function in less costly "regular" education. Psychologists are so overburdened in trying to fill the void of full-time team social workers, and so busy testing and "flexible testing" and observing in classrooms fast enough to satisfy the incessant calls for more and more "productivity", with less and less time per student -- that one would be very hard-pressed to find psychologists with any time at all to have lunch or visit the bathroom, much less to join the card games that the Times presented as a universal reality, based totally on hearsay. (Who exactly is watching these card games?) That was a disgraceful generalization which will surely hurt morale in schools. It's not worthy of the Times!

Nobody working with special education students likes "the system". Psychologists are forced to test well beyond the number which has been erroneously stated by the Times. That aside, testing in fact is precisely what there is too much of, while provision of direct services is disgracefully discouraged. The problem for psychologists is that they are given long lists of children to assess, told to work as expediently as possible in their efforts to "flexibly" re-certify children into special education, stymied in efforts to support children before they require Special education, and now (by the Times) blamed for perpetuating the system which in fact victimizes psychologists, along with children, parents, and teachers. Society pays dearly for the long-term failures when we abandon these students.

The vast majority of school psychologists, when not testing, work -- and work very hard -- in a wide range of activities, from suicide prevention, to evaluation, to crisis intervention and consulting with parents and teachers. If they test too little, they are attacked. They are attacked for working on behalf of children rather than administrators. Now the Times attacks psychologists for "not being responsible" to the very people who might in fact try to coerce placement decisions for their own gain. Psychologists cannot possibly benefit personally from putting a single child into Special Education, despite the wild assertions that somehow they gain from funding formulas which have nothing to do with their daily work. This is one reason why State and Federal Law repeatedly re-affirm the need to keep psychologists independent from the coercion of those who would gain from larger Special Education populations. Psychologists are child advocates first and foremost.

The Times goes still further and irresponsibly attacks evaluation teams for being "not required to teach any students". Should reporters be required to teach? Are accountants and corporate heads to be attacked for the same crime? Psychologists, in case the Times and the critics haven't noticed, are not teachers!! Nor are they factory workers. However, "the system" has not yet come around to the idea that children might benefit when psychologists in fact provide psychological services and social workers provide social work services. Teachers, of course, do teach -- and they benefit from classroom supports from the highly-skilled professionals who are chronically prevented from practicing their professions. With all the talk of "productivity", New York City's school administration continues to count beans rather than ask "What can we do for our children and teachers?"

The Times editorial, as opposed to the "news" story, had it right: it is the system which is broken. It is the layers of bureaucracy which are gobbling up money and the "enhanced model" of assessment which guarantees the status quo in Special Education. The New York Times has now apparently not only "joined the chorus" of critics--with very limited factual understanding -- but signed on to in fact lead the chorus, doing the bidding for the privatizers and for the bureaucrats who are looking for a target to absorb the blame which rightfully belongs in their own back yard. The buck stops with the System.

Enlightened educational policy should start with the recognition that there are hundreds of dedicated professionals who themselves pursued years of graduate study to engage in professions where they might positively impact on the lives of children and the work of teachers. These dedicated professionals, were they only treated as such, might actually be part of a rational solution. The Times, unfortunately, chose to blindly and without justification lump psychologists with other aspects of the Special Education bureaucracy, and concluded that they are in fact the problem. Your reporters might benefit from speaking to people with no vested interest in propaganda, including psychologists, special ed children, and maybe even teachers or parents who do not share the disgusting portrait which you present as the norm. Nothing pleases the psychologists whom I know and respect more than seeing children succeed in school, in regular classes, and in life.

Statement by Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) - July 9, 1998

Job Privatization of Special Education Evaluators

June 9, 1998

On June 9, a mayoral task force proposed privatizing the job of evaluating children who have been referred to special education. UFT President Randi Weingarten issued this statement at a press conference:

First of all, I want to emphasize that we share the task force's goal of limiting special education to those children who really need it. In our view, that means providing more prevention and early intervention services and support services in general education at all grade levels. We're pleased to see that this report agrees with that concept.

