Supporting a Nation of Learners: The Role of School Counseling in Educational Reform

By Dahir, Carol A. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Supporting a Nation of Learners: The Role of School Counseling in Educational Reform


Dahir, Carol A., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Throughout the last half of the 20th century, and continuing into this new millennium, confusion has persisted as to the nature, function, purpose, and role of counseling in schools. For many years, individuals and organizations, in addition to the national professional associations, suggested various definitions and directions. Mathewson (1962) once referred to guidance and counseling as a search for a system characterized by statements of objectives and goals. Ryan and Zeran (1972) suggested that guidance and counseling suffered from a lack of systematic theory to guide the practical applications of services, which significantly differ from the curriculum delivery of the academic disciplines. School counseling was viewed as an ancillary service to support the academic goals of schooling (Gerler, 1992). Continued ambiguity in the organization of school counseling (guidance) services resulted in a lack of cohesiveness and universal focus. Drury (1984) placed the blame on counselors, themselves, for creating and poorly managing piecemeal programs, which were dependent on the interests and priorities of individual counselors. This resulted in many new duties added to the counselors' existing responsibilities (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000). Some of these tasks were administrative or clerical in nature. The assignment of non-counseling activities suggested that the role of the school counselor and the school counseling program were poorly defined and not valued by the school administration (Hart & Jacobi, 1992).When schools fail to clearly define the counselor's role, school administrators, parents with special interests, teachers, or others may believe that their agendas ought to be the school counseling program's priority. The results often lead to confusion and criticisms when these groups believe that their own agendas are not being met (Cunanan & Maddy-Bernstein, 1994, p. 1).

For years, educational policy makers traditionally ignored the topic of guidance and counseling (Commission for Pre-College Guidance and Counseling, 1986). It may be the relatively small size of the counseling community or the poor public and professional understanding of the multiplicity of the roles performed by school counselors (Burtnett, 1993). In his description of the work of the school counselor, Boyer (1988) stated,

   Today, in most high schools, counselors are not only expected to
   advise students about college, they are also asked to police for
   drugs, keep records of dropouts, reduce teenage pregnancy, check
   traffic in the hails, smooth out the tempers of irate parents, and
   give aid and comfort to battered and neglected children. School
   counselors are expected to do what our communities, our homes,
   and our churches have not been able to accomplish, and if they
   cannot, we condemn them for failing to fulfill our high minded
   expectations. (p. 3)

School counselors are also assigned to work with students in crisis and conflict, monitor graduation requirements, process college applications, counsel students through family separation and divorce, provide academic motivation and attendance intervention, and refer students and families to community agencies. Boyer (1988) reminded us that school counselors have accepted the responsibility to address every societal issue that affects school-aged children. School counselors have continued to deliver a wide variety of diverse services offered to students from kindergarten through high school (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000).

As the role of the school counselor and the school counseling program regularly reacted, responded, and expanded to meet these needs and challenges, it became necessary to take a course of action to clearly articulate and focus on the scope of school counseling practice. Concerned about the future of counseling in schools, the American Counseling Association (ACA) put forth a series of recommendations in a report titled School Counseling: A Profession at Risk (ACA, 1987), and 6 years later, ACA convened a "think tank" that proposed a series of activities and functions to more clearly establish the school counselor's role within and relationship to the educational system. …

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