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There's a nationwide shortage of Black male school psychologists


A school psychologist is often the only person at a school who's trained to assess a student's needs, especially when it comes to disabilities and mental health. There's a nationwide shortage of them. And as NPR's Pooja Salhotra reports, the numbers among Black men are alarming.

POOJA SALHOTRA, BYLINE: When Chase McCullum was growing up, thinking about career options, the idea of becoming a school psychologist wasn't even on his radar.

CHASE MCCULLUM: A lot of kids, especially kids who, you know, kind of look like me, you kind of just see a certain role for yourself.

SALHOTRA: McCullum grew up in southern Mississippi in the 1990s. He actually planned on becoming a lawyer. But during college at the University of Mississippi, he started volunteering at a nearby Boys and Girls Club. That's when he realized he wanted to work with kids. So he looked up careers where he could do that.

MCCULLUM: I Googled it. I Googled careers.

SALHOTRA: And school psychology popped up.

MCCULLUM: Once I found out what it was and all the things that a school psychologist can do, I fell in love with it.

SALHOTRA: More than a decade later, he's still a rarity in his profession. I spoke to several Black male school psychologists who shared similar stories of just stumbling into the field almost by accident. Bobby Gueh, who teaches at Georgia State University's College of Counseling and Psychological Services, explains it like this.

BOBBY GUEH: The narrative and the conversation most Black men are having as a Black boy is, well, you need to find a job or go into a career that's going to pay you a lot of money.

SALHOTRA: That leaves a huge gap between the demographics of school psychologists and the students they serve. Black boys make up about 8% of K-12 public school students. Meanwhile, estimates suggest that Black male school psychologists make up less than 1% of the profession. One person put it this way - there are fewer Black men working as school psychologists than as players in the NFL.

GUEH: That representation of a Black man professional in the school building - it's almost priceless.

SALHOTRA: It's not just Black men who are underrepresented. It's Hispanics and Asian Americans, too. More than 85% of public school psychologists are white women, data suggests. Celeste Malone is a professor of school psychology at Howard University. She says these numbers are cause for concern.

CELESTE MALONE: What does it mean to have a predominantly white profession working with predominantly kids of color within a racist society?

SALHOTRA: She says part of the reason there are so few Black males in the field has to do with the role school psychologists have played in assessing students for disabilities. Decades of research have shown that students of color are disproportionately referred to special ed. And school psychologists are often the ones doing those referrals.

MALONE: It can be hard to reconcile wanting to be in a profession and wanting to support kids that look like you but then also learning more about school psychology and the role that it has played in the labeling of kids.

SALHOTRA: At some historically Black colleges and universities, Malone says...

MALONE: They may not really direct their undergraduate students to pursue that career because of the historical legacy of school psych and its involvement in special education.

BYRON MCCLURE: We have such unique training. Like, we are experts in human learning and child learning and child development and social-emotional development.

SALHOTRA: Byron McClure was a school psychologist in the Washington, D.C., area for about 10 years. He says that to bring more Black men in, there needs to be a major shift in the role school psychologists play. Instead of all the focus on special ed, McClure wants to see them use their expertise more broadly.

MCCLURE: Even at a level where, hey, I'm going to work with the homecoming committee and make sure that we are bringing a sense of joy into the school.

SALHOTRA: To do that requires more resources. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one school psychologist for every 500 students. But many school districts don't come close to that.

MCCLURE: We need advocacy efforts so that nationally, we can get those ratios because when you do that, you don't just have to be in this test place role.

SALHOTRA: McClure has launched a new organization he hopes will serve as a hub and recruiting network for Black male psychologists. He wants to get those numbers up.

MCCLURE: We can't complain about it. We have to do something about it.

SALHOTRA: Pooja Salhotra, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pooja Salhotra
Pooja Salhotra is the 2022 summer intern on NPR's Education Team. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and economics from Yale University and an MFA from NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
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