School SLPs Must Do “More with Less!” The Perfect Storm

 As our recent posts have revealed, in March of 2011 there is a convergence of “challenges” facing school speech-language pathologists in financially troubled schools.  It began with the financial crisis of 2007:

“The financial crisis from 2007 to the present is considered by many economists to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.[1] It was triggered by a liquidity shortfall in the United States banking system,[2] and has resulted in the collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments, and downturns in stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market has also suffered, resulting in numerous evictions, foreclosures and prolonged vacancies. It contributed to the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in the trillions of U.S. dollars, substantial financial commitments incurred by governments, and a significant decline in economic activity.[3]“(Wikipedia).

Immediate financial impact on schools was softened by the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which helped some special education teachers and related services personnel to keep jobs they might have otherwise lost.   In the spring of 2011, however, the money is running out and federal, state and local cuts are being proposed across the country.  Along with positions like preschool, art, computer, music and drama teachers, special education teachers are being placed on cut lists.  Parents of special education pupils are questioning reductions to special education programs. 

These new financial pressures on SLP school jobs come at a time when caseloads continue to be high nationwide.  For the last 20 years or more SLPs have battled high caseloads while trying to get states to set standards for caseload size.  High caseloads have reduced job satisfaction and limited client success.  Limited progress has increased the need to keep SLI children in special education because they are not making progress towards meeting their annual goals.

Then there is also the problem of expanding Scope of Practice, as understood and perceived by school SLPs.  Reading intervention is the best example.  SLPs have expressed the view that their conventional speech-language caseloads are already jam-packed with speech and language cases. 

We also have expanding Scope of Responsibility, as highlighed in  The “New Role” of the School Speech-Language Pathologist!  In the past 10 years according to experts there has been rapid and significant change in the roles of school SLPs.  For example:  RTI, collaboration, leadership, advocacy, knowledge of school law, literacy including writing, etc.   These are not exclusively practice skills per se but they are factors contributing to workload and burnout. 

Therefore, school SLPs in 2011 have hit the “Perfect Storm”  of demands on their professional lives.

Our recommendation is to rely on “Internal Solutions” to caseload management.  One can reduce the number of non-disabled minority children placed in SLI caseloads, either by reducing admissions or increasing early dismissals.  Collaboration and RTI-like programs can be worked into the mix along with traditional pull-out.  SLPs need to sharpen their skills in assessing cultural and linguistic difference so they can reduce their caseloads ethically and according to IDEA 2004.

Perhaps the most disheartening issue is the push for school SLPs to be responsible for  more and more of their own education.  While being pinned down to the large traditional caseloads, we are obliged to learn more and more new information via “continuing education” instruction. 

Is Pre-Service Education simply out of date?  Is it under-serving us?  Shouldn’t the pre-service curriculum be changing at the same rate as the field is changing?  Who coordinates with the academic institutions to make sure school SLPs have the tools they need?  With the current rate of change, there is a good chance pre-service education will be under increasing pressure to deliver foundational material.  Certainly the language and literacy areas are under great  pressure.

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