Refocusing Counselors on
Our high school employs several guidance counselors. But we have been appalled
at how little the counselors knew about college choices. It was as if academic
counseling is no longer part of a counselor's job description. She could have
gotten a full ride at a great school because of her high test scores. But since
she is well-behaved and has no problems, her school counselor pretty much
ignored her. So she just went to our state university and accepted the modest
scholarship it offered. We were very disappointed. Isn't the key task of a
high-school counselor to help kids make the best matches and the best deals for
the future that they possibly can?
You've noted another symptom of the
"one-stop shopping" distortion that has a hold of our schools. It has pushed
academics to the back burner in favor of all the "affective," or
social-emotional, problems that kids have today. Of course, there are many
excellent counselors out there doing the very things you wish your daughter had
had. But yours is a story that is being heard more and more.
No one disputes that kids who have
personal problems need help. In some schools, that includes needs as extreme as
SHOES and COATS in the wintertime. But it is unfortunate that so many school
boards neglect to see the impact of providing little or no counseling services
for the higher end of the student population. It's a red flag of poor quality
that will certainly drive away promising students in the future, if not
rectified, and quickly.
Over the past few decades, school
counseling has been distorted away from its original purpose - academic
guidance - into an impossibly big smorgasbord of social services that leaves
most of them doing too many things, and none of them very well.
The counseling caseload may be heavy
with kids who are very troubled, have chaotic home lives, serious addictions,
problems with the law, and complicated special needs. There are all kinds of
drains on a counselor's time, such as zero tolerance issues, safety issues,
teen depression, sexual orientation confusion, and endlessly on.
Counselors often are busy running
standardized tests, which have greatly increased in number and duration in
recent years, as well as course scheduling and lots of paperwork.
Meanwhile, they sponsor "encounter
groups" for students on everything from grief to anger management, and
troubleshoot with them on horrendous problems such as incest, abortion and drug
All this is with an untenably high
"caseload" of too many students to adequately form relationships with
individuals. Counselors doing these things also tend to have an obvious lack of
credentials required for such serious situations as counseling a teen with
multiple problems. For example, in many states you can become a school
counselor with just six extra college credit hours in psychology.
You would never be allowed to put up
a shingle and counsel individual adults off the street. But somehow, you're
supposed to be competent to counsel kids in school. Ill-prepared counselors
thus may tend to mislabel academic problems as social problems because their
training is more along those lines than perceiving why kids aren't learning
A case can be made that this near-amateur counseling is making
things worse, not better, for many kids in schools today.
As a result, school counselors
generally don't know very many students very well and lack sufficient time and
training to render much significant academic or career guidance to very many.
And that hurts the "back-burner" students, such as your daughter, who deserve
the counselor's time and attention just as much as any other student.
Consequently, the school counselor
work overload has created a cottage industry for private college counselors,
charging families big bucks to do what the tax-funded school counselor should
be doing for them for free.
Result: more people want a shift
away from mental-health services and back to using the counselors' helping
hearts and persuasive skills for academic purposes, such as encouraging and
supporting students capable of taking tougher classes and steering qualified
students toward scholarships and higher-level opportunities.
Homework: The Education Trust, www.edtrust.org, operates the Transforming
School Counseling Initiative that promises reforms.