Austin Johnson

Austin Johnson

Assistant Professor and Program Director, School Psychology

University of California, Riverside

Biography

For more information on JABA’s decision to not retract Rekers and Lovaas (1974), click here for a critical preprint, here for a relevant Beautiful Humans podcast, and here for a change.org petition.

As an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside, I serve as the Program Director of our APA-accredited and NASP-approved School Psychology program. I received my PhD in Educational Psychology (with a concentration in School Psychology) from the University of Connecticut in 2014. Back in 2007, I graduated summa cum laude with my Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Arizona. After serving as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Manager with the IES-funded NEEDs2 project from 2014-2015, I joined the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. At UCR, I teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in behavior assessment and intervention, research, and methodology. I’m a first-generation college graduate. I really like my job.

I’m an Associate Editor for the Journal of School Psychology, as well as a licensed psychologist in the state of California (CA #29540) and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Certification #1-15-18892).

You can request copies of articles through ResearchGate, view citations and such on Google Scholar, and download data and project materials from Open Science Framework.

Interests

  • Evidence-Based Behavior Support
  • Single-Case Methodology
  • Social Justice, Equity, and Inclusion

Education

  • PhD in Educational Psychology, 2014

    University of Connecticut

  • BA in Psychology, Summa Cum Laude, 2007

    University of Arizona

Experience

 
 
 
 
 

Assistant Professor

University of California, Riverside

Jun 2015 – Present California
 
 
 
 
 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

University of Connecticut

May 2014 – May 2015 Connecticut
 
 
 
 
 

Doctoral Student

University of Connecticut

Jan 2014 – Jan 2009 Connecticut

Why do this?

Because it matters!

I study school-based behavior support. Most of my work focuses on how to provide teachers and school psychologists with the tools they need to support kids with challenging behavior. I actively work in this area, and care a lot about making evidence-based products that are usable by educational professionals.

But, as I’ve spent more time in education research, and more time examining my own relationship to and role in racism, diversity, equity, and social justice in the United States, it’s increasingly apparent that good tools for assessment and intervention are a necessary but insufficient condition for progress (to butcher a phrase from causal inference). The fact that it took me until fairly recently to get to that place is disappointing, but also probably not uncommon among folks in my field when you consider that 87% of school psychologists in the U.S. identify as White (by comparison, 50% of kids in U.S. schools identified as White in 2013). So, at the risk of being overly explanatory, let’s lay out some major issues in student behavior support in U.S. schools.

1. Problem behavior matters!

Students who experience significant behavior problems experience some of the worst outcomes of any student group. 35% of all kids who are identified with Emotional Disturbance (ED), a disability category which often includes students whose disabilities are defined by their behavior problems, drop out of high school. Less than a third of kids with ED are employed post-school. These outcomes aren’t just economic or “behavioral”; they also affect the way kids feel, with behavior problems at age 10 predicting depression at age 21. There’s some evidence to suggest that those emotional problems are a function of the decreased academic achievement that may result from childhood behavior problems.

2. But we don’t perceive “problem behavior” as occurring for all kids equally.

So, problem behavior matters. But what we perceive as problem behavior is not fixed: we’re adults who are making judgment calls about what we see as “normal” or “problematic”. We don’t make those judgments equally for all kids. Students who have a different race or ethnicity than their teacher are significantly more likely to be identified as disruptive, inattentive, or rarely complete homework than students who have a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. To quote Dee (2005),

“the odds of a student being seen as disruptive by a teacher are 1.36 times as large when the teacher does not share the student’s racial/ethnic designation”

This increases to 1.51 when other teacher-level variables like class size and experience level are taken into account.

3. And when we respond to what we perceive, we don’t respond equitably.

When we observe what we perceive to be “problem behavior” in schools, our default methods are exclusionary: we send kids to the principal’s office, we give detention, we suspend, and we expel. Students who are African-American experience these outcomes at a rate that vastly outpaces their representation in schools, and this starts as early as preschool.

So, where are we? Well, we have some pretty strong evidence to suggest that race and ethnicity play a significant role in how student behavior is perceived, and we have large-scale data sets that suggest that the exclusionary practices that are our “default” when we think about addressing student behavior in schools (e.g., suspension, expulsion) are much more likely to be administered to kids of color.

Sources like Teaching Tolerance are doing amazing work in facing and addressing issues of social justice in schools, and many folks in school psychology are working to directly examine social justice, diversity, and equity in school psychology. With colleagues at the University of Denver and Howard University, members of my research team and I are asking explicit questions about supporting the mentorship, hiring, and retention of faculty of color in school psychology programs. And I’m working with students in my research lab to examine the extent to which racial/ethnic match or mismatch affect perceptions of student behavior.

Recent Publications

Quickly discover relevant content by filtering publications.

Inland Behavior Lab

The Inland Behavior Lab at the University of California, Riverside, studies the development of efficient and effective tools to support students' behavioral success, teachers' professional success, and to enact social justice for all students. 🚀

What do we do?

In collaboration with colleagues across the country, we’re committed to:

  1. Mentoring graduate and undergraduate students towards developing sophisticated research skills that are grounded in real-world problems.
  2. Providing teachers and other educators with well-designed, simple, and effective behavior support tools.
  3. Understanding the origins of and developing solutions to inequity in school psychology.

Meet the Lab Team

Graduate Students

Avatar

Barbara Katic

Graduate Student

Aggression among adolescents and mental health intervention within school settings

Avatar

Bhawandeep Bains

Graduate Student

Classroom management and behavior in schools

Avatar

Danielle Cravalho

Graduate Student

School-based mental health services and implementation and classroom teaching strategies for increasing academic performance and social skills

Avatar

Laura Alba

Graduate Student

Role of environmental stressors on the socio-emotional development and academic achievement of children with ASD and ADHD

Avatar

Ruiwen Zheng

Graduate Student

Behavior and psychological interventions

Avatar

Tyler Womack

Graduate Student

Examining behavior interventions tailored to the needs of English Language Learners, as well as how to be considerate of cultural and linguistic diversity within systems of Positive Behavior Supports

Contact