While teachers and school leaders clearly have the strongest school-based influence on student outcomes, researchers have also found that professional support personnel also can have an important influence on both cognitive and non-cognitive student outcomes. Moreover, school support personnel have a particularly critical influence on the outcomes for students living in poverty—nearly 800,000 students in Pennsylvania schools in 2015.
In this White Paper, I examine access to three types of professional support personnel—librarians, nurses, and counselors. To varying degrees, research has found that access to librarians, nurses, and counselors can positively impact various student cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes.
There are three major findings that are consistent across all three roles (librarians, nurses, and counselors). First, the results clearly document a disturbing pattern of inequity with respect to access to librarians, nurses, and counselors in which schools enrolling the students most in need of additional support are the least likely to offer the additional support. This pattern of inequity is driven by an antiquated and clearly inequitable system of school funding that remains in place despite recent changes by the Pennsylvania legislature. This inequitable pattern demonstrates that students most in need of access to professional support personnel such as librarians, nurses, and counselors. The failure of the Commonwealth to ensure that these students have access to the professional support staff that their wealthier and White peers have access to creates a two-tiered system of education of haves and have-nots. The continuation of this system has negative ramifications for the Commonwealth in that fewer students than would otherwise be the case are well-prepared to enroll in and successfully complete post-secondary education.
Second, schools enrolling relatively few students are far less likely to provide their students access to professional support staff (librarians, nurses, and counselors). While this finding is driven in part by charter schools not employing professional support staff, the smallest public schools are still less likely to employ these professional support staff than larger schools. Research suggests that smaller schools—especially those located in smaller districts—simply cannot afford to employ such staff, particularly at a full-time level.
Third, despite having the economic means to do so, very few charter schools employ librarians, nurses, and counselors. Why this is the case is unclear. But lack of financial ability is certainly not a viable reason given that: (a) hundreds of millions of dollars sent to charter schools for special education instruction is not spent on special education students; and, (b) charter schools close to $1,000 more per student on administration than public school districts, even after removing the influence of district size and school location in the state. Because charter schools are located primarily in major urban centers, students in Pennsylvania cities increasingly must choose between public schools that do not employ these professional support staff and charter schools that do not employ these professional support staff. This is not real choice.
Students in high-poverty schools, schools with large proportions of students of color, schools in low-wealth districts, and urban schools have less access to both part-time and full-time librarians.
Charter schools were much less likely to provide their students with access to any librarian or a full-time librarian. In fact, fewer than 15% of charter schools employed any type of librarian at any school. In comparison, at least 66% of public schools offered a librarian of any type across all three school levels.
Consistent with prior research, a far lower percentage of schools with the smallest student enrollments than schools with the greatest student enrollments employed a librarian of any type and especially a full-time librarian. For a full-time librarian, the differences were at least 50 percentage points across all three school levels
Finally, a much lower percentage of urban schools than schools in other locales employed any librarian and a full-time librarian. Sadly, less than 22% of urban schools across all three levels employed a full-time librarian—even though urban schools tend to have larger enrollments than other schools.
The most consistent related to nurses is that a far lower percentage of charter schools employed any nurse or a full-time nurse, regardless of whether or not the nurse . In fact, 30% or fewer charter schools employed a full-time nurse. Startlingly, only 15% of elementary charter schools employed a full-time nurse compared 34% of public elementary schools.
The second most consistent finding is that smaller schools across all three school levels were less likely to employ any nurse or a full-time nurse. This is consistent with prior research from other states.
The third consistent finding was that a lower percentage of schools located in towns employed a full-time nurse. While partially a result of schools located in towns being of smaller size, rural schools are typically even smaller but are more likely than town schools to employ a full-time nurse. Thus, some other factor is influencing the lack of access to nurses provided by schools in Pennsylvania towns.
At the secondary school level, a lower percentage of schools with the highest concentrations of students living in poverty employed any nurse and a full-time nurse as compared to schools with the lowest concentrations of students in poverty. The differences were larger at the middle school level than the high school level.
At the secondary school level, students in schools serving the highest concentrations of students living in poverty and students of color had far less access to either a part-time or a full-time counselor than schools with the lowest concentrations of students living in poverty and students of color. Moreover, students in secondary schools located in low-wealth districts had less access to either a part-time or a full-time counselor than their peers enrolled in schools located in high-wealth districts.
Students in charter schools were far less likely to have access to a either a part-time or a full-time counselor across all three school levels. Strikingly, fewer than 52% of charter schools at the elementary school or middle school levels employed either a part-time or a full-time counselor. At the high school level, less than 70% of schools employed either a part-time or a full-time counselor as compared to at least 90% of public schools. In fact, even when comparing schools with similar student enrollments, charter schools were less likely than public schools to employ either a part-time or a full-time counselor.
At the secondary level, a lower percentage of schools located in urban districts employed any counselor or a full-time counselor. The same was true for the employment of any counselor at the elementary school level, but the results were mixed with respect to the employment of a full-time counselor. Thus, the evidence shows a lower percentage of urban districts employed counselors as compared to schools in other locales.
Finally, consistent with prior research, school size (number of students enrolled) is strongly associated with the employment of a counselor and especially with employment of a full-time counselor. Specifically, smaller schools were less likely to employ any counselor or a full-time counselor. This was true across all three school levels.
The full report can be found at: CEEPA White Paper 2017-2_Access to Nurses, Librarians, and Counselors in Pennsylvania_FINAL