Why the High School Guidance Counselor Needs a Makeover

Want to boost the number of students going to college? Let guidance counselors do their jobs.

One piece of advice in Forbes contributor Gene Marks' recent, deservedly maligned, essay "If I Was a Poor Black Kid" was that students who want to go to college should become best friends with their high school guidance counselor. A new report from the Education Trust shows just how out of touch Marks' advice really is. Too many of the nation's counselors don't spend their time advising students and ensuring they're college- and career-ready, the report found.

The Education Trust found that more than 90 percent of counselors say advocating for students is the "ideal mission for their profession," but only 45 percent say that's what they do at work. Things are even worse at low-income schools, where students may need a counselor's advice and guidance even more than their wealthier peers. A full 68 percent of counselors at low-income schools say their job should be to "ensure that low-income students get the extra help they need," yet only 30 percent say that's how they spend their time.

Part of the problem is that counselors "are saddled with menial tasks that are unrelated to preparing students for success after graduation,” researchers found. Busy principals often shift their responsibilities to counselors, requiring them to coordinate standardized tests or supervise the lunchroom. That leaves less time to ensure that students sign up for the right classes to stay on the college track. And given the high student-to-counselor ratio at most public schools9 students—most counselors don’t have the chance to get to know individual students, much less help design customized education plans.

The report recommends that schools shift their vision for counselors' roles. Instead of asking counselors simply to provide "individual therapy and intervention" for troubled students, schools should consider them the leaders of "school efforts to prepare graduates for life beyond a diploma." At a time when boosting the number of high school and college graduates is a matter of the nation's economic security, it's critical that guidance counselors have the chance to do their jobs.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user marshillonline

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