Laura Varlas

Why Guidance Counseling Needs to Change

April10cover_blogWhat's behind the low rating of services delivered by high school guidance departments, as reported in the 2009 Public Agenda survey With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them?

"Why Guidance Counseling Needs to Change," in the April issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership magazine, notes that capacity is one huge challenge. The number of students pursuing postsecondary education has ballooned, yet most schools provide an average of 1 counselor per 265 students (with states like California tipping the scales at nearly 1,000 students per counselor).

But even if the student-to-counselor ratio was more manageable and if counselors' time was not monopolized by scheduling and administrative tasks, the article's authors contend schools need to reimagine counselors as more than just maitre d' to a menu of postsecondary options.

Clare Struck, an elementary guidance counselor from the Malcolm Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls, Iowa, testified at today's Senate ESEA reauthorization hearing on meeting the needs of the whole child. Senators learned about the challenges and benefits of providing students with a whole child education based on the firsthand experiences and successes of PLS educators. Struck believes that Congress can best support the work of pupil service providers by establishing policies that promote:

  • Innovative and useful reform that requires state and local governments to dismantle the obstacles to collaboration between and among school systems and the social, health, and safety services that support children.
  • Alternate pathways to graduation that are available to all students.
  • An adult mentor for every student—one who supports individualized learning opportunities that engage students in relevant curriculum and challenging education plans.
  • The facilitation of school partnerships with community service agencies and other local entities.
  • Flexible grouping and flexible time frames to measure success, which enables schools to develop alternative approaches to the Carnegie unit and other traditional conventions such as the traditional school day and year.
  • Publicly reporting the ratio of counselors and support staff to students—with an effort toward meeting the goal of the ASCA-recommended 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio.
  • School turnaround strategies that incorporate the tenets of the Whole Child Initiative—with special attention to fortifying the relationships and interpersonal connections among students, staff, and families—to support student achievement.
  • Content assessments that are valid, reliable, and comprehensible for English language learners and students with disabilities.

Each student deserves access to personalized learning and support from qualified, caring adults. Research shows that, in addition to improving students' academic performance, supportive schools also help prevent a host of negative consequences, including isolation, violent behavior, dropping out of school, and suicide. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in the success of each student.

If we recognize that students need more than a high school diploma to be successful in today's job market, why shortchange them the professional support to manage career and college pathways?

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