Members of a new APA interdivisional coalition hope to help psychology exert more influence on student achievement and education reform as well as on legislative policies affecting both.
This new coalition--made up of Div. 15 (Educational), Div. 16 (School) and Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology)--first met in December 2002 to set goals for working together to improve schools. Members hope other APA divisions will also join their efforts.
"There are many aspects and arenas that are key to improving schools," says Rena Subotnik, PhD, director of the APA Education Directorate's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education. "Throughout the organization, we have divisions that are doing wonderful things, but they are operating separately. We believe it's better to be heard in a unified way. We want to have an organized forum for this....Right now a lot of school reform is taking place without us."
The coalition plans to target several areas, such as professional development in the schools, test assessment, literacy, resilience and student achievement gaps. This is the right time for APA to develop such a coalition for education reform, Subotnik says.
For one, the coalition complements the agenda of APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD. "Education is a centerpiece in my own set of initiatives," Sternberg says. "I am particularly interested in how schools can better accommodate the needs for learners whose strengths are not in traditional modes of instruction and assessment. I believe this new coalition can help me with my initiative."
The coalition also coincides with "education" recently being added to APA's mission statement (see page 16). In December 2002, Members approved the proposed amendment change by nearly 97 percent (12,972 votes), with little more than 3 percent (434 votes) opposed.
"Almost everyone in APA is engaged in education in some way--professors teach students the subject matter of psychology, practitioners teach patients how to live more effectively, and many Members serve as mentors to younger colleagues," Sternberg says. "So APA is and always has been squarely in the center of the business of educating people. The change in the mission statement appropriately reflects what APA does and should be doing."
Psychology in No Child Left Behind
Besides education's increased visibility in APA's mission, another factor driving the coalition's formation, APA leaders say, is the need for more psychologist involvement in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. So far, psychologists' role with NCLB has been overlooked by many policy-makers, says psychologist Stephen A. Rollin, EdD, executive associate dean in the College of Education at Florida State University, who proposed the idea of an APA interdivisional collaboration with Subotnik. NCLB promotes greater accountability, better assessment, teacher and staff quality, choice in education, and student achievement--all areas where psychologists have expertise, Rollin says.
"The emphasis of improving education and improving performance has psychological variables in helping children to achieve," Rollin says. "We want to be at the table when research agendas or innovations are discussed. We have an interest in these topics like reading literacy, violence and prevention, and parental relationships. As psychologists, we have a lot to contribute to the No Child Left Behind Act."
That's the message the coalition hopes to get across at APA's Annual Convention in Toronto, Aug. 7-10. Coalition members plan to hold a session--"Psychologists leave no child behind: an interdivisional call to action"--that will address promoting psychology's role in education, discuss the contributions psychologists can make, identify research needs for NCLB, and generate ideas on how interdisciplinary collaboration can solve problems in schools and education.
After all, says Philip Winne, PhD, Div. 15 president and professor at Simon Fraser University, schools and other educational venues shape the future. As such, psychologists need to demonstrate to policy-makers and the public that research in education merits greater support.
Coalition member Steven G. Little, PhD, past president of Div. 16, says he hopes the coalition will be able to illustrate to schools that psychologists have more to offer than just traditional assessment.
"This would allow us to present ourselves more in a primary prevention role," says Little, director of school psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York. "I think we've been overlooked a lot in that area."