Feature

Psychologists stand to play an important role in implementing a little-known provision of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001--one that could provide much-needed intervention services to low-income children who attend failing public schools, according to an APA coalition.

That group, the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, has been seeking ways for psychologists to help implement the NCLB legislation passed by Congress in 2001. Created by APA's Education Directorate in 2000, the coalition thus far includes 10 APA divisions and four governance groups.

The coalition has focused on a number of projects, including the act's promise to provide supplemental services to students attending schools that fail for two years in a row to meet their state's standards for improvement. Although not as high-profile as other parts of the act, such as controversial high-stakes assessments and options to transfer out of underperforming schools, the services provision is key because it provides for school improvement, and for psychologists' involvement in it, note coalition members.

The services include academic assistance, outside of school, provided by any professional who can improve student performance, be it a tutor, social worker--or psychologist, says coalition chair Steve Rollin, PhD. Specifics are left up to each state.

"This is a silver lining in a law that a lot of people have been critical of," Rollin says. "I think it does provide our profession a chance to get involved with an important part of our culture: public education."

Psychologists are good at doing what the provision asks for, Rollin says. "We certainly have, over time, developed a body of knowledge that relates to child and family development, retention and learning, assessment, tutoring," he says. "This could be a great way to apply that knowledge and help the kids who most need us."

So, Rollin says, it's up to psychologists and their state professional associations to ensure their utmost participation. The act charges each state with setting requirements for who can be a provider, and each school district with creating a specific list of qualified local professionals. And, if a school fails to progress two years in a row, the school district will act as a broker, matching low-income students with providers. States will create guidelines for the services this year, ahead of the two-year progress mark for schools, which is the end of the 2004-2005 school year.

Making the list

Psychologists can play two roles in applying their knowledge to the most needy schools, says psychologist Ron Palomares, PhD, APA's assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in schools.

First, local professionals and state psychological associations can lobby their state education agencies to make sound choices about who qualifies as supplemental service-providers in their states and to make sure psychologists are included on that list, Palomares says. NCLB says supplemental service-providers can be any public or private entities that can improve academic performance, so, according to Palomares, psychologists should be included.

Volunteer groups may play an important role in offering these services because, like many of the requirements in NCLB, it's not clear how this one will be funded. Financial support will likely come from state, local and federal levels, but it may not be enough to fully fund the provider parameters set by a given state, Palomares adds.

"Every state is creating their own criteria of approval for entities that can provide these services and what kinds of standard those providers will need to meet," he says. "This is an important point in the process for psychologists to be aware of and to start talking to their state agencies."

After ensuring psychologists make the lists, the second important piece is matching qualified psychologists with schools and students in need of academic support services, Palomares says.

"We're talking about children who are in schools that have failed for two or more years, and I think there's a huge psychological component that's found in those types of settings--low self-esteem, expectations of failure," he explains. "Psychologists are the experts in helping schools to improve those conditions."

Getting the word out

To advocate for that essential psychologist involvement, the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education is working to publicize opportunities for practitioners in the supplemental services provision, Rollin says.

The group will distribute reading materials on the issue at APA's Annual Convention in Honolulu, July 28-Aug. 1, and through state education agencies, psychology conventions and state and city psychological associations.

Most of all, Rollin says he hopes psychologists take advantage of this opportunity to make education a little more equitable.

"I think any time we're talking about providing supplemental services to populations that have been identified as needing them, that's wonderful," Rollin says. "That's helping children. This is one of the positives out of No Child Left Behind."