Moving Away from Reactive Guidance

Article excerpt

The importance of career guidance and counseling in school-to-work programs has been getting national recognition in reports such as "Workplace Basics: Skills Employers Want" and "Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century."

However, breaking old paradigms on the role of guidance and counseling in schools has not been easy, though reforms have been suggested for nearly ten years. A great deal of confusion as to what makes a comprehensive, developmental career guidance program continues today among policy makers, school administrators and practicing school counselors.

Most American public schools have designed counseling programs to respond to the problems of individual students in the context of societal pressures and personal issues. This kind of counseling program largely is reactive and does not systematically address the needs of all students as they gain experiences and maturity. Rather, it responds to the critical needs of a few.

To support school-to-work transition initiatives such as tech prep and youth apprenticeship, guidance programs must help all students develop skills to prepare for both additional education and work. Such skills should include the ability to find and use career information, identify a career major and apply decision-making skills to career selection.

The inadequacy of guidance and counseling programs is not an especially new problem. In 1984, a commission established by the College Entrance Examination Board concluded that the profession of school counseling is in trouble because of structural flaws, cumbersome administrative tasks, high student/counselor ratios and cutbacks in funding for counseling programs. The study voiced great concern that insufficient career counseling was becoming the norm.

Among its recommendations, the commission urged secondary schools to take the following actions:

* Establish a broad-based process for determining the guidance and counseling needs of students and how to meet them.

* Develop school programs under the principal's leadership that emphasize the guidance counselor as a "monitor and promoter of student potential" as well as a coordinator of the school's guidance plan.

* Involve parents in the choices, plans and learning activities of students.

* Strengthen collaboration among high schools, community agencies, colleges, businesses and other community resources.

Using national survey data from the High School and Beyond, Lee and Ekstrom found in 1987 that students who are economically disadvantaged, minority or in small schools were less likely to have access to guidance counseling for planning their high school course of study. These same students were more than likely to be placed in non-academic tracks and take fewer math courses.

A study by Hotchkiss and Vetter noted that youths in schools with counselors who expressed positive attitudes about the programs tended to have higher career goals and college attendance.

A 1993 Gallup Poll commissioned by the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee and the National Career Development Association found that 72 percent of working adults wished they had gotten more and better career information before they set out to find full-time jobs. …