But privatizing the assessment process so that it serves the profit motive and not kids' best interests is certainly not the way to reach that goal. Moving evaluations outside the system totally misconstrues the nature of the work the current assessment professionals do. Those who evaluate children's educational needs must be familiar with the schools, the kids and the services that are available to children both in the general ed and special ed settings. They must be willing to give each child and parent the time he or she needs, and each evaluation, careful consideration. Getting paid by the piece doesn't encourage that kind of thoughtful consideration.

We're willing to work with the chancellor and the mayor to improve the delivery of special education services. Historically we have supported the current assessment system because it separates evaluation teams from local school and district pressures to make decisions that may serve various financial and political needs, but not the needs of children. We can talk about changing that if sufficient time is provided to make sound educational decisions and those educational decisions are protected from any considerations except what's good for kids. But one thing we'll definitely fight is this attempt at privatization.


Statement by Michael Fenichel, 1999 President, NYSPA School Psychology Division (12-7-98)
Click on above link (or click here) to see the letter sent to NYSPA members describing the challenges and opportunities for school psychologists in the era of Managed Care and IDEA.

Joint Statement by NYASP and NYSPA on School Psychology Services (7-1-99)

New York City has been campaigning hard in Albany, since 1995, to get "relief" from legislative mandates (i.e., "laws") which were enacted to limit overcrowding in the classroom and to ensure adequate support services to children with disabilities.

During the 1997-1998 school year, the Board of Education focused on such issues as school uniforms while embracing the concept of "flexible assessment". The latter is increasingly being used as an administratively expedient way to dispose of cases but predictably has the opposite effect of producing more evaluations and more placement, with very little evidence of widespread preventive or consultative services by SBST/SCSE psychologists.

Secondary school teams, in particular, are pressured into rigidly doing "flexible assessment" across discipline, with licensed school psychologists told to test and place ever faster and less informed, often without having the benefit of a recent social history and rarely being alotted any time for follow-up with the child whose school life constitutes "the case".

The well-known relationship between intervention/prevention and school achievement is still in many instances being totally ignored, while in some corners, to be sure, innovative schools are embracing the best aspects of "inclusion", and providing rich and varied intervention services. Unfortunately, "the System" continues to use psychologists simply as testing machines, who are driven by multiple case managers while denied opportunities to work as a meaningful multi-disciplinary team on behalf of children with disabilities.

April 1998

New York City Board of Education has announced its intention to reform Special Education, beginning with changing the roles and governance of school-based staff such as psychologists, social workers, and education evaluators. Under the announced changes, school-based support teams would no longer be independent and objective evaluators but would be subordinated to school principals, district supervisors, and superintendents, all of whom might reward or punish placement decisions based on criteria other than the welfare of the child with a disability.

Here's one reason, in addition to I.D.E.A., why New York City has become newly focused on prevention and intervention services as an alternative to segrating into Special Education those children who cannot effectively learn in "regular" classrooms in the public schools.

Federal Government Cites NYC Special Ed!

From the NYSUT/UFT Information Service, FYI
Monday June 2, 1997


In a move cheered by parent advocates, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights warned the NYC Board of Education that it must reduce the disproportionately high numbers of black and Hispanic students in special education or face a lawsuit and the loss of tens of millions of dollars in federal aid (Times, Daily News). The department conducted a two-year study of special ed referrals in the city and concluded that there is a factual basis for the perception that the programs are used to "warehouse" nonwhite students with and without learning problems. It also found that schools with high numbers of white students had a larger number of minorities in special ed classes. In response, Chancellor Rudy Crew pledged to establish an intensive training program to give parents a better understanding of their rights and the instructional options available to their children. He also said that principals will be instructed to include more special education students in citywide standardized testing to determine whether the programs are helping students and perhaps return those who are improving to general education classrooms.

History repeated itself, as the NY Times reported on Nov.21, 1998 that New York City was under the microscope again for its failure in supporting disabled children outside of Special Education. And as school year 1998-99 was ending, NYC was under a deadline to overhaul the system by July 1999.

And what about counseling?

Chancellor Crew's View on Mental Health Services in the Schools
PBS Broadcast: "On the Line", June 20, 1997

QUESTION (Diane from Queens):

As a former member of the PTA in the elementary schools, I would see children coming in dirty, behavior problems, tattered clothes. None of these problems were being addressed. And I was wondering if at that time there were counselors then, that we would not have the problems in the higher grades? These children are constantly being passed on from grade to grade and these problems are going on into their higher education. If there were more counselors, do you think that it might eliminate some of the problems in the higher schools?

