If you’re not certain whether a school counselor’s primary duty is to review college-application letters, work with troubled students, or proctor AP testing, you’re not alone.
In fact, even school counselors are often confused these days about what’s expected of them. It’s time for school districts to provide counselors with the resources—particularly time—to focus on helping students clarify and accomplish their academic and life goals.
A new study by Fleck Education and the Partnership for College and Career Readiness for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that more than half of the 425 Indiana school counselors surveyed earlier this year (75 percent work with high-schoolers) spend only 25 percent of their time—or even less—helping students with college and career readiness. About 80 percent of respondents said they would like to devote more of their workday to that responsibility. Instead, they said, nearly half their job is spent on non-counseling tasks, such as packaging test results for mailing, substitute-teaching and enrolling new students.
An increase in the emotional needs of today’s students has certainly played into the changing roles of school counselors. Helping students navigate the problems that interfere with learning is a vital step toward their success, and a valid use of the skills of a certified counselor. But a compilation of surveys found counselors reporting only about 15 percent of their day devoted to students’ social and emotional support. Counselors say they spend more time on clerical duties than on counseling.
Counselors were introduced into the educational system more than a century ago to help prepare students for life after graduation. Back then, that life often began immediately in the workplace; now, some sort of post-secondary education and training is nearly mandatory. But the primary value of a school counselor is the same as it ever was—to help students conquer the academic world and prepare for the real world.
It’s difficult to do that with a 1-to-350 counselor/student ratio. That’s about the current average in Indiana; some years the ratio has been much higher, high enough to rank Indiana 44th. So even in these times of bare-bones budgets, most states are still finding the money to hire more counselors than Indiana does. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 1-to-250 ratio, and a 2013 College Board research brief found that each additional counselor at a high school increases four-year college enrollment 10 percent.
Once more certified counselors are in the building, schools need to free them to attack Job One: supporting students’ academic and post-secondary path. North Carolina passed a law last year that mandates school counselors spend 80 percent of their time on “student support services” and the remaining 20 percent on managing and supporting the school’s improvement goals. Indiana’s Legislature, and academic community, needs to show the same level of commitment to preparing students for life after high school.•
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