Student Well-Being Data

Data: Does Your State Have Enough School Psychologists and Counselors?

By Maya Riser-Kositsky — March 28, 2022 2 min read
Close up of a psychologist with a clipboard and taking notes and a student's knees in the background - stock photo
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Clarification: This story was updated to better reflect the job duties of school psychologists and counselors.

School psychologists and counselors are crucial to supporting the mental health and well-being of students in school. This is especially true as kids’ mental health needs continue to rise and survey data show that students are asking for more school-based mental health services.

But an original analysis of federal data by Education Week finds that many school districts fall way below recommended staffing levels for both professions.

What do school psychologists do? What do school counselors do?

While there is often some overlap in the roles psychologists and counselors play in schools, the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data provides definitions of the roles of school psychologists and counselors that include these responsibilities:

School Counselors/Directors are professional staff assigned specific duties and school time for:

  • counseling students and parents,
  • addressing learning problems,
  • evaluating students’ abilities, and
  • assisting students in career and personal development.

School Psychologists are professional staff members who provide direct and indirect support, including prevention and intervention, to evaluate and address:

  • students’ intellectual development,
  • academic success,
  • social-emotional learning, and
  • mental and behavioral health.

How many students have no access to school psychologists or counselors?

While most schools do have school psychologists and counselors, some do not have any.

More than 5.4 million public school students (12%) attend districts with no psychologists.

Almost half a million students (1%) attend districts with no school counselors.

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Image of student managing obstacles.
Kasla Bogdańska for Education Week

What percent of students have adequate access to psychologists and counselors at school?

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one psychologist to 500 students and the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one school counselor to 250 students.

Only 8% of districts meet the recommended ratio of school psychologists to students.

Just 14% of districts meet the ideal student-to-counselor ratio.

Is a district’s demographic makeup correlated with meeting the psychologist or counselor ratios?

In general, districts with a higher percentage of white students more often meet the recommended mental health support staff-to-student ratios.

Six percent of districts where less than half of students are white met the psychologist ratio, compared with over 9% of districts where more than half of students are white.

Ten percent of districts where white students make up less than half of enrollment met the recommended counselor-to-student ratio, while 16% of districts where white students make up 50% or more of their enrollment met the recommended ratio.

What percentage of students in your state have access to the recommended ratios of school psychologists and counselors?

Only in Maine, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia do more than half of students have adequate access to school psychologists. And only in New Hampshire and Vermont do more than half of students have adequate access to school counselors.

Holly Peele, Library Director contributed to this article.
Coverage of whole-child approaches to learning is supported in part by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, at www.chanzuckerberg.com. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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