School counselors underutilized on secondary campuses

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New report by The Education Trust’s National Center for Transforming School Counseling outlines strategies for strengthening school counselors’ role as a driver of college and career readiness

Publication date: 
December 19 2011

WASHINGTON (December 19, 2011) – When we think of school employees working to boost student learning, we often focus on teachers and school principals. But a key group of adults working in schools cannot be overlooked in efforts to ensure that all students are on a path to academic success: school counselors.

Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness,” a report released today by The Education Trust’s National Center for Transforming School Counseling (TSC) with support from MetLife Foundation, outlines how school counselors can offer critical guidance to students to ensure that they are well prepared for the challenges they will face beyond high school. The strongest school counselors not only help students develop their class schedules but also work to ensure that school policies align with the practices that point students toward high achievement.

“School counselors can be powerful champions in schools. Because they have access to data and information about assessment results, attendance rates and enrollment patterns, they are uniquely positioned to advocate for students in a way that most other educators can’t,” said Peggy Hines, director of TSC and co-author of the report. “But in too many cases, school counselors are either underprepared or underutilized.”

A recent College Board survey of school counselors finds that only 4 in 10 believe their schools are organized to ensure that all students are being well prepared for college and career training programs. ”Poised to Lead” identifies three barriers that often limit school counselors’ effectiveness:

  • Pre-service training programs rarely prepare future school counselors in the dispositions, knowledge and skills required 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.
  • Many school counselors themselves don’t view their role as ensuring that all kids are ready for college and career.

But “Poised to Lead” highlights schools and districts across the country that are working to eliminate these barriers and strengthen counselor preparation, management and focusing school counselors on success for all students. In Chicago Public Schools, for example, district leaders realized that the school counseling interns being placed in their schools weren’t prepared to work in an urban setting nor did they know how to use data to advocate for equity and access to a rigorous curriculum. By introducing new hiring requirements, CPS helped compel local universities to shift their approach to preparing school counselors and focus considerably more  attention on the “school” part of school counseling.

“School counselors themselves say that they are ready to be held accountable for their contribution to student achievement,” said Hines. “It’s now time to make sure that their training prepares these educators to be leaders within schools. School counselors are central in the effort to graduate all kids ready for success after high school.”

The report outlines five strategies that schools, districts and states can employ to help school counselors assume this important role:

  • Revise the job descriptions for school counselors so that they are focused 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

“The mission of the school counselor must be to help open the doors to a productive future for all students, especially those most often underserved,” said Richard Lemons, vice president for K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust and co-author of the report. “To do that, we must readjust their training, realign our expectations for their role, and reconfigure the job so that they can help schools better meet the needs of all students.”

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