More black men in the United States are professional football players than public school psychologists.
This is an amazing statistic. But for Chase McCallum, a black man who became a school psychologist more than a decade ago, it’s just a reality.
“Education is not a field that I think many people of my background would normally pursue,” he says.
Growing up in south Mississippi in the ’90s, McCallum planned to become a lawyer.
I didn’t even know what a school psychologist was.
But when he found out about the career — through an Internet search as a student at the University of Mississippi — he was sold. “When I found out what it was, and all that school psychologists could do, I fell in love with it.”
Psychologists play an important role in K-12 schools. They support students’ mental health, help prevent bullying and promote conflict resolution among students. They are often the only person in the entire school trained to assess a student’s behavioral, emotional, and academic needs. A key element in that assessment is whether the student has a disability.
And yet there is a clear mismatch between the demographics of school psychologists and the student population they serve. According to survey data from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), more than 85 percent of school psychologists are white, while the majority of K-12 public school students are non-white.
It is difficult to determine the exact number of black male school psychologists, but NASP estimates that they make up less than 1% of US public school psychologists.
Other groups, including Asian Americans and Hispanics, are also underrepresented. But, some experts are particularly concerned about the shortage of black male psychologists. Black children, especially boys, are disproportionately punished in school. He is forcibly dealt with by the police And Referral to special education services.
“Representing a professional black male in a school building is almost priceless,” says Bobby Goe, who teaches in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services at Georgia State University.
And it’s not just black boys who benefit. “It affects the whole school,” he says.
The history of special education may turn people away from school psychology
Federal law guarantees students with disabilities the right to an “appropriate public education,” and school psychologists play a key role in evaluating what “appropriate” means. For any student, this could mean providing occupational therapy, counseling, or spending time with a paraprofessional. School psychologists also help make calls about whether to place students in separate special education classes.
For decades, black students have done this disproportionately referenced For services to Special Education National Center for Learning Disabilities finds it Black students are 40 percent more likely than their peers to be identified as having a disability, including a learning disability or intellectual disability. They are also more likely to be recognized as having a disease “emotional disorder,” Fans of a label have long criticized it as stigmatizing.
“Representation is important,” says Celeste Malone, associate professor of school psychology at Howard University. What does it mean to have a predominantly white profession with children of color in a racist society?
He believes that a background in special education may discourage blacks from pursuing school psychology as a career.
“It’s hard to reconcile wanting to be in a profession and wanting to support kids who are like you with the role that school psychology has played in the special education evaluation system,” she explains.
Malone, who is also president of NASP, notes that at some historically black colleges and universities, psychology departments do not direct their students toward school psychology because of the field’s “historical legacy.”
Black men don’t always feel like there’s a place for them in education
Another challenge, several experts told NPR, is that black men often shy away from education as a career.
“The conversation that most black boys have is, ‘You need to get into a field that pays a lot,'” says Georgia State’s Goe.
McCallum, a school psychologist in Mississippi, agrees: “I don’t think men feel there’s a place for them in education.”
She discovered school psychology after volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club during college and realized she wanted a career where she could support young people. A Google search led her to school psychology, much to her family’s surprise.
“It was kind of like, ‘Why get into this when you can pursue something else?'” he says. “I think the perception is that if you’re going to go to college and you’re trying to take care of your family and do those kinds of things, you’re probably going to major in something else.”
The solution may lie in targeted recruitment
With a dire shortage of black men in a field that desperately needs them, some leaders are working on solutions.
NASP is expanding itself Exposure project, where school psychologists of color give presentations to undergraduate and high school classes in an effort to find recruits. “If you see more people from different backgrounds, and recognize that we’re all doing the same thing, I think that can really change how we see this field,” McCallum says.
Some school psychologists focus on changing professional practices. Byron McClure, a school psychologist in Houston who advocates for more presence in the field, says a major shift in the role of school psychologists is needed to recruit more black males.
Instead of relying on assessments to single out some students for special education, school psychologists should use their expertise more broadly, McClure says. For example, by creating restorative justice policies or helping to design a more culturally responsive curriculum.
Doing all this requires more resources. NASP recommends One school psychologist for every 500 students. But most school districts don’t even come close to that goal. With such limited resources, school psychologists spend most of their time evaluating for special ed.
McClure has launched a networking and recruiting organization that he hopes will help increase the number of school psychologists for black boys.
We can’t just complain about the problem, he says. “We have to do something about it.”