Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Examining School Counselors' Commitments to Social Justice Advocacy

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Examining School Counselors' Commitments to Social Justice Advocacy

Article excerpt

The demographic characteristics of American public school students have changed in the last 30 years. Where schools were once primarily Caucasian, White students now comprise only about half (53.5%) of the population (U.S. Department of Education, 2011a). The percentage of Hispanic students has grown to 23.3%, surpassing the African American student population at 15%. Among those remaining, 4.1% are Asian, 2.9% are multi-racial, 0.7% are Native American, and 0.4% are Pacific Islander. Furthermore, close to half of America's students (48.1%) qualify for free and reduced lunch, indicating that a large number of young people live at or below the poverty level (U.S. Department of Education, 2011b). The percentages of Hispanic (77%), Black (74%), and Native American (68%) students eligible for free and reduced lunch is more than double the corresponding percentage of White students (34%) who are eligible (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2014b). Hispanic and Black students are also more likely to attend schools in urban areas where more families live in poverty (NCES, 2014b). School counselors must be prepared to encounter a student population that reflects greater diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status than any previous generation.

Unfortunately, the academic achievement of students from diverse backgrounds reflects an educational system that remains unequal. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a 500-point instrument utilized annually by over 20,000 students in the United States, and data analysis shows statistically significant differences among specific groups (NCES, 2013). For more than a decade, the majority of U.S. students on free and reduced lunch consistently scored below the proficient level on the NAEP (NCES, 2014a). Furthermore, considerable differences in test scores exist between White students and students of color (Black and Hispanic) in all content areas (NCES, 2013). White and Asian American students are more likely to take higher level mathematics classes than Black and Hispanic students. Another concerning statistic is that Hispanic students are significantly less likely to graduate from high school than White students (NCES, 2014c). The disparities present in the United States educational system provide evidence of the need for social justice advocacy by school counselors.

School Counselors and Social Justice Advocacy

Professional organizations and counselor educators call for counselors to exhibit social justice advocacy in educational settings to address the persistent achievement gap (Bemak & Chung, 2005; Dixon, Tucker, & Clark, 2010; Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2003; Hipolito-Delgado & Lee, 2007; Holcomb-McCoy, 2007; Ratts, DeKruyf, & Chen-Hayes, 2007). Social justice advocacy involves school counselors challenging systematic barriers that obstruct the personal, social, academic, and career aspirations envisioned by their students (Lee, 1998). As stated by Dahir and Stone (2009), "school counselors are ideally situated in schools to serve as social justice advocates to eliminate the achievement gap and to focus their efforts on ensuring success for every underserved and underrepresented student" (p. 12).

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) encourages school counselors to engage in social justice advocacy to close the achievement gap. The most recent revision of the ASCA National Model (ASCA, 2012a) includes advocacy as one of four major themes. The School Counselor Competencies that align with the ASCA National Model include a section (I-B-3) describing advocacy-oriented abilities and skills (ASCA, 2012a). ASCA also issued social justice-oriented policy statements that urge school counselors to advocate for equity for all students in all life domains (ASCA, 2012b).

Counselor education programs and professional organizations also have promoted the need to address injustice in schools and communities. …

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