Counselors: Making a Difference: School Counselors Are Helping Students with the Academic Goals That NCLB May Inadvertently Leave Behind. Now Is the Time to Tap into the Expertise They Offer
Lommen, Kathleen, Leadership
In October of 2006, I was sitting in a packed hotel conference room with approximately 1,000 educators. No one could leave the room as we all anxiously awaited the arrival of Gov. Schwarzenegger. When he entered, surrounded by secret service, the counselors, administrators and counselor educators all stood up and cheered. We were eager to hear the governor's words on implementing AB 1802, the Middle and High School Supplemental School Counseling Program.
The governor spoke of promoting the success of all students through the benefits of AB 1802, which included extra funding in physical education, career education and school counseling programs. He attributed his own educational success to the counselors at Santa Monica College he met with when he first came to California.
Counselors the "ears" of a school
With 12 years experience as a school counselor and five years as an administrator, I have discovered that where administrators are the eyes and visionaries of a school, the counselors are the "ears" of the school. An effective counselor is an excellent listener, trained to handle difficult matters with confidentiality, discretion and care. Students and staff will confide in counselors about real school concerns that can subtly and negatively impact student progress. Counselors are helping students with the academic goals that No Child Left Behind may inadvertently leave behind.
While school accountability and the high-reaching goals of achievement for all students contained in NCLB are noble and cannot be ignored, I fear that some students will not be adequately served if we focus purely on academic proficiency and improved test-taking strategies.
Students from Program Improvement schools, students with learning disabilities and English language learners just entering high school will likely never be a part of the NCLB's "100 percent of students who are required to achieve proficiency at grade-level by the year 2013-2014." At the high school level, administrators are just as cognizant of dropout levels as we are of API scores. In the last two years, as we celebrate gains in API scores in certain counties, we have also noticed a rise in dropout rates.
It will take a few more years to understand whether dropout rates have increased due to the CAHSEE, or if the way student data is being reported is making dropout rates appear higher. Nevertheless, the heartbreaking narratives do not change for students who cannot pass the CAHSEE and may never be reading at grade level.
Catching up in California
California has been known over the last 20 years for having one of the worst student-to-counselor ratios in the United States. One source put the statewide average at 954:1 while studies show that effective high school programs should be near 364:1 (School Counseling Research Brief 2.4, 2004). Since 2000, the California Association of School Counselors has been working diligently in Sacramento to increase funds for school counselors.
The Middle and High School Supplemental School Counseling Program for grades 7-12 provided $200 million to secondary schools specifically to hire more counselors to help students pass the CAHSEE, stay in school and pass all other graduation requirements.
Now, counselor educators and researchers across the nation are watching to see if school counselors in California will make a difference. …