School Counselors Key to Preparing Students for College, Career

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Our nation’s schools have an underused human resource in the work to ready all students for higher education and the workforce: school counselors. The Education Trust’s National Center for Transforming School Counseling makes this case powerfully in its new report “Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness.”

The report contends that school counselors have the best vantage point from which to drive college- and career-readiness efforts on their campuses. First, they know which students (including which groups of students) are on a dead-end path, which are receiving an education that will yield real choices, and which are in between. They also know which courses or teachers produce the most failures and successes, which policies hold students back, and which instructional supports help propel students toward success.

The problem? Too many of today’s school counselors are neither prepared nor empowered to make the most of their role.

“Poised to Lead” identifies three barriers that often limit the impact of school counselors. Pre-service training programs rarely prepare future school counselors to develop, implement, and evaluate college- and career-readiness programs. In many secondary schools, principals do not know how to hire, supervise, or evaluate school counselors with student achievement in mind. Finally, too many school counselors themselves don’t see their role as ensuring that all kids are ready for college and career.

Beyond highlighting challenges, the report spotlights successes across the country where schools and districts are breaking down the barriers that impede school counselor leadership. In the Chicago Public Schools, for example, district leaders noted that the school counseling interns on their campuses weren’t prepared to work in an urban setting, nor did they know how to use data to advocate for equitable student access to a rigorous curriculum. Once CPS upgraded its hiring requirements, a local university responded by improving its preparation program for school counselors.

The report outlines five strategies that schools, districts, and states can employ to help school counselors assume their roles as leaders and advocates for student success:

• Revise the job descriptions for school counselors so they focus on equitable education and preparing all students for college and career.
• Center university training programs on the school counselor’s role in educational equity and college and career readiness.
• Align and tighten state credentialing requirements for school counselors.
• Provide strong professional development to help existing school counselors make the shift.
• Align school counselors’ professional evaluations to the academic outcomes of students.

School counselors can and should play an essential role in ensuring that our nation’s secondary schools prepare all students, especially those most often underserved, for a productive future.

— Paula Amann