RESPONSE (From Dr. Rudy Crew):

In my mind those are really two separate issues, the issue of how students both come to school and how the school interacts with them. For me it sort of falls under the notion of what our expectations are for students and what our expectations are in terms of their behavior. I think we've got to ratchet that whole set of expectations higher. The introduction of standards, for example, is not necessarily just an academic experience. It's not related only to what they know, but it's what they do and what they understand about their larger world in which they'll be living. And I think that it's important for us to really start saying to young people "you can't come to school any way you want to", that there is a code of honor, that there is a code of behavior, that there is a code of dress, and that you're going to live by it. And I think it's important for people to understand that if you're going to go to school that you really understand that this is the way we're going to do business.

Recap of NYC Board of Education Proposals

June 20, 1996
NYC Board of Ed Proposes New "Mandate Relief" Bill

NY City's Board of Ed, Executive Director of Intergovernmental Affairs submitted to the NYS Legislative Bill Drafting Commission a legislative proposal on
"Special Education Flexibility", which should, of course, immediately raise concern due to its name alone. (Keep in mind: "flexibility" is not the same as "rationality"!) The proposal would allow for eliminating psychologists altogether, making diagnostic decisions based on vague references to "appropriate" evaluation (whatever that means), and allowing placement to be made when "administratively feasible". (This is is contrast to the current protections afforded children due to the Jose P litigation.) It also allows for speech and counseling group sizes to be equal to class sizes, worded to sound very idealistic and appealing, catering to the "cohesive" quality of larger classes. The bill suggests that children need no longer go to counselors privately, but that the services be presented to entire classes (i.e., "inclusion"). Following this, of course, the next step may be to just deposit children in the school yard, and leave them there all day, to allow for cohesion and flexibility!

The Legislature, however, listened to the public, and defeated the education provisions which would have gutted services to our most needy children. But be assured that there will be more ongoing campaigning to remove psychologists as child advocates, and to remove all the legal protections wisely enshrined under current NYS Regs and Education Law, and the stipulations of Jose P.

In New York State, it seems, each level of government simultaneously continues to seek "relief" from child-protective mandates, in the name of "flexibility", "inclusion", "enhancement", and many other fine examples of "politically correct" double-speak.

It is often the school psychologist who first identifies mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, or other cognitive/emotional disorders. Often the psychologist or social worker refers out to the community for appropriate services which save a child the sentence, and the public the cost, of "Special Education". If the Pataki Bill went through as penned, all existing references to school psychologists would be deleted, along with parent advocates, and replaced by a prohibition against being "more proscriptive" than the IDEA--which proscribes no minimum standards for evaluation, and no protections for children with disability beyond the right to a free and appropriate education. It remains to be seen who will make the determination of what is "appropriate" for children with disability.

Perhaps we need to focus on how this can be best determined, using what we know about learning, motivation, mental and physical disability, and reflecting the realities of our world today. Clearly the answer lies in improving the educational system, not "bashing" the professionals who work in the trenches trying to pick up the pieces of childrens' and families' lives.

January 2005 -
New York State has enacted new regulations which govern the licensing, conduct, and titles of mental health practitioners.

[gold line]

School Psychology Resources

[color line]

      IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act)

  • IDEA Practices
    This site had become the most comprehensive IDEA resource online when its 5 year grant recently expired, and its links went dead. It's back online by popular demand, now under the auspices of CEC: A partnership of government and private organizations presents everything about IDEA. Currently focused on the new IDEA Re-Authorization (11-2004) and offering the bill itself as well as analysis by CEC.

  • Congress Passes IDEA Reauthorization - November 2004
    "Congress passed and sent to the White House Nov. 19 the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). "The bill addresses discipline, paperwork, over-representation, highly qualified teachers, litigation, and other issues. CEC has provided a summary and analysis of the bill.".

[color line]

      LD Diagnosis: The Debate Over Discrepancy Models, Formulas, etc.

Psi Current Topics in Psychology[Updated]   Adolescent Mental Health     TOP

Copyright © 1995-2020 Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.